Stephanie Sackerman is a mom, a former educator and a mindful mom coach. She blends her background as a certified wellness coach, mindfulness teacher, and positive discipline parent educator to support moms to feel nourished, empowered, and confident. She helps them to be present for themselves and for their families so that they can come from a place of response instead of reaction, and teaches them how to show up as a mom, partner, and the woman that they wish to be. She shows them that it is possible to build a motherhood and a life that they love living.
We loved speaking to Stephanie Sackerman about mom guilt, self compassion and positive parenting. We talked about the difference between mom guilt and mom shame and why neither is helpful. We also talked about ‘good enough parenting’ and what that means for us. As you read through, you’ll find many tips around staying mindful during stressful parenting moments, and how you can feel more at ease with whatever comes your way, now and always.
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Mom guilt vs mom shame and why the difference matters
Karolina: Hi Stephanie, thanks so much for being with us today. I’d like to start by talking about shame and guilt. Can you tell us about mom shame and mom guilt? What is the difference between the two?
Stephanie: I’m really glad that you’re asking this question. I think that this term ‘mom guilt’ is thrown around quite a lot. For maybe two years of my motherhood, I thought that was what I was experiencing, when in fact I was actually experiencing mom shame.
Mom guilt and mom shame are really two different things. Guilt is more about a behavior, event or action that you feel badly about. You might have made a mistake, or you messed up, but what follows are guilty thoughts like ‘I’ll do better next time’ or, ‘I’ll learn from this experience’. You settle it by saying: ‘Oh, that was just a one off thing and I’m going to do this better the next time’, etc.
Shame is different. Shame is less about the undesired behavior and more about how we feel about ourselves. So we might make a mistake, but instead of saying, ‘I’ll do better next time’ like we do with guilt, we may say to ourselves ‘I’m not a good mom or I’m always making mistakes or I’m just, not good enough’. This is shame.
And I’ll say too that sometimes we’re not even really aware of the way that we’re speaking to ourselves. I had that experience of mom shame as a young mom. I was stringing together events and experiences to make me feel a certain way about myself. I was making myself believe that I wasn’t the mom who I wanted to be, or I wasn’t a ‘good’ mom. It didn’t matter what anyone else was telling me.
With my own clients, I sometimes ask them if appropriate, ‘Are you experiencing mom guilt? Or are you experiencing mom shame?’ And even if I feel very strongly in my heart that it is mom shame that they are experiencing, what I’ve noticed is that as moms we don’t want to admit that it’s shame. We don’t like to feel shame. It’s uncomfortable.
When our brain is in that shame mode, the parts of our brain that can help us learn & grow shut down. And so we end up getting stuck in this spiral of shame. I believe this happens to a lot of new moms.
Karolina: I like the way that you put it. I spent a lot of time thinking about this as a new parent. And what I realized with help from others is that you can’t easily take action on shame because of the judgment you’re putting on yourself— it’s sort of a blanket judgment. You can more easily take action on guilt because it’s looking at a past behavior and assessing how you should’ve done something differently.
And so with guilt, the next time you feel it, you can do something differently, but you can’t do the same with shame. It takes more work to deal with shame.
What is a good enough parent?
Karolina: So what does it mean to be a good enough parent? For me, the mom shame was also triggered by seeing images of parenting in the mainstream and judging what kind of a parent I should be.
Stephanie: Good question: What does it actually mean to be a good enough parent? The term ‘good enough mother’ was coined by Donald Winnicott in the fifties. I think that it’s so brilliant and it really is pertinent, especially right now. As humans, we are flawed beings— we’re not perfect.
One of the ways that I practice mindfulness is with self compassion. One of the most important lessons is that we are all human and we have these shared experiences. Everyone is going to make a mistake! Everybody’s going to struggle. It’s just part of our human experience. And I think that we forget this because, as you mentioned, we see these beautiful images on social media, about what motherhood should look like.
So when I think about this term, good enough parent, it actually feels liberating because what it means is that we don’t have to strive to be perfect all the time. Because if we are always in that position of striving to be perfect, all that we’re going to do is lead ourselves to failure. And that is what can bring about all those uncomfortable feelings of guilt or shame (or disappointment, anger, resentment, all of that stuff).
And so Winnicott’s idea of this good enough parent was actually giving us permission to mess up, to make a mistake, really ultimately, to be human. Because what he found was that when our children see us make a mistake, it’s actually something that benefits them.
We are teaching our children that we don’t have to be perfect, that no one is perfect, that it’s okay to mess up. And that it’s about the response to that mistake that can be really valuable. It’s about doing the best that you can in the moment.
What if you make a mistake as a parent?
Karolina: Tell me a little more about the idea of how you can respond to a mistake. So when you make the mistake, how do you have that interaction with your child who has seen you make that mistake? How do you do that in a way that is constructive for the relationship, and that is a learning for the child.
Stephanie: First of all, taking ownership when you’ve made a mistake is extremely difficult. And I think it’s something that many of us have to work on. And I also think that it’s just hard sometimes to apologize. But I think that it’s in that repair, that our children learn some of these really important lessons.
In positive discipline, they call it recovery. So there’s three R’s of it. Here they are:
- The first is to recognize your mistake and to take responsibility for it without blaming anyone or anything. It’s really about saying, ‘You know what, mommy’s made a mistake, mommy said (or did) something she shouldn’t have said’. You are stating your error.
- The second step is to reconcile with an apology. ‘You know what, I’m really sorry’.
- The third part is to resolve the problem together. You work together to rebuild. And I think that can be so beautiful because you’re reminding them that Mommy’s not perfect, and that we don’t expect our children to be perfect.
This 3 R’s system also shows us that it’s important to take ownership. It really can be easy to try to blame something on somebody else, but that’s not the right thing to do. It also shows the child that they are worthy of an apology. It teaches them what a healthy and respectful relationship looks like. And I think that that’s a really wonderful way to grow your bond with your child.
Karolina: This is something that resonates with me because I apologize to my children when I make mistakes. We’re at the stage now where they will actually ask me for an apology and tell me ‘Mommy, that hurt my feelings. You should apologize’. There’s always an opening for you to admit to each other that you’re not perfect.
Stephanie: I love that your son is learning his worth. He’s learning to advocate for himself, and I think that is a really valuable life skill for our children to learn. And I think that too, for parents, we don’t need to carry around the guilt of yelling at our child. In retrospect,we may see for example that we weren’t yelling because of what they did. It was really because of what happened maybe 10 minutes ago when we were on a stressful call, etc.
We don’t have to carry all of that parental disappointment inside ourselves because when we do reconcile with our children and we work on that repair, then we’re able to let it go. And that’s when we can be truly present with our children. And I think that is probably the gift that good enough parenting gives us, because if we’re constantly thinking about what we could have done differently or what we could have done better, or the way that we wish we had responded, then we’re not going to be present with our kids.
Taking action. What should you do now?
Karolina: Yes! Let’s talk about how we can implement this right now because many parents have children at home (they’re homeschooling at home while trying to work).
Stephanie: I hear you! There is a lot of extra stress for very obvious reasons right now. It’s just an incredible amount that’s being asked of parents right now. It’s important, if you have the ability, I think to be a mindful parent, and to focus on good enough parenting. Those are the skills that are going to help you carry yourself and your family in this kind of intense stress.
But, how do you start? How do you take these concepts and start actually living them today right now in this situation, especially if you’ve never consciously done this before?
The first step is awareness, but I believe that it needs to be a judgment-free kind of awareness. It’s not just about bringing your attention to this present moment. It’s bringing your attention to this moment with an attitude of kindness. And I think that when we have that awareness without the need to judge ourselves, without the need to try to fix or change, this is how we begin to do it.
When we pause and open our awareness, with the kindness piece in place, that’s where we start to realize the negative self-talk we may have going on all the time. We can observe it.
When we don’t take this time to observe, from a place of kindness, and we come across a stressful situation, we will most likely end up reacting over responding. So just start noticing when this happens, because when you notice— that’s when you can start being more compassionate with yourself.
When I teach self-compassion, it’s about responding to yourself as you would to a good friend who messed up or who made a mistake. Instead of beating ourselves up or judging ourselves, we can respond to ourselves with the same kindness, compassion and grace that we would give another. It is so transformative when we do this.
Right now the world is chaotic. There’s no way to change what’s going on. There’s no way to control it. The only thing that we can do is to realize that this is just really hard, and practice self compassion. Really feel what you’re feeling. You might be feeling like you’re really struggling. Also remember that you are not alone in that feeling- other parents are feeling it too! Feel the comfort in that. And then the last part is to respond to ourselves with kindness. That may be a kind phrase, and placing your hand on your heart. Ask yourself: Can I be patient with myself? Can I be understanding with myself?
When we do this and we grow this practice of our own self compassion, that’s when we start to increase our compassion for others.
Karolina: It’s a simple concept yet it’s hard at the same time. It becomes easier to be a more compassionate parent when you forgive yourself. Then you can forgive your children much easier—and then you can set healthier expectations for them.
One of the things that I always ask myself when I’m working towards something, like when I’m working towards self compassion, is ‘What are the things that I have to believe about myself to be able to actually do that? What are the things I have to internalize before I’m actually able to practice self compassion?’
So my question for you is, what do we have to believe about ourselves as parents? And what do we have to believe about our children to have the right mindset to be able to be good enough parents— to be present as parents?
Stephanie: I think that we need to believe that we are 100% lovable and that we’re worthy of love, and that we are worthy of the compassion ourselves. And I think that can be really hard. I think a lot of us have blocks when it comes to that. That’s why I think so many people around the globe struggle with feelings of self worth. But I think that that’s where it starts.
With my son, I know 100% that he deserves all the love in the world, but I am not holding him to that perfect standard that he has to be perfect to get that love, or to be deserving of that love. If I do that then he’s never going to get there, so instead I remind myself that he doesn’t have to be perfect because he’s human.
Karolina: Thank you. It makes me think of one more thing, which is when we are in those moments where we just feel emotionally overwhelmed as parents, or we just feel we can’t be present in a way that we want or that feels good.
What is the right thing to believe in that moment?
Stephanie: I think that it’s probably different for each person because as humans, you know, we have different ways that we feel comforted and loved. I would remind any parent to pause and to take a breath and know you can choose how you want to respond. First, it could be how you’re going to respond to yourself— so that could mean the words that you’re going to say in your head to yourself. Second, it could be the way that you’re going to respond to your child or to your partner. And I think that in that space, there’s a lot of power that we as humans forget that we have, especially when we’re in these really stressful, really overwhelming types of situations. We forget that we can actually pause, come to the present moment fully, feel into our body, notice our breath, and that we actually get to choose what we’re going to do next.
When we can do that, what we’re going to do next is going to feel a lot better.
Karolina: So you mean to basically give yourself the space you need to re-center and re-connect.
Someone once shared this trick with me: Let’s say one of your children is having a meltdown and you feel frustrated because you don’t think they should be having a meltdown because nothing happened in reality. Remember- They might be tired. They might be hot, they might be hungry. They might just be young children, which they are. And give yourself permission to leave the room, while of course, making sure they’re safe and that you can hear them.
Stephanie: I used to think that the terms respond and react were the same thing, but they’re in fact so different. And I think that what you just said is so spot on because sometimes what we need to do, to respond better, is to just walk away and to just let ourselves get centered and get grounded. Because if we are not regulated, there’s no way that our children are going to be regulated.
Karolina: It’s hard, isn’t it? It’s so rewarding and we get the chance to learn about ourselves, but it definitely takes practice. Maybe saying it’s hard is the wrong word. It has to be learned.
Stephanie: And I think that too, we have to unlearn what we have usually done. And for some of us, it’s the way that we have reacted for years, you know? And so we have to just be conscious enough to notice. And I think that at the root of that is, is mindful presence.
Karolina: So I think that the key messages we’re going to leave parents with are:
- Give yourself the permission to have a breather, to step out of a situation before taking action.
- You don’t have to be perfect and it’s actually impossible to be perfect. So just try to be good enough and accept that you will make mistakes.
- When you make mistakes, admit it to your children, admit it to your family and be willing to look at yourself and say, I’m human. I made a mistake. Let’s work through this together.
Stephanie: If I could add one more thing, I would also say to remember that it’s hard, right? Do your best, remember that everyone is doing the best that they can. That’s the lesson that we teach our children: Do your best. That’s enough. It’s more than enough. My hope is that we remember that and really live that truth. That will make our experience as parents that much more beautiful.
More Stephanie Sackerman
After becoming a mother and struggling postpartum, Stephanie Sackerman realized just how much support moms need but how very little there actually is, and she set out to change that. As an educator, Certified Wellness Coach, Mindfulness Teacher, and Positive Discipline Parent Educator, Stephanie serves as a Motherhood Activist, coaching moms with practical and accessible techniques which focus on mindfulness, kindfulness, and compassion. She is passionate about helping moms reduce stress and self-doubt, practice self-care, increase their self-love, and live life mindfully so they can build a motherhood and life they love.