How to deal with mom-guilt
“Do you have to run tomorrow?” my daughter asks me as I tuck her into bed. And that old familiar feeling rushes to the forefront: mom-guilt. “Yeah, I have a run planned. I’ll be back at the usual time.”
My kids aren’t babies anymore, I’m not sneaking quietly down the stairs after an early morning feeding. But my alarm still goes off at 4 am and for a good part of the year I slip out into cold dark mornings to get my miles in while everyone else is cozy and warm, sleeping in their beds.
Despite the fact that I structure my running to have the smallest impact on our family’s schedule I occasionally feel guilty. It’s that feeling that somehow choosing yourself over your children is wrong.
Where does the mom-guilt come from?
A lot of our guilt is constructed by our perception of what we should be doing. Constructed from our observation of our own mothers and grandmothers an influenced by society. “When people create unrealistic expectations for themselves, yet still try to strive for them, they come into a lot of internal conflict and that is where the guilt rises,” says Amy Chouinard, MA, LCMHC who specializes in perinatal and women’s mental health and serves on the NH State Postpartum Alliance Committee.
Recognize the conflict between your own interests and your perceptions and expectations is the key to understanding your mom-guilt. Identify where the expectations are coming from. Sometimes we construct the expectations on our own, but other times they come from overly concerned family members, friends or in this day in age, social media trolls. Chouinard recommends asking questions of yourself to explore why the criticism of others creates internal conflict, “You have to ask yourself why does this person have so much power?”
What to do: write down all your expectations of yourself as a mother. Then identify where those expectations are coming from. Label each one as: “important to me,” “important to someone else” and “important to society.” Decide which of these expectations are worth “keeping.”
The physiology of Mom-Guilt
The source of our mom-guilt can also be attributed to physiological factors. Dr. Kate Hays, Ph.D, Licensed Sports Psychologist notes that “Running is effortful. There are going to be a variety of voices that are going to say, ‘Why are you doing this?’ ‘Why are you pushing yourself so hard?’ If you have a young child that voice can easily say, ‘Oh, and you’re a bad mother.’ It really is the body saying, ‘are you sure you want to do this?’ Consider your internal narrative around your own interests and your responsibilities, sometimes the voice that tells us to take the easy way gets lumped in with the voice of mom-guilt. Being able to differentiate between these internal voices is the key to moving forward guilt-free.
What to do: Write down the negative doubts that arise when your pursue your interests. Identify the source of these doubts and critical thoughts. Now write down the truth as an anecdote for each of these negative thoughts.
Communicate and Find Support
Being overwhelmed by mom-guilt can be a lonely and helpless feeling. Often times when we don’t deal with the guilt we feel, it grows into resentment. Take the time to sit down with your partner and discuss your interests and desires for yourself. Navigate your family’s schedule and responsibilities so that both of you have the ability to invest in yourselves and pursue your own interests.
If you have supportive friends or family members, talk to them and ask for help. Trade childcare with a girlfriend or ask a family member for help. Sometimes even asking for help can trigger guilt and anxiety, especially if it is for something you consider “non-essential.” Reassess your assumptions about how you spend your time and considering placing the same value on unstructured time for yourself as you would for an with the doctor. Physical well being and mental well being are equally as important.
What to do: schedule a time to sit down with your partner and talk about how you can support each other in having unstructured time to pursue your own interests. Beforehand write down three ways you feel most supported and share those with your partner when you meet.
Over the past few years I’ve gotten a lot better at identifying mom-guilt and dealing with it in a healthy way. It used to hang over me for days, a little internal critic who would steal my confidence and joy. Now I recognize that critical voice as a destructive force that I don’t want influencing my internal narrative. I’m more careful in the way I talk to myself as a mother, reassuring myself that I’m doing the best that I can and that what I give to my children is enough. I cannot possibly show up with love for the important people in my life, if I don’t first love an honor myself. When I choose to do that, the mom-guilt melts away.