What is mom guilt?

What causes feelings of guilt and how to let yourself off the hook.

Have you noticed that the problems facing mothers in America change with the times? In the 1960s and 1970s, The Feminine Mystique and Betty Fredian’s “problem that has no name” was the hot topic and mothers spoke about wanting a life outside of the home. The 1980s brought an onslaught of discussion about women “wanting it all.” Today, the internet and social media platforms are abuzz with talk of “mom guilt.” So, what is mom guilt, and why is it impacting so many mothers in our decade?

There are a lot of women who believe that mom guilt isn’t a real phenomenon and rather something constructed to keep women from fully thriving as working mothers. Yet others say they experience it, so there has to be some truth to the issue of mothers feeling guilty about how they show up for their families. So let’s take a look at the real causes of mom guilt and how you can let yourself off the hook to enjoy your multiple roles more.

What “mom guilt” is really about

Expectations society places on moms

Although more women than ever are both having children and staying in their careers, things haven’t quite caught up as far as making sure mothers who work outside of the home are more supported than ever. Women are still putting in more hours caring for their children than fathers who work outside the home and doing more of the housework. PLUS, working mothers are facing increasing pressure to be even more involved with their children. That doesn’t make much sense, does it?

A 2017 Pew Research Poll concluded that 77% of the public expect women to “be an involved parent” compared with 40% saying men are expected to do the same. This begs the question that isn’t being talked about: what does it mean to be an involved parent? If you look at the history of parenting and domestic life in America, you will quickly learn that the expectations of how much time parents spend with their children has dramatically increased after about the 1960s and basically skyrocketed since then. But guess what? Studies have shown that the number of hours a mom plays with her children each day doesn’t correlate positively to their future development.

What does have a negative impact on children and their development? A stressed-out mom. So, the expectations our society is placing on women are not only severe, they are not based on the happiness of the mother or child. So what are we doing this to ourselves?

Unrealistic expectations moms place on themselves

It is no wonder that living in a society that expects mothers to be attractive, educated, constantly playing with their children and planning structured activities for them, cooking healthy meals, doing the laundry, posting cute photos on Instagram, and still enjoying their careers might start to affect a woman’s mindset.

There is also the issue of a lack of discussion about the challenges of raising children and parents not being prepared for how it is going to change their lives. This causes many new mothers to believe that they will be able to handle a lot more than they can or should. This inevitable disappointment can naturally lead to “mom guilt.” Are you ready to give yourself a break?

Comparing ourselves to others

Perhaps when it comes down to it, the real problem that we face as mothers who work outside of the home is being brought up in a culture that raises females to compare themselves to others and “measure up.” This tendency that many of us have is, of course, exacerbated by the constant picture-perfect images of other families on social media, making it hard to escape the comparison trap.

But it’s time to get out and stay out. 

The quote “You never know what someone else is going through. Be kind, always” has multiple meanings for moms who suffer from comparison and mom guilt. Perhaps we should rephrase it to be “You never know the truth about what others are going through. Be kind to yourself and to others always.” Even the moms with the most perfect Instagram photos and the mommy bloggers who seem to have it all together and then some have their own struggles, pain, and stresses. Plus, a lot of them have a lot of support to help them juggle everything. So enjoy the photos and their pretty product placements. Keep rooting for your older sister even though she is annoyingly on top of everything. But take it all at face value and root for yourself, too.

“Mom guilt is given to mothers by society because the standards we are held to are unrealistic.  Mom guilt is the feeling that you are somehow not good enough as a parent, worker, friend, etc. It is the feeling that, looking back, you should have spent your time or energy differently. It is looking forward and already anticipating guilt about future decisions.”

5 ways to let yourself off the hook and stop the mom guilt

Get involved in an outside project that is just for you

While it may seem counterintuitive for us to suggest that a cure for mom guilt is to spend even less time with your family, we are backing this one up with science. Hobbies have the following mental health benefits:

  • Prevents depression
  • Relieves stress
  • Provides intellectual stimulation
  • Gives a sense of pride
  • Helps a parent maintain their own identity

All of the above benefits of having a hobby will help you to avoid the blame game, the comparison trap, and prevent mom guilt.

Invest in great childcare

One great way to enjoy yourself when you aren’t with your children is to love and trust those who are looking after them. If you are using a childcare center for your little ones, look around until you find one that is as perfect as possible and build a great relationship with the staff. If you hire nannies or sitters, do a thorough search and hire someone you have amazing chemistry with.

Start your day with positive music rather than social media

This is pretty common advice when it comes to morning routines, but how many of us actually follow it? Even if you think you are immune to the effects of viewing social media, try putting it off for an hour each morning and see how you feel after a week.

Plan big days for your family or for individual children once a month

As discussed above, a lot of studies suggest that spending time with our children is more about quality than quantity. Putting a focus on creating a special experience for your child or family each month that is out of the ordinary will create beautiful memories and help you leave your mom guilt at the door. It could be a picnic, camping in the living room, a day trip to a neighboring city, or anything that the little ones have been asking to do.

Use affirmations

Surrounding yourself with positive messages will help you to remember your worth and stay positive as you navigate each crazy day. We love to share affirmations for busy moms over on our Instagram. Stick your favorite one on a post-it note on your mirror, in your car, on your iPhone wallpaper, and anywhere else you will see it regularly to celebrate how wonderful you are.

Some of our favorites: 

  • I don’t need to rush. My timing is perfect.
  • This is a huge undertaking and I am doing so well.
  • I am admired by my colleagues and family.
  • I am doing my best.
  • My family loves me.
  • I am an amazing woman and mother.