| What is mom guilt | Effects | Causes | One shift in mindset | How to create quality parent-child interactions | Mom’s self-esteem | Mom guilt psychology | How to overcome mom guilt | Head in the sand parenting | Find a balance | Keep learning |
Mom guilt is so ingrained in our culture that it is seen as a “natural” occurrence 1.
Almost every mom, especially new parents, experiences guilt for several reasons – for being too attentive or not enough, for allowing the child too much freedom or not enough, for spanking or not, for too much screen time or ice cream.
The most common guilt-inducing decision mothers make is working – the full time working mom guilt, the stay-at-home mom guilt, or the juggling both responsibilities and feeling both jobs suffer guilt.
Every day, mothers everywhere are burdened with unwarranted guilt. Most of the guilt they feel comes from their families, friends, and society, but the worst comes from themselves.
A simple shift in mindset can change all of this.
What is mom guilt
Mom guilt or parent guilt is the feeling that you have done something wrong causing harm to your child, regardless of whether this is true or not. It may also arise from not being able to meet the expectations of being a perfect mother.
Usually, guilt is accompanied by shame. Guilt often co-occurs with and is exacerbated by feelings of inferiority, exhaustion, confusion, fear, and anger. Some mothers also feel angry, both at themselves and at those who make them feel guilty 2.
Effects of mom guilt
The constant guilty feelings and the unrealistic expectations placed on mothers can have detrimental effects on their physical health, mental health, and productivity 3.
Mom guilt is more common than dad guilt. The feelings of guilt seem to affect primarily mothers, not fathers 4.
Parenting is hard work. Transitioning into motherhood is associated with a higher risk for psychiatric distress 5, hormone changes 6, and sleep deprivation 7.
The work-family guilt makes it even worse. It can impact a woman’s general well-being by increasing their risk for depression or anxiety 8. Negative emotions such as tension, worry, frustration, distress, anxiety, and guilt are more prevalent 9. Their job and life satisfaction are also lower 10. Mothers are also more likely to compensate by being permissive 11, a parenting style that is associated with negative outcomes in children.
Where does mom guilt come from
There are a variety of cultural factors that contribute to mommy guilt and shame.
At a macro level, we have the ‘good mothering’ ideology, which shapes our perceptions of what constitutes being a good mother.
At a meso level, mothers compare themselves to others in the community.
On a micro level, mothers experience guilt and pressure from their experiences at home 2.
In the US, the ‘good mother’ ideology is child-centered and time-consuming 12.
A good mother is one who finds a balance in her life and arranges play dates for her children while maintaining a smooth-running household. They enjoy organizing bake sales and throwing birthday parties. A good mom should always be giving and present. Motherhood should surpass all other identities.
Women find themselves frustrated, exhausted, and angry in their attempts to satisfy these skewed and unrealistic expectations of good mothers.
One shift in mindset is all you need
Did you notice what’s wrong with this version of an perfect mom?
Mothers are often judged by their time commitment to their children, as well as how much time they spend doing things for them.
There is no mention of how much a mother loves her children in the definition of a good mother. As if holding a bake sale is equivalent to loving her children. The corollary is that moms who do not have time to hold bake sales are not good moms.
Isn’t that ridiculous?
No wonder mothers feel guilty all over the country.
Moms need to stop feeling guilty because…
Time Spent Does Not Always Equal Quality Time.
As someone who grew up in an abusive and dysfunctional family said, “I would choose a busy yet nurturing parent over an abusive stay-at-home parent any day.”
Spending time does not automatically translate into being a good parent.
Also, not spending a lot of time does not automatically make one a bad parent.
What matters is the quality of interaction between the parent and the child.
Children’s academic performance, for instance, is linked to the quality rather than the quantity of parental homework involvement. Supportive homework help improves achievement, while intrusive homework help has a negative impact 13.
So the good news is you don’t need to spend a lot of time to make it quality time.
Being a better mom does not mean doing more or giving more time, but rather spending quality time and doing things in your child’s best interest.
How to create quality parent-child interactions
Even if you spend very little time with your children, make every minute count.
Rather than nagging about homework or chores, spend the time connecting with them, supporting their emotional needs, and creating a high-quality parent-child relationship.
Forget about doing Pinterest-perfect crafts; instead, listen to your child talk about their day.
At the end of the day, your relationship with your child and their happiness are more important than getting all A’s or having a spotless house.
Parental characteristics that are associated with quality interactions include:
- Warm and sensitive
- Autonomy supportive
- Inductive discipline
- Positive attitudes
None of these qualities require a substantial time commitment. However, parents must be patient and committed.
Even though we know quality matters more, it’s hard to remain unaffected by social media or comments from society.
Why do we care so much about what any random people say about our parenting?
How come our self-esteem is so heavily influenced by outsiders?
Unfortunately, it could be genetics.
University of Oxford researchers Elliott and Wattanasuwan believe that the emergence of individual identity is inextricably linked to the collective social identity 14.
Humans are group animals. Social interaction is essential for self-identity.
In order words, we yearn for social approval.
Who “I am” is constantly defined and redefined by comparisons with others.
Scientists have found that self-esteem comes from two sources – a sense of social worth and a sense of personal efficacy 15.
We do not experience ourselves as simply positive or negative, but as how socially acceptable (self-liking) and how strong or weak we are (self-competence)16.
Obviously, we can’t tell the media to shut up (although it would be a huge favor to the world if it did).
We cannot change ourselves to meet the impossible standard and appease everyone. We also cannot make everyone give us social approval.
But we can work on the sense of personal efficacy by gaining competence and removing the feelings of inadequacy.
So to overcome the mom’s guilt, we must strengthen our competence in parenting knowledge.
Mom guilt psychology
We feel guilty when we have or we think we have done something wrong. The problem with mom guilt is that mothers often feel guilty when they have done nothing wrong.
Mothers tend to feel guilty for things that they are not responsible for. For example, some working mothers cannot control the fact that they need an income to support their families. But they still feel guilty for being at work instead of staying home with their children.
Whenever mothers are blamed for these decisions, they are assumed to have full control, which is not always the case.
In most cases, mothers are doing the best they can in their circumstances. They should not have to feel guilty for things that are out of their control.
It is not their fault that some decisions are made under imperfect conditions.
How to overcome mom guilt
Knowledge is power.
Competence comes from knowing we’re capable, effective, and in control.
It is not possible to control everything that happens to us, but we control what information we allow ourselves to receive.
One of the best ways to deal with mom’s guilt is to empower ourselves with facts and science-based parenting information.
The important thing is that when you are making the best decision with the information you currently have, you are making the right decision.
The next time others don’t agree with your fact-based parenting, the first step is to take a deep breath. If they are only relying on their opinion instead of science or facts, be confident in your choices.
Don’t feel guilty about things you can’t change.
In one way or another, we have all made decisions that turned out to be unwise. The worst mom guilt is when you think you have made a decision that harms your child.
But no one can foresee the future. All we can do is to make the best decision with the info we have at the time.
Having accurate information about parenting can relieve guilt and improve our self-confidence.
Good parenting is not about making perfect decisions. It is about making the best use of available information and resources.
Head in the sand parenting
While some media outlets attempt to stir controversies and make parents feel terrible about their parenting, others attempt to provide comfort by helping them bury their heads in the sand.
They reject science or brush it aside when scientists point out harmful traditional practices.
They reassure parents to trust their instincts and follow what has been done for generations, regardless of what science says.
They also accuse those who provide credible scientific information of hurting or shaming moms.
Find a balance
Using science-based information in parenting does not mean following the science to the letter.
Life is full of tradeoffs.
Knowing as many facts as you can before you make a decision will help you balance your child’s needs with your own needs.
Burying your head in the sand may feel better at the moment, but it won’t help you become a better mother.
Not being able to follow the best science-based practice exactly due to individual circumstances is not being a bad mother. A good enough mother makes the most of what she has at her disposal.
But if the parent feels judged, gets angry, and rejects it outright without even considering it, then they are allowing their emotions to take over instead of acting in their children’s best interest.
Refusing information is not the same as not having information or not having the perfect conditions. It is a choice.
Science doesn’t tell us everything. But it allows us to uncover more about human being development.
Things will keep changing as technology advances.
We must keep learning.
Learning can be a burden to busy parents.
When I was in school, I never imagined that I had to learn how to use a smartphone as a mom. But it has proven to be very useful in my daily life, so I still did.
Learning never stops in life. It also shouldn’t stop when we become parents.
With an open mind, we can do better every day.
Final thoughts on mom guilt
Self-esteem doesn’t develop overnight. It is hard to overcome the mom guilt and personal insecurities if you are surrounded by people who constantly make you doubt yourself putting additional pressure on you.
Find people who share your values. Look for a supportive community that can encourage each other, but not just serve as a sounding board. Together, you will learn more.
Self-care and alone time are also important to improve a mother’s mental well-being, which benefits her child.
If proven to be too difficult, professional help such as a family therapist can help.
Parenting is hard, but there are some easy ways to simplify it. Check out Why Parenting Is Hard And 5 Simple Ways To Make It Easier
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