Mom guilt. We've all felt it, know it, and resent it. It's the burden all mamas bear that we just can’t fully shake. Maybe it’s the years of shaming mothers for every little choice or mistake they made. Maybe it’s a remnant of days past when mothers were always expected to be perfect caretakers and homemakers (oh wait, some people still that way). Maybe it's just synonymous with parenthood. Either way, every mom can tell you all about the ridiculous reasons they’ve felt mom guilt. Hell, I know I could write a novel on the subject.
I have had some pretty serious reasons to feel mom guilt, to be honest. My son was in the NICU for the first few months of his life, and I’m still trying to shake the guilt associated with that difficult time in our lives. My body couldn’t produce enough milk for me to exclusively breastfeed him, so I spent a significant amount of time feeling guilty for not feeding him "according to plan." In fact, when I look back at my brief time as a mom it's easy to see that I've spent so much time feeling an overwhelming amount of guilt over things that were simply out of my control. I’ve felt guilty for not taking my kid to the park enough, or for taking him to the same park over and over again. I’ve felt guilty for letting my kid watch cartoons and other shows, sometimes because I simply needed a break or a little silence. I’ve felt guilty for not letting my kid sleep in my bed, for promising him we'd take a trip to the museum only to find out it was closed, and for buying him a different brand of chicken nugget (that he wasn’t as wild about) because the store ran out of his usual favorite.
I spent so much time, energy, and emotional labor feeling, shouldering, and finding my way through an inordinate amount of guilt, even though I’m raising a perfectly happy, healthy, well-fed kid with more toys and books than he knows what to do with. Rationally, I know it's all ridiculous, but that doesn't make it any easier to live some unrealistic guilt-free mom life. At the very least, however, I know I'm not alone. So with that in mind, here's what other moms had to say about their reasons for feeling guilty:
“I had ridiculous mommy guilt about having a C-section. Not because of the C-section, but because I couldn't pick up my daughter for six weeks. She had been worn on my back or front pretty much whenever she wanted since she was three months old, and she could not comprehend, at 2, why mommy wouldn't pick her up but was holding baby brother.”
“We moved about an hour and a half away from our hometown six months ago. We are about to host my youngest daughter's first birthday party, and we are only inviting immediate family because we don't think anybody else will make the trip. I haven't made any friends in the neighborhood yet, so I am not inviting anybody from around here either. I feel awful that my oldest daughter had a huge first birthday party, and my youngest is going to have about 10 people at her party. I know it's silly, but it plagues me!”
“I've felt this way from time to time since I work rotating shift work full time. I'm regularly away for bedtime, overnight when they get scared and wake up during the night, when they are sick, and I miss school events. It all stinks. I feel the guilt when we can't go out to eat as much as my older son wants. He's at the age where he knows and asks, ‘Can we eat at Panda store (Panda Express)?’"
“I guess it isn’t ridiculous, but this is something that is completely out of my control, yet I carry so much guilt and heartache because of it.
My kid has witnessed so much suffering and loss in her nine years of life. My mom from cancer, both of my mom’s parents from short-term illnesses, my dad (with whom my kid had a very close, special relationship) from cancer, and at least five treasured family pets. I was also the power of attorney (POA) for my grandfather and my dad during the end stages of their lives, so there was the additional level of stress and anxiety that came from my kid wanting to help me and be there with our loved ones when they passed, which I adamantly refused to allow because of the horrible, traumatic ways in which they died. Everyone comments on how well-spoken and mature my kid is, and all I can think is, 'Of course she is. She’s had to be.'”
“Not making my twin toddlers homemade meals from scratch. My husband and I have been making their meals since they started solids at 6 months. I tried out a kids meal delivery service for a Brit + Co article, and it was a huge relief.”
“My kids are super cuddly. Not clingy, but cuddly. They want to cuddle a lot, more than is feasible if I want to get literally anything done. So if my 3-year-old comes up to me as I'm cooking, for example, and says, ‘I want to cuddle you,’ obviously I can't, but I still feel so guilty saying no. It's like, ‘I don't want to say no but you kinda caught me at a bad time here, kid!’"
“The many, many mornings I let my toddler watch videos on her iPad for up to an hour while I slept next to her. So many mornings.”
“I feel mom guilt for still relying on breastfeeding to get my 18-month-old to sleep, for allowing him to sleep in my bed, for not being able to get him to go in a stroller/high chair/shopping cart, for not enjoying taking him to the playground (I get so bored!).”
“I never realized just how much guilt would be involved in motherhood. No matter what I am doing, I feel guilty. If I'm working, I feel guilty I'm not engaging with my son. If I'm playing with my son, I feel guilty I'm not working. If we stay in because I want to keep him on schedule, I feel guilty for letting other people down or for not getting my son out into the world. And if we go out, I feel guilty when he gets overtired or catches a cold. There's nowhere I turn, no choice I make, that doesn't make me feel at least some low level of guilt. It's wearing. It grinds my mental reserves and sometimes makes me feel powerless to make decisions. At a certain point, of course, you just have to and you learn to live with the guilt, like a raw spot on your heel that you can't do anything about at the moment so you just keep walking.”
“I feel guilty about not playing with my kid enough. I'm terrible at make-believe games and dolls. I like the playground now that she's old enough to go play unattended. She burns off energy and I get to relax (and feel guilty checking my phone.)”
“Once in a blue moon, I work from home or get home super early, and my kids are basically like, ‘Why are you here?’ They don't ask this in a mean way, but they are so used to me getting home at dinner time during the week that they feel the need to ask this question, and it makes me feel horrible.”
“Mom guilt? Like just normal feelings every single minute of every single day? Which guilt do I pick... I guess mostly it's being sick (chronic illness) and missing so much of my kids' lives.”
“Phone time. Relying too much on TV when there is just something I have to write or get done around the house. Not dreaming up and making varied, nutritious meals every day. Or most days. Or ever, really. Losing my temper. When the twins were babies, not working hard enough to up my supply while they were in the NICU and first few weeks at home so I could stop supplementing with formula. Too many days when we just couldn’t get our sh*t together to leave the house. I had a double stroller, so I felt mom guilt every minute of every walk, every single door I ever went through and the whole time in every cafe or restaurant I ever parked that thing in.”
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.