How to Let Go of the Mom Guilt
Letting Go of the Mom Guilt
We work so hard to be good parents and we come down so hard on ourselves when we fall short of the expectations we set.
What would happen if we talked to ourselves more gently?
What if we gave ourselves some of the same grace or some of the same forgiveness that we give to our children?
Is there a way to notice the guilt without giving it so much power? It’s a feeling, it will pass. Can you get curious about it?
Alright, Guilty Moms, we’ve got to talk about this. So many of you are hurting.
Nearly every day I receive emails from readers steeped in the sadness and hopelessness of guilt. Moms feel guilty for working, for yelling, or for getting bored. They feel guilty for not doing enough, or for pushing too hard. I think guilt is something we all deal with as parents, and as Amanda of Messy Motherhood mentions in her essay on busting the myths of mom guilt, our generation of parenthood experience seems more guilt-ridden than ever.
Whether it’s because we’ve gotten wrapped up in the Myth of Perfect Parenting, or because we’ve genuinely messed up – we all feel that aching Mom Guilt sometimes.
Transforming from Guilt to Positive Action
Today we’re specifically focusing on how to deal with overwhelming guilt when you’ve made a mistake and how to use them as a catalyst for positive action.
IT FEELS TERRIBLE to lose it with your kids.
And then comes the mom guilt.
When those feelings of guilt become overwhelming we think, “What does it matter, I ruined everything already.”
When we are in pain we are more likely to lash out.
Positive Parenting is about finding the best in our children and in ourselves.
From the book Parenting with Positive Guidance (affiliate link):
“Instead of trying to control our children, we teach them to control themselves. Rather than governing out of anger, we guide out of love.”
When we do something that we are ashamed of, and are overwhelmed by guilt, it’s not easy to keep up our ideals of guiding out of love. We make it even more difficult for ourselves to parent well if we continually beat ourselves up. How can we parent out of love if we’re not able to extend that same love to ourselves?
When we feel guilty and upset with ourselves we are much more likely to lash out at our kids because we’re in pain.
I am by no means saying it’s fine to hit your kids. Or that it’s fine to throw your own version of a temper tantrum to get your way with your children. I’m saying that we all make mistakes and that one of the most powerful lessons we can learn and demonstrate to our children is that when we make mistakes, we pick ourselves up, learn from the mistake, and move forward.
How do you let go of the guilt?
What do you do in the moment when you’ve just messed up?
I will be the first to admit that it can be difficult to back yourself down and cool your emotions. Here are a few things that may help; you can do all of them or just one:
- BREATHE deeply- You’ll hear it again and again because it works. Just feel yourself breathing and focus on that air moving in and out of your body instead of whatever went wrong.
- Find a quote or mantra that centers you. I think of my favorite quote, by Carl Bard: “Though no one can go back and make a brand new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending.” It reminds me that I have the power to change the situation.
- Think about relationship survival. What do you need to do to help your connection with your child survive? You’ve heard that cliché about, “In ten years this will be no big deal…” Well, this moment is probably one of those moments, but it sure feels like a BIG deal right now! Making that relationship a priority is the way you can show love to your child.
- Do you need to let something else slide?
Would five minutes of snuggling now help change the course of your day?
- Do you need to let something else slide?
- Try to take a mini-break to “reset”. Walk outside, stretch, and get a drink of water. Sometimes I go back to this post to remember how to reset my day.
- Begin to look for what new tool you might need. It usually feels like just when I get the hang of things, something changes and I need to find a new outlook. Always growing, right? If you’re looking for inspiration, this post lists a big collection of positive parenting books: Great Books for Positive Parenting. Specifically, on the topic of guilt, many of my readers have recommended Mommy Guilt: Learn to Worry Less, Focus on What Matters Most, and Raise Happier Kids by Julie Bort (affiliate link).
Be Proactive and Plan a 1:1 Kid Date
- Don’t worry about making this a regularly scheduled event unless that really works for you. It really is OK to just take opportunities as they arise; Set yourself up for success. It is better to set a pace that is less than you think you are capable of and build from there than to set high expectations and feel like you can’t maintain it.
- Keep it simple. The quality of your time together is because you’re giving undivided attention to your child, not because you’re buying them something.
- Take advantage of times you are already out and about with just one child such as before or after a doctor’s appointment.
- Tie kid dates in with a family tradition. Birthdays, the first or last day of school, mark special accomplishments, changes, or coming of age.
Instead of a Guilty Mom, perhaps you are a Growing Mom – still learning.
Can you be gentle with yourself as you learn?
Developing a growth mindset is one of the keys to Bounceback Parenting.
You have it within you to change the way you move forward, to let go of ideas and actions that are destructive or no longer working in your family and try out something new.
Hugs to you, friends! You can do this. You are doing this.
You are making the life you want with your children with small steps each day.
All my best,
64 Positive Things to Say to Kids
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Thank you for posting this. My children are 33 and 36, and I still think back on all of the mistakes that I made, and how all of my shortcomings impacted them. I often cry because the guilt is overwhelming. I know I am very critical of myself, and very hard on myself. It was comforting to read these posts as a reminder that perfect parenting doesn’t exist, and that all we can do is learn from our past, and move ahead in the knowledge that we are trying our best every day.
MamaLlama Oh bummer!! It’s so danged hard to keep u on all the zillion details of simply raising kids. Add on work, school…yeah, you have a LOT going on. ((hugs)) I suppose at this point you get to look on it as a chance for you to practice forgiveness towards yourself and a chance for your daughter to learn resilience.
All my best,
Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day. My daughter (she’s in kindergarten) was supposed to bring Valentines to give to her classmates today and I completely forgot. When I picked her up from school she got in the car and burst into tears. She said she was left out and that she was embarrassed. I’ve been going a million miles an hour lately- working, going to school, taking care of a 3 year old and a 5 year old. So I know why I forgot. But I feel SO terrible. So so terrible. How could I forget?
Such a great post! Thanks xx
Misty Dawn Wright
Love this!! Thank you!
I ran across this today and cried. I have worries and doubts of motherhood despite the fact that I have been doing this for 18 years. I look at him and wonder …. what could have I have done differently.. how do I still keep him safe? Then I look at her age 10 and fear grips me… what will I do with her when the sweetness of this age turns to teen brattiness? OMG I think I will just drink more wine and hide, LOL. Then they ,not me, do something remarkable, the hug me unconditionally. And then I think Wow yall are great and then I thank God for not giving up on me or them.
Thank you for this blog and the one on ruining your kids. I AM that mom. I have three wonderful, energetic, extroverted, and confident children. Wonderful, energetic, and extroverted because they were made that way, and confident because I made them that way. BUT I am a “Should Mama” and a “Guilty Mom” and a “Yelling Mom”. I don’t want to be, but I am.
To my credit, I’m pretty stressed out. I’m finishing up my Associates Degree in December, and I start my 2nd degree in January. Yes, it’s my decision and my “fault” (if you will) for going back to college AFTER children. But it was how my life has played out. Moving to a new house is temporary, but several months temporary to get into a new groove. Soccer practice, Cub Scouts, freelancing projects for some extra money, cooking, cleaning, child-rearing… well there’s not much time for anything. And you are totally right, OUR stress is extended in ways we do not even think about… I realized that the other day when I was so frustrated with my wonderful children for fussing amongst themselves, and noticed that they were treating each other the way I had spoken to them. I wasn’t setting an example. Well actually, I was, just not the example that I SHOULD have been setting. That’s a SHOULD that I need to heed. I SHOULD remember that first and foremost, regardless of what comes out of my mouth, that I am watched, 24/7. Not by the other people of the world, who only aim to criticize me, but an example to my children who are looking at me for how to grow up. They will learn what I teach, and they will learn what I don’t teach.
Thanks for the blog that reminds me that I am human, and a mother, and as long as I’m willing to try my best, my kids SHOULD turn out fine. Right?
I so needed this this morning. I lost my cool with my kids when they woke up during my “me time” while I was finishing up a workout. Thankfully it was a quick loss and then I remembered to shut.my.mouth! I was still upset afterwards, though. Instead of being a “guilty mom”, I am going to label myself a “growing mom”. I can already feel a change in how I feel about myself.
And your idea about a mini break to reset totally works. We live in rural Alaska, and the northern lights were out this morning, so after I finished my workout, I bundled up our three boys and took them out to look at the stars and see the Northern Lights. We all came back to the house feeling invigorated and ready to start our day over.
I just wanted to take the opportunity to thank you for everything on your blog. Thank you for sharing your struggles, your tips and your tricks for being a peaceful parent. Your website is a priceless resource for me.
I absolutely love your blog! it shines a light on the too often hidden part of parenthood, the part that isn’t perfect. I would love to link up with you and be able to get my followers to your great site but I am a newbie and am not sure how all of that works or if it is even possible. If not just keep up the great work!!
Thanks Jessica, you are welcome to link back to me any time.
I definitely will, thanks and have a great day 🙂
Have you tried yoga or martial arts with him? Self-discipline, structure, flexibility. All tools to overcome challenging behavior.
Jessica van Geuns
A lot of the things you say are so applicable and stuff I can really do. I am wondering if anyone has any ideas on ways to help my 8 year-old with his temper. He will scream at me, throw things at me, and even try to hit me. I feel like I have tried everything to help him calm down, from time-out to deep breathing and even loss of favourite things. He completely loses it and everyone in the family suffers. Help please!
check out the book The Explosive Child
I’m really glad I found this site and read this post. I needed it today! I am the mother of two year old twin boys, and I do feel the “mom guilt” alot. It’s hard when you have two kids, with different personalities, wanting your attention all the time. I actually raised my voice at both of them today, and soon after I felt guilty about it. I do try to take deep breathes and step away, but it is a constant struggle. Thank you for being so honest and I am looking forward to following your journey.
I know I don’t know you… but I, too, have twin boys. They are five now, and I just wanted to tell you that it gets easier! Spending one on one time when they were younger felt impossible. Now that they are older, they understand if their brother needs some mommy time, and can easily become engrossed in an activity that doesn’t require my presence.
Great post! Thank you. Yelling less, breathing, taking a moment to think before reacting, these are all things I’m working on as a mom, so this is perfect! Thank you!
Africa S LopezdeAlonso
… Very interesting and you have help me to find a new way to look at my self, I am 38, and I tought I have to be a perfect mom by now. from now on I will be a GROWING MOM, instead of a GUILTY MOM. Thank you so much for teaching me that concept.
Growing along with you – life long learners, aren’t we? 😉
The other night at bedtime I was snuggled up with my 4 year-old. He said to me, “Mama, you really scare me when you yell.”
I said, “I know, Bug.. Mommy is trying really hard not to yell.”
In his sweet little voice he said, “I know you’re working on it, mama.” With every fiber of my being…
I’ve been through 15 years of therapy, and 7 of parenting. I thought when I started this mothering gig that I had all the right info, all my issues worked out, and wasn’t going to make any mistakes… I’ve really come to see that my goal of perfection has caused so much suffering for us all. 🙁 I love how this subject has been coming up, and so appreciate what you’ve been posting on it…. Thank you so much for starting this conversation…
Wow, what a powerful and humbling thing to hear from your son. It sounds like he has confidence that you’re doing the best you can.
That wish for perfection is heard to get over isn’t it? I mean – this it’s a job that I simply MAY NOT fail… makes for some difficult days though, balancing the need to parent well with the reality that I have so much to learn.
This sounds very familiar to me. My six year old and I both made resolutions to work on controlling our temper. When I came out to where he was sitting on the couch, after I had lost mine, I sat down and said, “Mommy was upset at your behavior, and I am allowed to dislike your behavior…because it was not nice, but I am really trying not to yell…. and I did, so I am sorry. I am really working on it.” He took my face in his hands and said, “Mom. Mom. It’s ok. please don’t be sad. its ok. We all make mistakes.” Boy, did it feel good to hear my kind words come out of his mouth, when I sometimes, hear my temper from him. I try to remind myself that as often as I mess up, I do well too. I see that what my kids do something sweet, when they are kind and in this moment when my son showed such compassion and forgiveness.
Thank you for your absolute honesty. As a mother teaching mindfulness to other mothers, this is exactly what we all need to hear. I bow to you in your realistic perspective. We are all only human – to ask perfection of ourselves, to set unattainable expectations… will bring about failure. We are resilient women with the ability to THRIVE beyond our wildest dreams. Shanti
Thank you Jennifer.
I wish I could offer some good advice here on what works to deal with guilt–but I confess, most of what I have learned falls under “what NOT to do”. With that in mind, I find I have fewer problems with guilt when I…
*DON’T take responsibility for my kids’ choices (both good and bad)
*DON’T blame them for my own choices
*DON’T hang on to what what wrong yesterday (do give myself and my kids a fresh start every morning)
and the biggest one…
*DON’T let my perfectionism get in my way of being happy with myself and my family–and by that I mean, even if I only get to one or two things on my to-do list, or we only get half of our homeschool subjects done, or my sink is full of dirty dishes, or my kids sass me because they don’t want to do their chores, or I’m not measuring up to the (unrealistically) high standards I have set for myself (again), I can STILL bless my family and be a good mom without being perfect at it.
I think the advice you offer is great, thanks. Sometimes it’s so hard not to hang on to what went wrong.