Q. How can I get rid of nagging guilt for not being the ideal mom? I went back to work after each of my three children was born. I felt guilty about leaving them either with a caregiver or at daycare. I still feel guilty about missing milestones like their first steps. Working from home during the last few months due to COVID-19 precautions, I’ve felt guilty when I’ve tried to work and one or more of the kids wants attention. I feel like I’m not the perfect mother like some of my friends are. How can I best deal with this guilt?
A. Possibly all mothers have experienced what we call mom guilt. It is a feeling that you are either not doing enough or that you are not doing the right things for your children. You may worry that your kids will not turn out well because of poor mothering decisions. Some experts point out that a little bit of guilt can be productive at times. For example, maybe you let the kids stay up too late and they don’t want to do school work the next day. You listen to the little voice of guilt. After that, you make sure they go to bed at a reasonable time.
Usually, mom guilt doesn’t feel good and can prevent you from experiencing a sense of well-being. Here are some suggestions to lessen this feeling and make positive changes for both you and your kids:
- Stop comparing yourself to mothers who seem to be perfect. They aren’t perfect. You don’t need to be perfect either. Bruno Bettleheim, a child psychoanalyst, advised women to try to simply be a “good enough mother.”
- When feeling guilt and perhaps shame, stop and get in touch with what you’re feeling and respond with care. Practice deep breathing and relaxation.
- Draw two columns. Use one column for your negative thoughts. Use the second column to change that thought to a positive one. For example, if you worry you are a bad mother for working and taking time from your kids, change this to see that your kids are learning to value the importance of work and earning a living.
- Take time to care for yourself. Schedule time on your calendar to do things that will rejuvenate you. You can’t take care of others if you don’t take care of yourself.
- Reach out for help from your significant other, mother, friend, neighbor or babysitter. A break can help you reset and attend to situations with more perspective.
- Schedule one-on-one time with each of the kids. Time alone with mom makes a child feel loved and special. Scheduling this time may also keep them from feeling the need to demand as much attention on a day-to-day basis.
- Use positive affirmations. Make a list of good statements about what makes you a good mother and tape it to your mirror. Offer kindness and compassion to yourself.
I’m cheering for you and all our readers who have mom guilt. Maybe you will get a surprise love note from your child like the one Elias sent to his mom:
“You are the best mom in the world and I know that you don’t think you are, but you are a mom so speaciol that people even think you are cool especially me. Elias”
Betty Richardson, PhD, RN, CS, LPC, LMFT, is an Austin-based psychotherapist.