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Understanding Mom (or Dad) Guilt and How to Overcome It

Mary-Lauren O’Crowley, MA, NCC, LPC 

Do you ever find yourself looking at how other parents are raising their children and feel like a lesser mom? This all-too-common phenomenon is often referred to as mom guilt. It is the feeling that you are not doing enough or somehow falling short when it comes to your children. Mom’s guilt can be brought on by external sources including social media, TV, and even critical friends or family as well as internal expectations, pressures, and insecurities. This form of guilt does not discriminate, as any mother in any situation, professional or personal, may end up feeling as though who they are or what they do is not enough as it pertains to parenting. That being said, new mothers may find themselves particularly susceptible to mom guilt. 

Is Mom Guilt Bad?

What you must understand about mom guilt is that every mother under the sun will experience it at one point or another, even those moms you most admire and often compare yourself to. Mom guilt is not entirely unhealthy, as it can provide some insight into how you truly feel about certain situations or behaviors. For instance, if you notice that you feel particularly anxious or guilty after your child has watched TV all day or only eaten junk food, it may signal that a slight change is needed. When feelings of guilt become pervasive and affect daily functioning, however, it may be time to take action. If you find that you feel a near-constant need to sacrifice your entire life in order to cater to your children, it may be time to take steps to work through this, namely how it is impacting your emotional well-being. While it is in no way a bad thing to love your children and want the best for them, it is also completely acceptable to have your own needs and to tend to those needs. So, what can a mom do to overcome the burden of mom guilt?

Identify the Source

Get a notebook and note every time you feel guilt or shame. What causes it? Does it happen when you scroll through social media? Or maybe you notice it most when you hang out with a particular group of people or one specific person? Perhaps you might find that it is even tied to old beliefs formed in your own childhood. Figuring out the root cause will help you to better address and deal with it. 

Challenge Negative Beliefs

When you begin reflecting on the particular triggers for your guilt, you may find that the source is actually your own critical inner voice and negative thought patterns. We do not realize that we talk to ourselves more than anyone else, and sometimes that conversation is far from supportive. If you frequently chastise yourself for your perceived mistakes or shortcomings, feelings of guilt, sadness, frustration, and even shame will likely follow. Dare to challenge these beliefs within yourself and consider that they are likely false. You may even try relating to yourself like you would your own children. I would imagine that you will find yourself being much more understanding. If you have trouble challenging your thoughts or creating a healthier narrative, you might consider seeking the help of a licensed therapist. 

Seek Out a Healthy Support System 

Moms may feel isolated in their experiences, left to believe that they are the only ones struggling. Instead of allowing yourself to suffer in silence, find yourself one or two supportive friends or family members who will encourage you and build you up instead of judging you. If you cannot identify someone who feels safe in this way, there are plenty of support groups with women and parents who are navigating similar experiences. 

I would be lying if I told you that mom guilt would never disappear completely. Even with the tips above, there may still be moments when you feel less than or unworthy. Much like with anything, the idea here is not to let the feelings of guilt control you and take away from the precious moments you have in raising your children.

If you or someone you know is struggling with guilt, our therapists can help. Contact Symmetry Counseling to schedule an appointment for therapy in Chicago!

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