As a mother, it’s almost impossible to avoid feeling mom guilt sometimes. Whether you feel like you’re not spending enough time with your children or you’re questioning your parenting decisions, this guilt can eat away at you and cause you to struggle with feelings of inadequacy.
It’s important to understand that mom guilt, while a common and normal feeling amongst mothers, is not necessary. In fact, shedding some of your guilt will likely enable you to show up more fully for your kids. Read on to discover seven coping strategies on how to work through mom guilt and move forward in a positive and healthy way.
What is Mom Guilt?
Mom guilt is a feeling of anxiety, shame, and doubt that many mothers experience in response to the challenges and responsibilities of parenting. This can include feelings of guilt about working outside of the home, getting upset with your children, or in general struggling with motherhood more than you thought you would.
Guilt can have a big impact on your mental health and well-being, leading to problems with sleep, low self-esteem, and other depressive symptoms. If you’re experiencing some of these issues, you’re not alone—according to an Urban Institute study conducted in 2019, about 4.9 million mothers reported symptoms of moderate or severe anxiety and roughly 1.7 million mothers reported symptoms of moderate or severe depression.
Dads can experience parenting related guilt, too, but it’s not as severe. This could be because of societal expectations placed on moms to be children’s primary caregiver and to handle the bulk of household responsibilities.
The mom guilt inner critic can be triggered by a host of factors. Sometimes it comes in the form of judgmental comments from other people. Other times you may feel a wave of shame as you look at highlight reels other moms have shared on social media and compare yourself to them. And even when it feels like your mom-guilt voice comes out of nowhere, that’s not necessarily true—there’s a lot of societal pressure on moms to be perfect and to handle everything with a smile, and that pressure is probably influencing the way you talk to yourself.
How To Work Through Mom Guilt
1. Practice Mindfulness and Self-Compassion
The first step in how to work through mom guilt is to simply be mindful that it’s there. Notice when your inner voice starts berating you for a mistake or running through a list of all the things you “should” be doing better. Try to witness this voice as an objective observer, not giving it too much weight or immediately believing everything it has to say. Just take note that it’s happening, perhaps bringing awareness to your breath as well, to get you out of your head and ground you in your body.
Next, try to offer yourself some self-compassion. This means treating yourself with the same kindness, concern, and support that you would offer to a dear friend. When you find yourself struggling with negative self-talk or feelings of guilt, follow those thoughts and emotions up with some gentle, loving reminders. Remind yourself that it’s okay to make mistakes, and that you’re doing the best you can with the resources and energy you have available. By treating yourself with compassion, you’ll be better equipped for moving forward with a sense of calm and confidence.
2. Challenge Your Thoughts
Once you’ve started to bring awareness to your mom guilt and offer yourself some compassion, it’s time to reframe your thoughts. Some thoughts that accompany your mom guilt might point to concrete things you really would like to change about your parenting approach. But a lot of the time, they’re thoughts not based on your own true feelings and desires, but on expectations and cultural scripts you have internalized about what motherhood is supposed to look like.
Take some time to practice self-inquiry—questioning your assumptions and beliefs about motherhood and asking yourself whether they are truly serving you and your unique family. For example, if you think you don’t spend enough time with your children, take some time to investigate where that thought comes from. Do you genuinely wish you could spend more time with them and want to explore how you can make that happen? Or is this just something you feel like you should do because of an externally imposed expectation placed on you by other people or the wider world?
By challenging your thoughts and beliefs in this way, you can gain a greater sense of clarity and perspective, and approach motherhood with a more positive, empowered mindset. And remember, it’s possible to identify things you’d like to change about your parenting and take steps to get there, without guilt—in fact, guilt usually hinders the process.
3. Monitor Your Social Media Usage
Social media has become a big part of our daily lives for many of us. While it can be a valuable tool for staying connected with loved ones and learning new things, it can also contribute to feelings of mom guilt and inadequacy in sneaky ways you might not even realize. Comparing yourself to the highlight reels of other moms can be a recipe for low self-esteem and stress, which is why it might make you feel better to reduce your time on social media.
One way to meaningfully monitor your time on social media is to set specific boundaries for yourself, like checking it only at a certain time of the day or setting a limit on how much time you’ll spend on it. Another strategy is to be mindful of the accounts you follow and how they make you feel. If certain accounts are triggering feelings of inadequacy or comparison, consider unfollowing them. You don’t need to subject yourself to content that makes you feel bad about yourself or your parenting journey, and you will likely feel a lot freer when you stop consuming it.
It’s important to remember that social media is not a true reflection of reality. People typically only post the happy, shiny sides of their lives, so it’s easy to fall into the trap of comparing yourself to others and feeling like you’re not measuring up. This discounts the truth: every family is different, and every family deals with problems.
4. Prioritize What’s Important
Being a mom can feel like a never-ending juggling act, with countless responsibilities to balance on a daily basis, which is why prioritization is so important for managing overwhelm. When you’re able to focus your attention and energy on one thing at a time, it can help you feel more confident and capable as a parent.
Working outside the home is a big trigger of mom guilt, but quitting your job might not be something you want or something that’s possible for you. This is totally okay, and many moms find having a professional life to be an important part of cultivating their identity beyond motherhood. To manage stress and mom guilt, be intentional about when you prioritize work and when you prioritize family, and check in regularly to assess how the balance feels to you. Remember that it’s normal to have to prioritize one over the other at different points, and that the most important thing is being present when you do spend time with your children.
For moms with multiple children of varying ages, time management and prioritization become even more crucial. One strategy is to establish a routine or schedule that works for your family’s needs and preferences. This might include designated times for homework help, family meals, and one-on-one time with each child. It can also be helpful to involve your kids in the planning process, so that everyone feels heard and invested in the family’s schedule. And while it can be difficult to accept sometimes, remember that it’s natural that certain children will require more of your attention at some points—this is okay and doesn’t mean you love your other children any less.
5. Identify Your True Support System
Having a support system in place can make all the difference for moms struggling with mom guilt. Take some time to identify the people in your life who are non-judgmental and supportive, and who you feel comfortable leaning on when you’re feeling overwhelmed or down on yourself.
Once you’ve identified these people, practice being honest and vulnerable with them about your struggles with mom guilt. It can be tempting to try and put on a brave face or pretend that everything is okay, but opening up to others can be a powerful way to combat feelings of shame and isolation. You may be surprised to find that many other moms are struggling or have struggled with similar feelings, and sharing your experiences can help both you and others feel less alone.
Additionally, don’t be afraid to set boundaries with people in your life who exacerbate your mom guilt, including those who make judgmental comments about your parenting choices. These boundaries might include asking them to stop criticizing you, limiting the amount of time you spend with them, or choosing not to open up to them in the future.
6. Ask for Help
When it comes to raising children, the expression “it takes a village” rings true. Many moms feel pressure to be “supermom” and do everything themselves, but this can quickly lead to burnout. Asking for help doesn’t mean you’re weak or incapable, it simply means that you’re acknowledging your limitations and taking steps to care for yourself and your family in the best way possible. Recognizing when you need support and acting on it is truly a sign of strength and self-awareness.
Asking for help can look differently, including asking a friend, neighbor, or family member to watch the kids for a few hours so you can have some time to yourself, hiring a nanny or housekeeper to take care of some of the household chores, or asking your loved ones to organize a meal train. Over time, you may find that it becomes easier to ask for help, and that you’ve built a network of trusted people you can rely on to ease the burden of parenting.
7. Take a Break and Practice Self-Care
When you’re constantly tending to your children, perhaps on top of a paying job or other responsibilities, it can be difficult to remember you have your own set of needs, as well. Whether it’s taking a long bath, going for a walk, reading a book, or just spending some quiet time alone, taking a break from the demands of parenting and focusing on yourself can help you feel more centered and grounded. Challenge the belief that you don’t have the time or outside help required to fit this into your schedule, and investigate how you could find small pockets of time where it can happen.
Thankfully, self-care doesn’t have to be complicated or time-consuming. Even just a few minutes of quiet time to yourself each day, perhaps to meditate or write in your journal, can make a big difference in how you feel. Consider setting aside some time each day for self-care, whether it’s first thing in the morning before the kids wake up or at the end of the day when they’re in bed. This can help you create a routine and ensure that you’re making self-care a priority.
Still feeling mom guilt?
If you’re still not sure how to work through mom guilt after trying some of these strategies, don’t discount the possibility that you might be dealing with something more severe, like postpartum depression. Reach out to a professional to get the help you need and know that you are not alone in your feelings. Motherhood is a rewarding and oftentimes very challenging journey and support for the journey is out there.
Disclaimer: All content within this site is not intended as medical diagnosis or treatment and should not be considered a substitute for, nor does it replace, professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You are solely responsible for ensuring that any health or nutritional information obtained is accurate.