I feel like I’m an expert on guilt since becoming a mom. It’s that constant chatter in my mind – am I doing a good enough job raising my kids? Are they watching too much TV? Am I getting them outside enough? Am I spending enough time with them? Am I feeding them too much pizza or mac & cheese? So, if any of these thoughts have crossed your mind, you’re not alone.
There are 2 types of guilt – purposeful and productive or punishing and unproductive.
Purposeful and productive guilt makes us feel like we did something out of alignment with our moral code. It motivates us to take action to correct something. It causes us to want to do better and live in integrity. The way to resolve this kind of guilt is by taking action.
The other kind of guilt is punishing and unproductive guilt. This is the guilt we hang on to as a punishment to ourselves for doing something “wrong” or “bad” and we can’t seem to fix. When we continue to beat ourselves up over this type of guilt, it leads to regret. Regret is having information now in the present, and then going back into past and beating ourselves up for information we didn’t have at the time.
If you’re feeling mom guilt over a particular situation, the first thing to ask yourself is, “Is this guilt I’m feeling purposeful and productive, or is it punishing and unproductive?”
If it’s purposeful and productive, it’s that kind of guilt that we feel when we know we did something that isn’t in line with our morals or how we want to live out our lives, and we can take action to make it right. What action do you need to take to let go of the guilt? Maybe it’s an apology to your husband for making a sarcastic comment. Maybe its repairing with your children after losing your cool. Assess what you feel like you need to do to make it right, and then do it.
If you find that the guilt you’re feeling is a punishing or unproductive guilt, then moving through it is more of a focus on self-forgiveness. There are so many things we can feel guilty about:
- Hurting our children or partner, especially unintentionally. This is in direct conflict with our identity as a good mom. We didn’t mean to hurt them, but we did. Maybe we hurt their feelings, or maybe there’s an accident and we feel guilty for not being as attentive as we think we should have been.
- Not living up to our best or the expectations we’ve placed on ourselves as moms. This is that feeling of guilt that we’re not doing enough. We’re not playing with our kids enough. We’re not socializing them enough. We’re not feeding them enough healthy food. It’s that feeling that we’re falling short.
- Feeling guilty when we have self-care, or we choose self-honoring behavior. We feel like we want and need to take care of ourselves, but we also feel that sense of obligation toward others.
- We can also feel guilty about having more than another – a guilt of privilege. Maybe we feel guilty that we have what we have – whether that’s a nanny or housekeeper. Maybe it’s other resources we have. Maybe we feel guilty our in-laws help out so much while other moms we know are doing it all alone. Maybe its around money, jobs, or opportunity. This kind of guilt does not serve any purpose, but there’s power in this kind of guilt if we can transform it into service, compassion, empathy, and understanding.
The good news is that there are steps we can take to resolving guilt.
If mom guilt is something you find yourself struggling with and you’d like to be further resourced, this is absolutely something I go through with most of my clients so if you’d like a coach in navigating this guilt – head to the coaching page on my website or reach out to me for a discovery call. There’s no charge for these calls, and we can start to explore some handles for you as you commit to moving through this guilt that’s holding you down.
- The first step to resolving guilt is taking accountability and responsibility.
Acknowledge what happened and truly owning it. No excuses or justifications. This is a tough step, because it can make us feel more guilty. But it’s like a boomerang that pulls us back to propel us forward. We need to own what we did before we can move through it.
2. Showing ourselves compassion.
This step isn’t about excusing our behavior. Rather, it’s truly digging into the why – the reasons for why we did what we did – and feeling compassion for ourselves. A deep compassion for whatever we did that’s making us feel inadequate, even if we hurt another. You’re going to find that this to be a common thread here with me. In coaching moms, I’ve found we lack such compassion for ourselves. We extend it to our children and partners and parents and coworkers, but we’re the first to be hard on ourselves, or judge ourselves in ways we wouldn’t anyone else.
3. Seeking understanding.
In seeking understanding, we commit to doing the work, with a coach or on our own, to explore and understand why we did what we did. Every action has a root cause. Every choice and behavior has a reason. And sometimes that reason is that we truly didn’t have the experience, knowledge, or skills. Or we were under resourced. Or we were exhausted. Or we were dysregulated. Or we were feeling undervalued or unappreciated. Or we were just frustrated. And having that level of understanding helps us to unpack the behavior and patterns that led us to that action.
4. Find a supportive community.
Find a community of other women going through a similar thing. This one is really important, so we don’t go into withdrawal. Reaching out for that support is key, so we don’t feel alone in the things we’re feeling. How often have we confided in a friend about something we said or did that we’re feeling guilty about, only to find them being able to relate in such a way that reminds us that we’re not alone?
5. Take action.
What is the action we need to take to let the guilt go? If our guilt is productive – the kind of guilt that has purpose and value, then there’s something we need to do to move through the guilt. Maybe it’s forgiving ourselves. Maybe it’s making an apology to whomever we hurt. Especially with our spouse and kids – this is the repair process. When we reach out and connect, we’ll often find that personal growth and depth of relationship can result.
Finally, how can we develop new habits and patterns to avoid these guilt cycles in the first place?
Is it even possible to parent without guilt? I don’t know, but I don’t think so, because it’s too complicated and we care too much. But I do think we can learn ways to avoid a lot of the guilt that could be associated with mom life if we learn to ask ourselves this question – what’s motivating my actions right now?
Especially when doing something for someone else or doing something the way we think it should be done. We want to ask ourselves am I doing this for someone else’s approval and validation, or is this action really in alignment with my moral code and parenting philosophy? Am I doing this thing because this is what society tells me I need to do? If the answer is yes, then we’re likely being motivated by guilt. Guilt is driving your decision, rather than love. Because when we have honest boundaries, and we’re filling our own cup, and we aren’t moving from place of guilt, we can move from place of love instead.
We’ve all done it. I’ve done something for Jeff or the girls out of a feeling of obligation rather than just love, and it doesn’t feel as good. But when we let go of the guilt, and stop doing things because we think we should, and do things because we really feel inspired to do them, then that’s coming from a place of love and that’s such a difference.
Parenting is hard – it’s so hard. And it’s messy. And it’s imperfect. We’re not going to feel like we’re doing it all right or how we want to or expect to. It means we’re going to have rough days. And moments where we’re not at our best. So, if you lost your cool today, or you toddler melted down 45 times before breakfast, or your kids have been watching 6 straight hours of TV and ate cereal for breakfast, lunch and dinner, lift your head up. Because if you’re ever doubting yourself as a parent, the mere fact that you have these thoughts means that you care so much, and that you’re an amazing mom.