In my experience, motherhood often feels synonymous with guilt. When I worked outside the home I felt guilty, and when I decided to be a stay-at-home mom I felt guilty. So, at the end of the day, it's difficult not to feel like no matter what, I can't "win." I'm definitely not alone, either. But here's the thing: what make moms feel guilty is barely a blip on the radars of our husbands and partners. Like, what we stress over doesn't even faze them, because they are absolutely not held to the same standards and are definitely not under the same societal pressure.
I think part of the problem is cultural. According to a 2019 Deloitte Global Millennial Survey, more moms work outside the home today than ever before. Yet those same moms are doing the majority of the child-rearing, according to the Pew Research Center. In other words, we are expected to "do it all." And while we try to do it all we are often shamed about our parenting choices, and, understandably, feel a ton of guilt about not measuring up. We're made to feel guilty about everything, from how we deliver our babies, to how we feed them, to where they sleep, to working late, to not enjoying every moment of motherhood, to not being able to make it to every school assembly.
As one 2018 study published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology found, the pressure to be a perfect mom can lead to burn out. Not surprisingly, this trend is more intense among moms who also have strong ideas about gendered parenting responsibilities and their role as mothers when compared to their male counterparts.
On the other hand, dads are praised for doing the bare minimum when it comes to caring for their children. So, honestly, it's no wonder they don't feel guilty about their parenting choices — at least not to the same extent as the mothers in their lives. My husband is a great parent, and we try to be equal partners on the parenting front, but rarely does he express feelings of parenting guilt the way that I do. No one has ever asked him if he planned to quit working after our kids were born, or why he's not at our baby's doctor's appointment, or why he's feeding our child a bottle of formula.
The playing field isn't even, my friends, and the following moms sharing what makes them feel guilty is proof positive that we have a long ways to go when it comes to parenting equity:
"I had the idea before my daughter was born that I would put away money every paycheck I got, so when my daughter graduates she would have funds for college and travel. Almost one year later I’ve put no money away for her, as I’ve learned how many expenses we have, and it makes me feel so guilty. My husband seems indifferent about it."
"I feel guilty on the nights when my husband puts our daughter to bed. We split it pretty evenly, but on the nights that aren’t 'my' night, I feel like a bad mom."
"Everything I feel guilty about, my husband does not. Not even in a bad way. He just can check out, when I can’t seem to. My biggest one is leaving for work when our daughter is in a mood. I feel like I’m ditching her, but when my husband is in the same spot, he just leaves."
"I feel guilty for not getting all the housework, dinner, and errands done before he comes home (I’m off during the summer), or before he gets back from a trip.
I feel guilty spending money on myself, or going out with friends.
I feel guilty if I have an orgasm and he doesn't get his (this never happens), but he couldn’t be worried less if he wins the race first and doesn’t think to help a girl out.
I feel guilty being crabby with our son. I honestly don’t think any of those things would phase my husband at all if roles were reversed."
"I feel guilty making plans to go out with friends without checking with my husband first, to make sure that he hasn't already made plans. Because clearly if someone needs to stay home with the kids, it must be me."
"If our daughter spends too much time in a pee diaper. I think he would feel bad about a poop diaper, but I feel bad about pee. I feel guilty about using disposable diapers (even though I haven’t bought any new cloth for our second, and we definitely got our money’s worth with the first). I feel guilty going out with friends, or by myself."
"Going back to work after maternity leave made me feel so guilty. On one hand I knew that we needed my income to pay our bills, and I loved my job, but I cried for days, worrying that [my son] wouldn't be happy or healthy at day care. When I was pregnant someone asked me every day if I was planning to stay home with him, and after I went back to work I contemplated quitting so many times. No one ever asked my husband if he planned to go back to work. It wasn't even on his radar as something he could consider or something to feel guilty about."
"I feel guilty doing anything at all, other than doting on my kiddo when he is sick. I think this is amplified by the fact that he used to nurse almost constantly when he was sick, and we've weaned so I no longer have that 'cure-all' to provide him. I hate going to work, missing doctors appointments, showering, or doing anything when he is sick, even if he is well cared for by my partner or another adult."
"I feel guilty for enjoying time away from my kids. I have this idea in my head that I'm supposed to be with them all of the time. I'm also supposed to miss them whenever I'm at work or out without them, but those times are so necessary for me to feel like a human, and not just a mom. My husband leaves every day and often goes out after work, and I doubt this has even crossed his mind."
"I feel guilty letting my daughter play with electronics. I feel like I constantly need to have a learning activity for her. My husband definitely feels the opposite and has no problem letting her play games whenever she asks. Also, I feel super guilty showering for too long. I often leave the door open. Again, my husband can spend forever in the bathroom with no interruptions."