Ditching Mom Guilt

Society has conditioned parents—especially moms—to feel guilt and shame about just about every choice they make starting before the baby is even born. Then it comes to your decisions about labor and birth: everyone wants to know if you’re planning to get an epidural or go unmedicated, or planning a vaginal or cesarean birth. Feeding your baby is another minefield, as folks have tons of opinions about formula and breastmilk and starting solids. And then there’s the question of working or staying at home and then who should care for your baby while you do.

It can be annoying and stressful to hear all of the noise of everyone else’s opinions. And going along with them or not can bring up the guilt in a big way. If you’re over it, read on for some ideas about how to ditch mom guilt.

Recognize the source

 By being in society, you’ve probably internalized the myth that there is one right way to do things that involves making the correct choice about all of the different decisions that parenting entails. The truth is that there are as many ways to be a good parent as there are people in the world. Instead of recognizing that each family decides what’s best for them, though, it’s much more common to see differences between the choices you and other parents have made and feel bad about those differences. By recognizing the falsehood that there’s only one way to be a good parent you’re well on your way to leaving mom guilt behind.

Take good care of yourself

 There’s an old saying that goes something like “you can’t pour from an empty cup.” What this means in the context of parenthood is that you have to take care of yourself alongside taking care of your family. Taking time for oneself often makes moms feel guilty, particularly if they also work outside the home, but you need time for you if you’re going to keep pouring out for your family.

Think about what taking care of you looks like. Is it taking a walk every morning, going over to a friend’s house each Tuesday night, or making time to read a favorite book? Figure out what will help you feel like yourself and then make time for that. You may feel guilty at first if you are taking time away from your kid, but it’s better to take a break and recharge then just continuing to feel depleted. Acknowledge that your kid being able to be cared for by another trusted and loving adult while you fill your cup is a better situation for everyone.

Overcome the noise

We talked earlier about how noisy everyone else’s opinions can feel and how that noise can contribute to mom guilt. One way to overcome that noise is by reminding yourself—and there are a couple of ways to do this—that you’re doing a good job. One really nice way is to set reminders on your phone. If you have a smart phone, it’s easy to program it to remind you about different things during the day. You might set a reminder to ding at 8 am that says, “I’m a perfectly good mom,” and an after-bedtime reminder that says, “I decide what’s best for my family.” If you don’t want to do phone reminders, you can write encouraging things on sticky notes and put them around your living space where you’ll see them or just practice saying them to yourself throughout the day.

Another way to overcome the noise is to think back at the end of the day about what you did do that day. Often, parents think back through all the things they didn’t get done, which can lead to guilt. Maybe work didn’t happen because you have a sick kiddo home from childcare or you got few chores done around the house as you parented all day. It can help to write down all the diapers you changed, meals and snacks you prepared, laundry you folded, and times you read that same book to your toddler. The work of parenting doesn’t always show big results, despite being so relentless. Sometimes realizing that you actually did a lot will really help you to leave guilt behind.

Abby Olena
Dr. Abby Olena has a PhD in Biological Sciences from Vanderbilt University. She lives with her husband and children in North Carolina, where she writes about science and parenting, produces a conversational podcast, and teaches prenatal yoga.

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