I've said it before and I'll say it again: any form of mom guilt is garbage being spoon-fed to you, either because someone wants to sell you something or they just want you to feel like crap. And, on some level, this is obvious. We know the guilt we feel is often manufactured and far from our benefit. And yet, because of its pervasiveness and power, we tend to give into it. So believe me I say these 13 different types of mom guilt are real, and can do a real bang-up job of making you feel like the worst parent in the planet. In the end, rationality will only get you so far, my friends.
For the most part, guilt comes from a bad place, which is to say it manifests out of the impossible standards mothers and motherhood are subjected to. On the other hand, guilt comes from a good place, too. We couldn't be made to feel guilty if we didn't genuinely and truly care. We love our children. We want the absolute best for them. We often are willing to dream bigger for them than we are for ourselves. Our guilt comes from this very strange combination of a wonderful intention and an imperfect world.
I think, far too often, that our guilt is the result of just not being perfect or having the perfect circumstances, and we equate the idea that we're imperfect with the idea that we're a "bad mom," which is absolutely absurd since "imperfect = bad" is basically the message women and girls are given constantly from day one and the stakes are raised with kids.
Look, it's unrealistic to aim for zero mom guilt at all times. And sometimes a little bit of mom-guilt is warranted because we've made a mistake and we can learn from that. But here's what I want all of us to do when we feel like we're drowning in mom guilt. Remember the following mantra:
A "bad mom" wouldn't feel guilty.
If you feel guilty it's because you're trying your best and, really, that's going to be OK. Here are some of the circumstances when you can employ your newfound credo.
Working Mom Guilt
This encompasses a lot of the other ones below, to be honest. But, gather 'round, my babies, and ask yourselves: is this legit? Like, should this be a thing?
Friends, it shouldn't, and here's how we know it's actually bullsh*t: ever hear of a "working father"? Or seen an article on how to successfully balance fatherhood with a career? Or witness a man being asked if he was going to keep working after his child was born?
Yeah. So, I'm thinking this is just a way to hold women to an impossible standard designed to make them feel like crap.
"I'm Not Enough" Guilt
Where oh where could mothers be getting the idea that who they are, fundamentally, as people, is not enough to truly serve their child and allow them to grow into well-rounded, emotionally secure, whole human beings.
Maybe, and I'm spitballing here, it's the same society that's been telling women we're inadequate for a million and five reasons since we were in grade school! You know, just a thought.
"I'm Exhausted" Guilt
Being a mother takes basically all your energy, and yet you do more in life than just parent your child. There's work. There's home. There's your other relationships. There's the things you have to do for yourself. So you have to somehow create more energy from nothing to accomplish everything you need to do. The result? We moms are completely drained and the exhaustion means we can't always fully enjoy all of what we had to do... and we feel guilty about that.
Are you beginning to see how there's absolutely no winning here and it's best to recognize the guilt as completely pointless and that it's best ignored?
"I Can't Give You Everything" Guilt
Economic constraints are real and reasonable and nothing to be ashamed of. Unless you're among society's elite, you're almost certainly going to feel bad for the material items you can't give your child, even if it's something completely frivolous, like fancy new shoes or nice but ultimately unnecessary, like summer camp or something. We'd love to give them everything their little hearts desire, as well as every costly opportunity and advantage possible.
(It doesn't help when they whine for these things, to be honest.)
"I Had To Say No" Guilt
Despite what salty, disappointed children claim, we don't like to say "no" because we're mean and arbitrary. If we're denying a child's wishes, it's because we have a good reason, even if it's a reason the child can't or won't understand. (For example, "We can't afford it," or, "You'll break your neck," or, "I don't want you to turn into a spoiled garbage person.")
But even though we know we're right, we still feel bad about it. (Sometimes. I'm not sorry I can't lift the refrigerator over my head so you can get the toy car that went underneath, kid, and I'm not sorry for not trying.)
"I Put My Needs First" Guilt
Sometimes you have to. And this can be practical needs (like "I have a board meeting so I can't make your baseball game") or emotional needs ("I needed to take an afternoon to myself because I am burned the f*ck out and will fizzle to a crisp if I don't just sit with a coffee and my own thoughts and then I'm not good to anyone, including my child") and they are valid and necessary, but sometimes the guilt of doing anything for ourselves can lead us to waiting way to long to make the effort.
Baby girl: you're worth it. Seriously. No one is going to break if you take some time to care for yourself, but you might break if you don't.
"I Accidentally Clipped Your Fingertip" Guilt
This is so many parents' deepest fear and, like, I wish I could say it's a baseless fear but it happens to basically all of us at some point.
It sucks, but your kid will get over it long before you do, so take comfort in that.
"I Don't Want To Play" Guilt
I like to think I'm a whimsical "fun mom." I am more than happy to get down on the rug and use my imagination and play tea party and action figures and dolls and trains and whatever. I have a high tolerance for playtime. But even for someone like me, sometimes it's like, "OMG this is so boring can't you just entertain yourself? Please? And, like, I feel like I'm doing all the work here. How come I have to be both Barbies? Basically I'm just putting on a puppet show for you that you're constantly criticizing for getting wrong but you've given me no instructions whatsoever."
Also, we're adults, so our "play gene" has evolved to other interests. So, no, I really don't want to play this game anymore.
But then they give us that look.
"I'm Only Half Paying Attention To You" Guilt
Either because we legitimately have other things to do or because, like I mentioned above, whatever is very interesting to our child just isn't interesting to us. Or maybe we're just really tired (also mentioned above) and need to shut down part of our brains with 20 minutes of Instagram. It's all perfectly reasonable and justifiable, though you're under no obligation to justify any of it. But we still feel not only that we have to justify any distraction from our children at any point, but that there's no justification.
"I Didn't Know Better" Guilt
Also known as "retrospective guilt." This is when we do things the way we think they're supposed to be done only to find out down the road that, actually, that's not ideal and potentially even dangerous. Like how my mom put me on my belly to go to sleep because that's what she learned back in the '80s when, in fact, we know now that back is best. Or like how I really didn't know best car seat practices when my son was born but I learned later on and now old pictures of him in his seat make me cringe.
"I F*cked Up" Guilt
Because of course we're going to screw up from time to time. We will be completely in the wrong. Sometimes feeling bad is warranted. But keep it together, people. Own a mistake, apologize, feel bad, then move on. Remorse is totally fine, but never-ending guilt doesn't help anyone. I know we only want to do right by our children and therefore want to wallow in the feeling that we deserve to feel bad, but let's not go overboard, OK?
"I Don't Have Eyes In The Back Of My Head" Guilt
Also known as "I looked away for a second and next thing I know he was on the roof" guilt.
This is not on you. Children have teleportation powers and no sense of their own mortality. There's nothing we can do against that except our best.
"I'm Human" Guilt
For shame, woman! For shame!
I mean, really, isn't this what it all boils down to? Please don't feel guilty that you're not a perfect mother-goddess and don't believe anyone who acts like they are. You, in all your humanity, are the perfect mom for your kid.