If there’s one thing that seems to be a common theme with mothers across the country, whether working or stay-at-home, first-time or beyond, it’s that most of us feel some amount of guilt on a regular basis.
This isn’t limited to everyday moms, either. Even celebrities aren’t immune, with Joanna Gaines, Kelly Clarkson, and Anna Faris speaking out on the issue, among others. Moms seem to have an innate ability to feel guilty over just about anything: not spending enough time with the kids, not giving them enough opportunities, not breastfeeding long enough, not making all their food from scratch, not reading them a dozen books a day, and on it goes.
Motherhood in America has become something of an institution, one where mothers are meant to enjoy every second of their existence, which is to solely care for their offspring. Yet motherhood is also arguably the most demanding, intensive, physically and emotionally taxing season of life that a woman can go through. It’s natural and human for women to struggle with guilt, exhaustion, fatigue, burnout, depression, and fear of losing themselves.
Mom guilt comes from multiple sources, worsened by lack of sleep, returning to work, hormone changes, dividing attention between multiple children, and so on. I have two young sons, with another baby on the way, and I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t lost sleep already over how I am going to handle three small kids while working full-time from home.
Working moms don’t have the exclusive rights on mom guilt, either. Stay-at-home moms, and those who work part-time, or anything else in between, are all well-versed in guilt over things they should be doing better, differently, more often, or like so-and-so on the internet.
It can be difficult to shake, but in my worst moments of being plagued over my kids’ third day in a row of the same easy-to-prep meal because of my raging pregnancy nausea or my fast-approaching book deadline, I had an epiphany about mom guilt. Good mothers worry. Good mothers always believe they could or should be doing more, because they love their children with all their heart. Mom guilt isn’t a sign of failure; it’s a sign of intense love.
But mothers are only mortals, and tired ones at that. Instead of being plagued by the exact things that we’re feeling guilty over, we should take comfort in the fact that we worry we could be doing more. If we didn’t care about our children or our sacred roles as mothers, we wouldn’t spend countless hours of mental energy on worry that we are somehow inadequate or failing them.
With that truth in hand, here are three techniques to help you find freedom in motherhood — your own particular version of it.
Stop Comparing Yourself to Any Other Mothers
It’s hard not to watch friends, relatives, or Instagram superstars go about their parenting life without comparing yourself to them. Whether it’s crafts they do with their kids or meals they cook from scratch, you aren’t them. Any of them. Your kids aren’t their kids, either.
Comparisons sometimes make you feel good, like when you see someone fail spectacularly at something that you’ve got nailed. We never like to gloat when someone else takes a nosedive, but still, the slight feeling of satisfaction might be there at being more expert than someone else.
But when that turns in the reverse, and you no longer feel like you stack up against the competition, it can become an ugly mindgame of shame and failure.
Celebrate your unique personality traits and skills that you bring to motherhood. Your kids aren’t with someone else, they’re yours for a reason, whether you birthed them or adopted them. You are the person who has the privilege of displaying motherhood to them. Instead of viewing that as a paralyzing task, remember that there is no single right way to mother, to nurture, or to love.
Throw away the parenting books, if you have to. Stop reading mommy blogs. Free up your brain from the mental noise that social media and the internet can cause. Whatever you need to do, embrace your unique role as the mother of your children, and stop fearing that you’re not good enough for the job. You are.
Focus on What You Feel Proud Of
Every mom has something they feel proud of. Instead of spending your minutes and hours analyzing your failures, focus instead on the areas of parenting that you feel especially good at. Regardless of what it is, it’s not arrogant to celebrate your strengths — it’s confidence. And confidence is a key trait you’ll want your kids to not only see in you, but to pick up from you.
Much of motherhood is listening, validating, and caring. When they’re little, sure, it’s more about diaper changes, feedings, and cleaning up spit up. But even in those moments, you have the opportunity for connection. As they get older and begin to see the world for the big, and sometimes scary, place that it is, you can instill confidence and security in your children by teaching them to celebrate their strengths, how to ask for help with their weaknesses, and that self-worth is not defined by success or failure.
These are hard lessons to teach our kids when we don’t believe them, or live them, ourselves. Whether your kids are two or 20, it’s never too late to embrace your strengths so that you can encourage them to do the same.
Strive for Grace, Not Perfection
Not every mother is a perfectionist, but every mother seems to want to do the job perfectly. The reality is that we will mess up. We will lose patience, we will let our kids down, and we will forget something extremely important. This is where grace comes in.
We think that as parents we have to have it all together. We have to demonstrate how to live a perfect life to our kids, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Making mistakes in front of our kids — and then owning up to them and teaching them how to handle their own mess-ups — that is the grace of motherhood. That is the gift we can give them that extends well beyond their years in our homes.
Perfection is suffocating and binding. We can encourage our kids to do and be their best without demanding or requiring perfection. The same must be true for us. We, us and our kids, will have off days and off weeks. We will have seasons where everything seems to be a struggle. But for this, there is grace. There is the understanding that each day is new, fresh, and a chance to show up, in humility, love, and glorious imperfection.
Motherhood is entirely more than just taking care of children, yet so often our guilt centers around that very issue: that we aren’t doing a good enough job caring for them.
Instead of dwelling on the barrage of thoughts that scream failure, guilt, or shame, remind yourself that grace always beats perfection, and the ultimate driving force behind mom guilt is an intense love that is all-consuming.
Instead of dwelling on the negative, perfectionist aspects of this love, which demands more and better, remind yourself that motherhood is about demonstrating to your children how to become whole, complete, and healthy people. That starts by being a well-rounded, happy person yourself. Motherhood is amazing, but there is more to you than being a mom. Embracing that will teach your children how to become strong, multi-dimensional, passionate people, too. And really, isn’t that all we really want as mothers?
Writer Aimee McNew has a Master’s in Holistic Nutrition Therapy (MNT) and is also a Certified Practitioner of Nutrition Therapy (CNTP). Read her posts on nutrition and wellness at https://www.aimeemcnew.com/.
For educational purposes only. This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease, or sell any product.