How Can I Ditch the Mommy Guilt?

Ahhh, mommy guilt. The toxic friend who’s wreaked havoc in your life for far too long. She makes you feel ill-equipped, inept, and like a bad mommy. What have you done, mom? Eating out too much instead of cooking healthy dinners at home – guilty. Missing PTA meetings and school programs because of other obligations – guilty. Forgot to sign the permission slip – guilty. Yelled at your kids because you were already frustrated by a tough day at work – guilty again. Feeling bad that you desperately want an escape from the family because of sheer exhaustion – guilty.

Women worrying looking at a computer with a baby next to her

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!

Chat with Dr. Leesha

Dr. Leesha is a member of the Happy Baby Experts team, available to chat about mental health. As a board-certified child, adolescent, and adult psychiatrist – and a mother of 3 – Dr. Leesha has been on both sides of this conversation. She is here to help you work towards cultivating a healthy mindset, identifying parenting guilt, putting real self-care into practice, and more. Dr. Leesha will be available on our free, anonymous live chat Mondays 6-8pmEST and Saturdays 8-10am EST, no appointment needed.

While Dr. Leesha is a physician, she is not your physician. Any health information featured on this website (can substitute chat for website) or contained within her blogs are for informational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice. Neither using, accessing, and/or browsing this website nor sharing personal or medical information with the author creates a physician-patient relationship. Nothing contained within this website is intended to create a physician- patient relationship, replace medical services offered by a licensed physician or other health care provider, or serve as a substitute for professional medical advice. As such, Dr. Leesha is not liable for any losses or damages related to actions or failure to act related to the content in this website. Should you need professional medical advice, consult with a physician or other health care provider licensed in your state.

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