How do you deal with Mom guilt?

August 31 | Guest post by Megan Plotkin

What is it about Mommies and guilt? What is it about that sweet, open, tabula rasa of a face that opens the gates to the guilt hounds and releases them, yelping and baying, around my brain?

Photo by BlondeShot Creative, submitted to the OBM Flickr pool.

I am not a perfect Mom — I don’t even have any aspirations for perfection. I have a laissez-faire approach to germ control. I let my kid put things in his mouth that probably make you squirm (shoes, grass, and, until I discover it and fish it out, actual clods of dirt). I’m ok with that. I even have a half-baked, somewhat supported by scientific evidence PHILOSOPHY about over-sanitization and why that’s a bad thing. I take my baby out of the house in onsies that are sometimes less than clean and (shock, horror!) show his diaper. And you know what? I’m pretty ok with that, too.

If I stop and think about it objectively, I am a great Mom. I provide a constant stream of love and affection. I feed my child, first from my breasts and now that he is getting older, from all of the freshest, most delicious things I can think to offer him. I engage him. I read to him (at least as long as I can before he grabs the book to gum it, or takes off on a mission entirely his own). I teach him animal sounds. I lavish him with praise when he repeats them back to me (in our house saying whuf-whuf after hearing doggy noises = uncontestable baby genius). I try in all ways, in every second of the day to do what is best for him…and, still. The Guilt.

I have to believe that I am not alone in this. For every baby milestone or misstep there is a women chuckling, "So typical." One of the most humbling things to discover as a new Mom is how totally universal the experience is. Every struggle, every personal little qualm you have about your precious one is one that’s been had before, by about a million different moms and a million different kids. So I can’t be the only one, stewing away in my own private stockpot of guilt. There have to be more like me, up at night paralyzed by the weight and depth of there own shortcomings.

Guilt about what you ask me? Guilt about EVERYTHING. When I was a working Mom, forget about it — guilt about depriving my muffin of a single moment of Mom's undivided attention. Now that I’m a stay at home Mom, the guilt is still there — an ever-present tiger quick to leap up and claw me at every turn. Let the boo play by himself for 10 minutes while Mommy watches daytime TV? Up jumps the tiger! Engage him in healthy bonding patty cake time and "slash" you are an overbearing, control freak Mom who can’t just let her child "be," subsequently dooming him to a lifetime of insecurity. Every decision is passed through the grinder of this omnipresent guilt. Every choice is the wrong one and (this is the kicker) it doesn’t matter what that choice may be.

I even find myself (and I recognize how silly this is) feeling guilty about the guilt. How can these overwhelming feelings of inadequacy fail to pass to my son? How am I not setting him up for a lifetime of guilt himself? In the dirty trenches of my mind, late at night, my son peacefully dosing ("Why am I awake, I should be sleeping right now, how will I be able to fully and lovingly parent him on 6 hours of sleep?") The Guilt tigers multiply and growl until I fall asleep (and even then I’m not safe. I dream of losing my baby out to sea, and then wonder would a good Mom have that dream? What does it mean? Do I need to be more vigilant with my baby in the pool?)

I wonder about this Mommy guilt. I wonder if we as self described “offbeat moms” aren’t more susceptible to it that than our on-beat counterparts. Sure, you make your own baby food and breastfed your baby to 18 months, but you haven’t bought, hook, line, and sinker the cultural ‘party line’ of what it is to be parent. That comes with a whole lot of second-guessing and doubt.

How do I deal with it? I think back to a comment made to me by an old friend. We were talking about motherhood and I was saying how uncomfortable it made me when people comment about how I must be a good Mom because my son is such a good kid, and how I felt I could take little credit for it. She said, “Well yeah, the specifics don’t really matter but the mad, mad love — that does. That baby gets mad love.”

And he does — crazy mad love. Mad love not just from me, but from his Daddy, his Nona, and his Poppy. From his Grandma, from whole host of doting, adoring aunts and uncles. My little man doesn’t deserve my guilt. He deserves a Mommy with her head held high.

This is my call to all Moms (most especially myself) — lay down your guilt, you are doing just fine.

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  1. I think the guilt is a natural attempt to absorb blame, and with it a sense of control, over something one actually has little control over and yet for which one is responsible. There is just this exquisite sense of powerlessness in parenting. Guilt helps provide a delusional sense that we somehow are more important in it than we really are.

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  2. I joke that the doctors inserted some kind of "guilt chip" into my body during my c-section. Ever since that day I have felt guilt. Am I being too easy on the boy. Am I being too hard on the boy. Am I spending enough time with the boy. It never seems to end. Thanks for the article. The boy receives mad love. I am going to have to remind myself of that more often.

  3. Thank you for this. I needed this today. I'm eating lunch at work, planning to head out to by the first can of backup formula to have in our house, since it looks like we may need to supplement soon. My daughter is six months old now. I know I've done everything I can, given her a great start at breastfeeding, and that she will be perfectly happy and healthy on formula. But I've still been feeling really guilty. Thanks for helping keep it in perspective.

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    • Six months is awesome! Any amount of breastfeeding is beneficial. You've gone farther than most moms! 🙂

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  4. I dont often feel guilt. Im very confident in my mothering. But still, sometimes there is that inner nagging telling me that Im being lazy or that I should be doing more. But its easy to slip into the extremes of that and go crazy with the toys, classes, and playdates.When Im feeling inadequate ( usually after talking to my mother in law) I look at my kid. Is she happy as a pig in mud? You betcha. Does she know we love her? Of course. Is that all she really cares about? Yeah.So there you have it.

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  5. Thanks for the thanks ladies 🙂 As someone struggling with the guilt issue myself it gives me the warm fuzzies that what I wrote helped someone give themselves a break. Yay for mamas and yay for offbeat mom!

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  6. i love this! and this couldn't be posted at a better time for me! i have HORRIBLE mom guilt right now because my son just turn 1 and i'm 33 weeks pregnant and i feel like i'm not good enough mom for him right now because i'm cooking another one of him

  7. I have twins, their names are Guilt and Fear. They bat me around like a game of Pong sometimes.

    Some days though, I look at my happy kids, sitting on my bed, watching the millionth showing of "Toy Story" and think, "I'm not a perfect parent but I'm Perfect Enough."

    I guess guilt comes with being a parent, but I can't imagine my mother ever feeling guilty about her parenting.

  8. You just described my morning. I was working and my son was playing in my office. I felt bad that I wasn't paying attention to him. I got down on the floor to play with him and he had no interest in playing with me (just in being in the same room). Then I felt bad for missing the cues. Then I felt bad for feeling bad. Then my ten month old pulled up, gave me a big hug and kiss and I realized I can't be doing that much wrong.

  9. My daughter is going through a "no sleep stage." I was up all night with her, and of course, at 6:30 this morning, she was up and ready to go. I've been feeling bad all morning because I have been so sleepy. But when I was helping her use the bathroom she threw her arms around me and said, "Mommy, you are my favorite!" That type of love always helps with the mommy-guilt.

  10. I have to say that I feel most acutely what you described. Reading that was wonderful. I sincerely appreciate your candor but I appreciate the ending most of all. I am so sick of reading about all the things I am not doing correctly or whatever. Yea for something realistic and positive!!!

  11. THANK YOU THANK YOU! I have always been a worrier, but man it kicked in to high gear, not being able to breast feed, having her in the NICU(like it was a choice) going back to work and then getting laid off! It's just nice to know I may be crazy but this is a universal mom thing. My kid gets crazy mad love and she's happy and awesome, it's nice to get a kick in the pants to remember that. :0)

  12. I've noticed a tendency of mommy friends to compare, almost compete, for guilt rights. Is it the right to beat ourselves up? Not sure. For instance.. when I was reading your post, I'm thinking "But I wasn't able to breastfeed, I can't afford to stay at home, and I don't make his food, and SHE has mommy guilt? I must owe twice her guilt to the shame-tiger-gods…" I was reading your article, guilting myself for not guilting enough over those things that, in an ideal world, I would be doing differently.

    Then the "mad love" comment slapped me awake. It's so true. My son has MAD love, in a mad world where, sadly, so many children are lacking just one person to care for them. You're right about a mama with her head held high, but at the same time, I think your son (and mine!) are so very lucky to have a mother who thinks about these things. If you can guilt over guilt, and it all revolves around your son's well-being, he should (and will) consider himself a lucky little beast! How wonderful for him to have a mother that cares so much about him that she loses sleep over letting him play alone for ten minutes 😉

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