There's a universal five letter word that is known among all mothers—GUILT.
It's so common that we now think it's “normal” in our role as mothers.
Guilt can steal moments that are meant for relaxation—they leave you feeling like scum and make you do some wacky things.
Last week my husband and I took our boys to the beach to run around the tide pools. There were a ton of other families there with kiddos so we all had fun mingling and enjoying the fresh air. I wish I could have been more in the moment that day, but I was too worried that people would see the rash on my baby's chest. They’d see it and automatically think I was a bad mom. Right?
I actually struck up a conversation with another mom and asked her what she thought about said rash. Now I don't know if that was crossing communal lines or anything (because I'm all for transparency), but when we got back to the car my husband was like, “that was weird”. (Me = ?.)
I've done some soul searching when it comes to mom guilt, and here’s what I’ve learned.
1. Anxiety and mom guilt are like sisters. They’re different but very similar.
I've noticed that like anxiety, mom guilt is often highest when your thoughts have time to wander. You know those calm-after-the-storm kinds of moments—i.e. after yelling at your children and now you’ve tucked everyone in bed and finally have time to relax.
Anxiety and mom guilt have a lot in common—overwhelming thoughts and emotions, negative and distorted thinking and questions of the unknown. Sometimes my overwhelming thoughts look like this—was I on my phone too much today depriving my children of enough eye contact or attention? Was I too harsh in that punishment? Do I really have a close relationship with my children—will they want to be my friend when they're older? Will they turn out okay? And if they don't turn out okay, will it be my fault?
Yes, friends, this is a rabbit hole that you and I could dig forever.
2. Maybe we can shift our perspective on guilt.
So the question arises—are we doomed to feelings of guilt just because we bore children? Maybe this is a result of feeling responsible for raising good humans and maybe we can look at guilt differently.
To look at it differently we must take our shame out of the equation. Brene Brown, Ph.D. who has studied shame for the past thirteen years, describes shame as, “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging and that something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.”
There you have it! Our need for connection with our children is so great that we might even question if we're worthy of this love and if we're going to screw it up. But of course we’re going to mess up from time to time! We’re human. The good news is—so are our children. They need to see us make mistakes, and then learn how to pick up the pieces and ask for forgiveness by watching us model that ourselves.
3. Guilt can be helpful.
Based on her research, Brene Brown and other shame researchers have found a profound difference between shame and guilt. Brown says, “I believe that guilt is adaptive and helpful—it’s holding something we’ve done or failed to do up to our values and feeling psychological discomfort.”
In redefining mom guilt, let's look at it as a sign that you are a caring and aware mother.
When feelings of guilt arise, exam yourself without judgment and make corrective changes. When guilt, however, is a response to feeling like you're not perfect—please tell yourself a new story.
You can’t and shouldn’t be perfect.
No one wants perfection because that's nauseating. Your people want real love and acceptance. I have a feeling that if you’re reading this then your family probably already knows you love them more than the moon, stars and Netflix combined.
So mothers—let's take the shame out of our guilt and give ourselves (and each other) a healthy does of empathy for doing the hardest job in the world, and crushing it, no less. Let’s remind ourselves to have the courage and compassion it takes to live our best lives, which includes connecting with our families by being vulnerable and honest.