A couple of days ago I was reading an article by a mom which was essentially an apology letter to her firstborn for all of the mistakes she felt that she’d made. I could empathize a lot. As I was reading, I found myself nodding in agreement.
Yes, maybe I was overly concerned with the nap time schedule. And yes, perhaps baby-led weaning would have been a better option for our daughter. Maybe there was some way I could have avoided returning to work so soon.
Mom guilt (or indeed Dad guilt) seems to emerge from the very moment our babies are born… and nearly all of us experience it. As our kids grow, the causes of our guilty feelings change, but never really go away. It’s often said that the guilt is a symptom of just how much we care.
I could easily relate to that article. However, it was when I started reading the comments from other parents, that a light bulb went off in my head.
There were many who, like me, confessed to agonizing over every little decision. But then there were plenty of others asking the question: “why should we feel guilty when we’re doing the best we can?”
Exactly. Why are we so hard on ourselves?!
I think that things absolutely changed for parents with the advent of the internet. Given the plethora of contradictory advice out there, it’s hardly surprising that we end up second guessing our every decision. And then of course there’s the judgement and condemnation thrown around publicly on social media. Not to mention the Pinterest-perfect-parents that make us feel like epic failures.
But the reality is, so long as our kids are loved, fed and have a roof over their heads, then they’re doing ok.
If you’re anything like me, abandoning the guilt is easier said than done. I recently wrote about the transition from one child to two, and how much I was struggling with the guilt over so many little issues.
Even so, I recognize that dwelling on those things isn’t helping anyone!
So for anyone else who could do with some good reasons to let go of the mom guilt, it might help to consider the following:
#1 Guilt is a wasted emotion anyway
This is one to remember as soon as the mom guilt comes knocking, especially when it comes to things we can’t control. Wallowing in guilt about every little thing we do wrong won’t benefit us and certainly won’t benefit our children.
I’m slowly learning to choose my battles and worry less about the small stuff (which doesn’t come naturally to me at all!).
A great rule of thumb that I recently learned is to ask myself: “is the guilt justified by an actual undesirable outcome, or is it the result of real or perceived external judgments?”.
If it’s the former, learn from the mistake, try not to beat yourself up about it and then move on. If it’s the latter, then you can, and absolutely should, just let it go. Easy, right?!
#2 Setting aside the guilt will allow us more room to appreciate the positives
For every (supposedly) bad parenting decision we make, there are undoubtedly many other great ones!
At my oldest daughter’s recent parent-teacher conference, her preschool teachers remarked on how how well mannered she is. I have to admit that I was brimming with pride! Perhaps my constant nagging about Ps and Qs is paying off?! (Nagging is another thing I’d been feeling guilty about, by the way).
The point is that she’s doing fine. She has her moments – which 3 year old doesn’t?! – but overall she’s happy and healthy and thriving. The fact that she watched too much TV yesterday, or didn’t eat five portions of fruit and veg today hasn’t harmed her.
Focusing on the positives is a much more productive use of our time and will always help us feel better about ourselves as parents.
#3 You’re not alone… None of us really know what we’re doing!
There’s no manual on parenting and there’s no such thing as the perfect mother. We all start out as complete amateurs and even if we do feel as though we’re starting to get a grip on one particular phase of childhood, another is soon ushered in, bringing with it a whole new set of challenges.
For parents, the learning curve is steep and we’re bound to make blunders. But of course we learn from those and move on, so why feel guilty?
The picture-perfect life often portrayed on social media is patently not the whole truth, and we should never measure ourselves against that. Just because one of your mom friends chooses to share a picture of the kale quinoa burgers she whipped up for dinner on a Tuesday evening, it doesn’t mean that she’s not serving up boxed mac n cheese the next night. She just might not share that on Instagram 😉
The reality is that every parent struggles a little (or a lot!) and that’s ok.
I think it helps to let go of the guilt when we recognize that we’re all in the same boat. We may all hold different parenting philosophies, but one thing we have in common is that we ALL mess up from time to time and we’re ALL learning as we go.
#4 But we’re probably doing better than we think
At the end of the day, we know our own children better than anyone else, and if we try our best and trust in our instincts then our kids will turn out just fine. Hopefully 😉
And I’m pretty sure that our children don’t give a second thought about most of the things that cause us to lay awake at night feeling guilty or regretful.
One last point – don’t think that letting go of guilty feelings equates to not caring. It’s just about cutting ourselves some slack.
Oh, and on that note, it’s also ok that our children aren’t always the center of the universe. Sometimes we need to put ourselves first, not only to preserve our sanity, but because we’re most certainly not at our best when drained or overwhelmed by guilty feelings.
Guilt is an incredibly difficult emotion to shed and I for one am most definitely a work in progress! But when you can, it’s certainly freeing.
Be kind to yourself my friends!