Mom Guilt: the tendency to feel unnecessarily terrible about any number of aspects of your role as a mother, whether because of your own judgments or somebody else’s. The yearning for perfection as a mother, accompanied by the feeling of fault for inevitably failing to achieve it.
Does that definition spark any reaction in the depths of your soul? No matter our situation, all of us moms struggle with this guilt to some extent. Unfortunately, one of our downfalls as humans is that we tend to compare ourselves with others, particularly in the roles we value the highest. Motherhood is a prime target. The mom guilt battle falls into two categories: feeling guilty because of your own judgments and feeling guilty because of other people’s judgments.
It’s incredibly easy to constantly judge our own mothering. I should be more patient. I shouldn’t have said it like that to him. She should know her alphabet by now, I should have started teaching it to her earlier. I should get them outside more. Oh crap, that harsh tone of voice he just used with his brother is one he learned from me; I shouldn’t be such a bad example. I should spend more time playing with them. I shouldn’t have let them watch another tv show. I should keep a cleaner house. I should come up with something better than pb&j for lunch. Now just to be clear, judging oneself is not always a bad thing. All “judging” means is to come to an opinion or conclusion about a matter. If you never judged your own behavior, you’d never grow in areas of weakness. Being a parent tends to point out every weakness we knew we had and a lot more we weren’t aware of. The truth is, you will not be a perfect parent. Neither will I. Neither will anyone else. Learn from your mistakes, and don’t beat yourself up over everything. Apologize to your kids (and partner!) when needed, and try to do better next time. Your kids have weaknesses too; they’ll learn a lot from watching you deal with yours. And some things really aren’t worth stressing out over. (It’s not the end of the world if my kid didn’t eat vegetables with dinner. I’ll just hide some spinach in a smoothie tomorrow. Kid won’t even see it coming. Booyah.)
When it comes to other people’s judgments…let them go. I have a very few people whom I readily accept parenting advice from. They are people I trust, people whose parenting I respect, and people I know I can learn from. And even their wisdom I take with a grain of salt; all parents are different, and all kids are different. Apart from those few people, I’ve learned (and am still learning) to put everyone else’s input through a very large-holed sifter. They aren’t me, their kids aren’t my kids (if they’ve ever even taken care of kids), and well-intended or not, their opinions generally go right out the window. Sure there may be a nugget here and there worth holding on to, but the point is, don’t evaluate your parenting based on someone else’s expectations. If you want to start your kid in preschool prep when they’re two years old and you and your husband see it as a good investment, go for it. If you aren’t into that, but your friend is and keeps trying to get you to enroll your kid in the education co-op, don’t feel bad about standing your ground. Your little tyke will still learn to read and write and all that good stuff when they’re older. Breastfeeding or bottle-feeding, homeschool or public school, vaccines or no vaccines or some vaccines, sunscreen or no sunscreen, how to potty train, how to discipline, how to dress your infant, etc, etc, etc. Do what you need to do for your own family. No need to feel guilty just because another mom does it differently.
Considering how priceless our children are, it’s no wonder we want to do everything right. We all do the best we can, and we all tend to have different opinions on what that means. The problem is, we won’t get it all right. None of us will. And in that little fact, peace abounds. I’ll end with a quote from Sandra Boynton’s Perfect Piggies that’s deeper than my children yet realize. “You have to be you and we have to be we.” Boom.