Recently, my friends and I got a sitter so just the adults could have the best night ever! We were so ready to enjoy a meal and a cocktail without sitting next to toddlers scratching each other’s faces.
We never get the chance for all six of us to get together and it was kind of like getting ready for prom night. We all got dressed up, put aside our worries and loaded into the car together without car seats and diapers. For just a few hours, we could be adults; no screaming kids, no picky eaters, and no temper tantrums. On our way to the restaurant, we told stories and jokes that were inappropriate for little ears and felt that glorious air of a carefree Cinderella moment.
But amidst all the laughter and constant chatter, I turned behind me to find two girlfriends tucked away in the car’s third row quietly talking while one was wiping tears away.
Emotion overcame my friend as she finally sat down long enough to process the stressful week she had. She shared her feelings of guilt that she wasn’t the best mom she could be to her 5-year-old.
Of course, she’s fantastic mom, and everyone reassured her that she is loving, attentive, and compassionate. But she continued to cry and repeatedly chastised herself.
Before we even sat down for dinner, she sobbed as she said she regretted going out that night. After a full day of work, she felt she needed to be at home and bonding with her kid. I, perhaps selfishly, tried to convince her that she needed this moment for herself.
“It’s Friday night, time to tuck away your work stress and enjoy a glass of wine with your best friends. You’ll relax and sleep good tonight, and you’ll be a better mom for it tomorrow,” I said to my friend with confidence.
I knew she just needed a timeout and a chance to refocus.
From the outside looking in, it’s so easy to speak to another mom with grace and kindness. We all understood her mounting stress and reasons for feeling upset, but we knew that she is a great mom and the behavior issues she was worried about are typical for a 5-year-old.
Why can’t I talk to myself the way I spoke to my friend? Why can’t I chant “you’re good enough” when my toddler is throwing an epic tantrum in public? Or when I accepted a new job that is great for my career but pulls me away from her a little more?
Because, it’s called mom guilt, and it’s a heavy burden we as women fight daily.
Wouldn’t it be great if I could have that same positive reinforcement within myself and use it whenever I’m feeling less than good enough?
When my husband or girlfriends aren’t around to reassure me, it’d be nice to have a reminder that I can pull out of my back pocket to get through these tough moments.
I was very excited to pick the brain of an expert who specializes in working with women, feelings of guilt and other negative emotions like low self-esteem, anxiety, and depression.
I talked to a therapist and contributing writer to our sister site Detroit Mom’s Blog, Kelly Houseman, about why mom guilt is such a painful emotion to overcome and what I can do to get over it. As a mom of two little kids herself, Kelly shares expert advice both from her clinical work but also as a mother who can personally relate.
Let’s break it down; what is mom guilt?
Kelly Houseman: The term “mom guilt” is often used because most of us want to put 100% into everything we do, and unfortunately, we compare our mothering style to others. All moms have our own unique strengths, weaknesses, and triggers, and it’s a constant learning experience to make tomorrow a better day than today.
When my friend felt like she wasn’t good enough, I tried to reassure her that her child knows she loves him and he thinks she’s a wonderful mom. I need to hear that myself, too. What would you say to me?
Kelly Houseman: With so many of us working outside the home, volunteering, care-giving for other siblings or family members, or just having a bad day, it’s impossible to give undivided attention to our children at all times. Come to an understanding that your time is finite. The key is to determine for yourself how you can divide that time each day, so you can fill the roles you have as a mother, wife, friend, employee, etc… that can be nurtured as best you can.
Another issue we face in our modern era is being present with so much technology and distractions around us. If you’re feeling guilty about not spending as much time with your children, know that quality often trumps quantity if spent correctly. Many times, we are on our phones and not even looking at our kids when we are with them. Spend each day giving your kids undivided attention even if you must start with one 15-minute block. Because they crave your attentiveness, this quality time tells them that they are more important than your phone even for just those few minutes. Make eye contact and make those precious moments count.
My toddler is at that normal stage where she is irrational with her emotions, so I don’t fault her for when she throws a fit in public. But I still feel so embarrassed that I’m not doing a good enough job handling her. Sometimes in those moments, I feel like crawling under a rock and hiding from the world.
Kelly Houseman: Remember that you are the safest place and best role model for your child. As impossible as it can seem in the middle of a tantrum, remaining calm and showing her to just keep smiling and laughing can be the best thing. Do not care what any other person says, does, or the way they look at you when this is going on. Most parents have been there and know just what you’re going through and don’t judge you. Everyone else doesn’t know how it feels to be on the other end, so they shouldn’t be judging anything. Ignore them!
Showing resiliency and a positive attitude are important qualities I want to model for my daughter. But some days are harder than others, and I’m not always perfect.
Kelly Houseman: If today you lost your temper or yelled, it’s OK to learn from it and move on. Feeling confident in your choices as a parent and your philosophy can help. At the end of the day, your child only reflects you to a certain extent. Work hard on building your own confidence from within.
The next time you struggle with mom guilt, remember to talk to yourself like you would your girlfriend.
Be compassionate, show grace, and make yourself laugh it off. Remind yourself to hug your children and get a good night’s sleep. Tomorrow is a new day to do this mommy thing again, and you are always good enough.