The amount of pressure on parents today, especially moms, is at an all-time high. In previous generations, where authoritarian parenting styles were prevalent, kids were expected to obey no matter what. Now, we find ourselves on the opposite end of the pendulum swing and the unspoken message is that parents are the ones who can’t make mistakes. And if we do, our kids will suffer. It is the age of mom guilt.
This messaging is likely part of a cultural shift to child-centric parenting. While there are some definite benefits to this, it comes at a cost when embraced fully. Extremes at either end are never healthy.
This high stakes game of parenting we have found ourselves in has led to increasingly high rates of mom guilt. When we feel like we never measure up, we will have guilt. If we feel like we are failing at the thing we care most about in our lives, all we are left with is shame and despair.
Causes of mom guilt
There are a host of reasons why moms feel guilty about their role as a parent. Do any of these resonate with you?
In my work with mom’s in individual counseling, I often hear them say that during a situation with their kids in which they need to respond, there are so many voices in their head telling them what to do and what not to do, that they end up doing nothing. And when they do nothing (when they know they should at least be doing something) they are left feeling ineffective as a parent and guilty for not “getting it right.” Often this feeling leads to seeking more information, which creates a vicious cycle.
“Do this, not that” advice on social media
Many parenting social media accounts have slides that say “do this” and “don’t do this.” These quick bites of information can be helpful. But they can also be defeating. They have no context and they cannot see into your daily life. And often the implication is that if you do (or have been) doing one of the less desirable responses, you will be harming your child in the long run. Enter, mom guilt.
Comparison with others
Constantly comparing our own parenting styles and challenges with other moms (whether those moms are online or in real life) can lead to guilt. We will never measure up if we compare our insides to someone else’s outsides. You don’t know their internal struggles nearly as well as you know your own. It’s apples and oranges.
The do-it-all mom is a fantasy. It is not humanly possible to hold down a full time job, make our kids a variety of bento boxes each week, cook a whole food, from scratch meal every night, spend time with them on homework, engage in daily play and connection, teach them the things the need for greater independence, deal with every meltdown as if you have all the time in the world, get them to sports and piano lessons, and take care of their spiritual and mental health.
You cannot do this.
If this is your standard of a “good” mom, please re-think it. It is a recipe for mom guilt. There are simply not enough hours in the day. And even if you were somehow able to get by on little sleep and do all of the things above, you would have no time for you, for your spouse, or to just be.
Remedies for Mom guilt
Look up before looking out
Because we are so busy, we often seek the advice of others when we face a challenge with our kids. It’s not hard to find experts on Instagram, which is full of bite size parenting tidbits that you can grab and go, like a coffee from Starbucks.
But what if instead of reaching for a reel, we paused and prayed? The Holy Spirit, God’s comforter, the very essence of the heart of Jesus, lives inside of you. He has something to say to you. We may think that God doesn’t “do” parenting advice – that He’s not in the details of our day-to-day life. But think again. He knows your every waking moment, your thoughts, the state of your heart. That is an intimate God who cares about the details of your life immensely. Go to Him with a soft and open heart, not in haste, but with ears to hear. He will speak to you.
Prune your life
Something has to give. Studies have found that women carry most of the emotional labor in a home. Even if the tasks are divided evenly, the BURDEN of raising kids falls to the moms. We plan, we wonder, we anticipate, we organize. This is emotional labor that may not be readily noticeable by our partners. We simply cannot do it all, despite what society may say.
Who and what are most important people and things in your life? Where do you expend your energy? Do those answers line up? What can you cut back on or eliminate so that you have the space and energy to put into the things that you value most?
Evaluate your social media habits
Social media may have something to offer, but it often comes at a cost. A cost to your self-esteem, your time and your confidence. If it isn’t helping, you don’t need it.
For a week, don’t change your habits, just notice your internal state before and after a scroll session. Do you feel encouraged, lifted up or inspired? Or do you feel burdened, weighed down, and heavy? If the later is true, it isn’t serving you and you don’t need it. Anything that leaves you with a shaky sense of self-worth and doubt in your own parenting instincts is not your friend.
Become more family-centric
A child-centric focus to parenting can fuel mom guilt because you will magnify every mistake you make. But if we make a shift to a family-centric mindset, we can release ourselves from this.
What does that look like? It means putting the needs of the greater family as a priority. It’s not about the individual but the whole. And you, mom, are a part of that whole.
So, if the family is served better by a well-rested mom, then adjustments can be made to help a child learn to go to sleep on their own. If the family is better served by ordering out a couple of times a week so time for connection can increase, then that adjustment can be made. Without any guilt. If the family is better-served by a united, connected mom and dad, then a sports practice can be missed so mom and dad can have a date. This shift in mindset can free you from guilt and help you to focus on what is best for the family, not just the kids.
Spent time with Jesus
Honestly, this post should really be titled “Mom Shame.” That’s because guilt says you did something bad. Shame says you are bad. Most moms today are struggling with feeling bad about themselves. This is shame.
If you made a mistake, it’s important to make it right with your kids. But if you are doing the best you can, never feeling good enough, that is shame. Time with Jesus will show you the difference. He is the healer of shame and the convictor of guilt. Guilt leads to actions that repair. Let shame draw you into His arms and the truths He proclaims about you. If you are struggling with shame, you can spend some time meditating on His word. Here’s a great resource of 31 affirmations of who you are in Christ- one for each day of the month.
I often recommend a prayer journal to the moms I work with. It doesn’t have to be anything formal. You simply pour your heart out – in whatever form that takes – and then ask this question: “Lord, what do you have to say to me about that?” Then you wait. He will answer you (maybe not that moment, but be on the lookout for His answer). When you hear it, it will be a word of comfort, Scripture, encouragement or maybe conviction. But conviction from the Holy Spirit is an activating force, not a defeating one. It will spur you on, not tear you down.
Mom guilt (or shame) is an easy trap to fall into. We are almost set up to feel this way. But being intentional, purposeful and prayerful can help you shed that burden and live the life that God has called you to be. Please feel free to share what has helped you deal with mom guilt in the comments so we can all grow.