How Can I Ditch the Mommy Guilt?

Dr. LeeshaMD, MPH

What to know

Mommy guilt, the nagging sense of inadequacy and constant fear of failure as a mom, happens to almost every momma. As moms, we tend to place a lot of pressure on ourselves to parent perfectly. Our significant other, family, friends, and society have pretty high expectations of mothers as well. A 2020 study conducted by the Pew Research Center found that 77% of adults believe that women face a lot of pressure to be “involved.” Being “involved” sounds like the unspoken belief that moms should singlehandedly be all things to all people at all times except for ourselves. Whew! That sentence is exhausting in and of itself.

It’s happened to me, and I bet you’ve experienced mommy guilt, too.

There was an article in the 2009 journal of Evolutionary Psychology written by two sociologists who offered some interesting ideas about potential causes of mommy guilt. They discussed five reasons for mommy guilt:

  1. Aggression (actual or imagined): Moms feel incredibly guilty when they lose their patience with their children and yell or lose their temper
  2. Exit: Moms experience guilt when they think about abandoning their children and family
  3. Absence: Moms report feeling bad when they consider checking out from parenting emotionally and even physically such as emotionally distance because of work or relationship stress or dropping them off with family for a long weekend
  4. Preferential treatment: In families with multiple kids, moms feel horrible when they find one child easier to parent than another because of temperament or age
  5. The Motherhood myth: Mommy guilt arises from the cultural expectations of mothers and their failure to be perfect, the concept of “social disapproval”

Do these findings resonate with you? I found them eye-opening as these are some of the same fears echoed by other moms in my own circle as well as the moms whose children I treat in my clinical practice. But, holding on to this guilt can lead to unhealthy parenting habits, mommy burnout, and depression and anxiety. That’s why it is critical that we learn how to let go of that guilt as quickly as possible. Let me say that you do not have to consistently put the needs of your children and sacrifice your own health and well-being to be a great mom. It’s simply not true. To quote Elsa from the Disney movie Frozen, we must “Let it go!”

What to do

How do we let go of the mommy guilt? Here are 5 ways to beat mommy guilt:

  1. Free yourself from the relentless and unattainable pursuit of perfectionism: It just doesn’t exist. Focus on being a present and connected parent who is also willing to apologize when she makes a mistake.
  2. Reclaim your identity: Your role as mom is important for sure, but the sum total of your existence and your value lie well beyond motherhood.
  3. Find your rockstar mommy tribe: We all need friends whether as kids or adults. Our friends support us, encourage and champion us, make us laugh, cry with us, and love and accept us flaws and all. Find your tribe and do life with them.
  4. Recite positive affirmations: Affirmations may sound silly to some, but what you say about yourself and speak over your life becomes truth. If you repeatedly tell yourself how bad the day is going to be and how you are never a good mom, then you will believe it. Instead, I challenge you to feed yourself kind words like, “I am an amazing mom” or “I will find peace amid the chaos” or “I will accept what each day brings, the good and bad.” Pick five and say them to yourself every day. Watch your mindset begin to powerfully shift.
  5. Practice real self-care: Real self-care is daily and intentionally choosing to make yourself and your needs a priority. That includes things like getting adequate sleep, exercising, creating and honoring boundaries, and investing in your dreams. You are worth it, momma!

Let’s Chat!

We know parenting often means sleepless nights, stressful days, and countless questions and confusion, and we want to support you in your feeding journey and beyond. Our Happy Baby Experts are a team of lactation consultants and registered dietitian nutritionists certified in infant and maternal nutrition – and they’re all moms, too! They’re here to offer personalized support on our free, one-on-one, live chat platform Mon-Fri 8am-8pm (EST), and Sat-Sun 8am-4pm (EST). No appointment needed, no email or sign-up required. Chat Now!

Read more about the experts that help write our content!

For more on this topic, check out the following articles: