How to Recognize and Deal with Irrational Mom Guilt
As a new mom, I remember feeling guilty… a lot. I would feel guilty for choosing to have an epidural when I couldn’t stand the pain. I would feel guilty for using formula when I couldn’t figure out what I was eating that was upsetting my baby. I would feel guilty when my house was a mess when my husband would get home from work.
Twelve years later, I still experience mom guilt, though it is a bit different. I feel guilty about not spending enough one-on-one time with my kids, not teaching my kids the correct way to hold a pencil, not serving enough vegetables, etc. And I imagine that as my kids get older and venture into their teens, I will only have more opportunities to feel guilty.
The dreaded mom guilt of not doing enough for my kids will always present itself. However, I have learned that I can choose to look at guilt as a tool to help me become my best self and a better mom by taking action. I can also choose to be mindful when it is not helpful so that I don’t allow this emotion to sabotage my day.
There is so much that we can allow ourselves to feel guilty for. Some of it may be warranted and need attending to, yet sometimes it can be irrational and unproductive and have negative effects on our mental health.
What is Mom Guilt?
According to psychology today, ‘Guilt is aversive and—like shame, embarrassment, or pride—has been described as a self-conscious emotion, involving reflection on oneself.’
Mom guilt is the feeling that you are not good enough. Maybe you are hard on yourself for mistakes you have made. Maybe you feel that you have not done a good job as a mother and you feel you ‘messed up’ your child.
Mom guilt can suck the fun and joy out of being a parent, but it doesn’t have to. We can let go of what we can’t control, we can allow our best to be good enough, and we can make room for our mistakes.
What is the Purpose of Guilt?
Guilt can be a good thing as it helps you evaluate where you are not meeting the standards that you set. In other words, you broke your moral code. Some of those standards might have been influenced by others you have listened to over time. The purpose of this is to bring your attention to what might be important to you.
Becoming aware of the source of your guilt can give you the advantage to take charge of your emotions. You can decide what you need to do going forward to diminish the guilt and fix what you feel needs to be fixed.
Steps to Working Through Mom Guilt
Step 1: Recognize the Thought Behind Mom Guilt
If you are feeling guilty, what is the reason behind it? Identify the thought.
Step 2: Is the Thought Rational or Irrational
Once you unveil the thought behind the guilt. Is the thought something of value that you need to be concerned about and take action? Or is it an irrational thought? (We will explore this next)
Step 3: Create a plan to Move Forward
If the thought is rational, you can do something about it. Depending on the size of the situation there may be a lot of thinking and planning involved that might require the help of others. Or it may be a simple fix like making a call or saying you are sorry and you made a mistake. Make a plan and take action to orient you towards the mom you want to be.
Is it Irrational Mom Guilt?
As you might already know, not all guilt is rational. Being aware of the cause will also help you decipher if it is rational guilt that needs attending to or unhelpful irrational guilt that only makes you feel worse.
Are you feeling guilty because you aren’t living up to someone else’s standard?
Are you feeling guilty, for something out of your control?
Or guilt for what someone else has done?
Is the guilt excessive?
If you said yes to any of these, you are experiencing irrational guilt. When you find that you are being unreasonably hard on yourself there are some things you can do to ease the mom guilt.
8 Tips for Overcoming Irrational Mom Guilt
1. Forgive Yourself
Do you have mom guilt about something you did in the past, that you wish you could take back? If you find yourself circling back to a mistake in the past, you probably haven’t forgiven yourself. Is there something you can take away from the experience to move forward that would make you a better mom? Let the past mold you into becoming a better mom. Forgive your mistakes, we all make them.
2. Let go of Perfection
Did you set too high standards for yourself that you can’t live up to? Take an honest look at what you are expecting from yourself. Let go of perfection and accept your humanness. Maybe this means you need to reorder what is important and let go of what’s not.
3. Place Boundaries on Toxic Shamers
If you have people in your life who ignite shame and guilt in you and challenge your choices as a parent, place appropriate boundaries. This may look like simply changing the conversation when it seems to be going that route. Or if they are chronically toxic, find ways to avoid them completely when they are behaving poorly. Find supportive people to surround yourself with. We can be hard enough on ourselves and don’t need other’s help in feeling guilty.
4. Don’t Participate in Passing Guilt and Shame to Others
Sometimes we think we know best. But pushing our ideas on how to parent on others keeps the mom guilt cycle going. By not participating in conversations that can foster guilt, you can not only save another mom from strife, but you will feel better too not taking part in that.
5. Take it One Step at a Time
Let’s say you know the source of the guilt. It is something that needs attention to and you can have control over it but you don’t know yet just how to tackle it. Maybe it’s been stressful to acknowledge so you’ve hidden the problem away for a while until it is screaming at you.
Handle the situation in small doses. Maybe it requires some brainstorming on how to tackle the issue. Limit a certain amount of time a day to work towards addressing the issue so that progress is being made, but at the same time not overwhelming.
6. Celebrate Your Wins
Do you have a habit of dwelling on what you did wrong? If you tend to focus on your setbacks, put self-criticizing to a halt by recalling all the things you have done right. Keep your list of wins somewhere near so you can add to it and refer back to it as desired.
7. Practice Affirmations
If you find you are particularly hard on yourself and have trouble recognizing your strengths, some positive affirmations might be the boost you need. A great way to practice self-compassion is to find an affirmation or two that resonates with you and say them to yourself as often as you need. This is a great way to break the pattern of negative thinking.
I am doing my best as a mom and my best is enough.
I am allowed to make mistakes.
I serve my family best when my cup is full.
8. Get Professional Help
Too much guilt can get in the way of you living a full and satisfying life. According to Healthline, ‘Sometimes mom guilt is so pervasive that it inhibits your ability to parent, or function. If you feel your guilt is creating high levels of anxiety, it’s worth bringing up to your doctor, as it may indicate a more serious mental health condition such as postpartum anxiety or depression.’
Don’t let irrational mom guilt get in the way of you living out your best self and taking care of your family. If you want to reduce mom guilt, stress or overwhelm consider hiring a personal life coach. Book Your FREE Discovery Call!
Wrapping up: 8 Tips for Dealing with Irrational Mom Guilt
A healthy amount of guilt is a good thing because it can alert us when we are breaking our personal moral code and can take the necessary action to get back on track. It is important to recognize the cause of the guilt so that it can be addressed. Sometimes it may require a plan of action to orient you towards your best self. Sometimes it takes an apology.
However, there are times our guilt can be irrational. We can take on trying to live up to other’s standards, feel guilty for other people’s mistakes, experience excessive guilt, and more. When feeling overwhelmed by mom guilt there are many things you can do to lighten your load.
You can protect yourself and others from spreading guilt by setting boundaries and not participating in conversations that instill mom guilt. You can be kind to yourself when you feel guilty by forgiving yourself, using affirmations, celebrating your wins, and leaning on others for support.