It starts during pregnancy; the worry and self-recrimination gather steam.
- Am I eating enough, or too much?
- Am I prepared?
- Am I reading the right things?
- Am I knowledgeable about all the latest parenting news?
- Did I gain too much, or not enough weight?
Taking on one of the most meaningful and challenging roles of all – becoming a mom – can provoke endless questioning and insecurity. No matter how prepared you think you are, pregnancy raises doubts and fears.
After the baby is born, the worries and guilt may skyrocket with endless opportunities to compare yourself, your marriage, your parenting acumen, and even your child to those around you.
- Why am I so exhausted when my friends seem to have boundless energy?
- When will my belly look flat again?
- Will I ever stop resenting my husband, who sleeps through the night and never seems to hear the baby crying?
- Why do I feel so unsure of myself? I had confidence at work, but don’t know what the heck to do with this tiny little person.
- Why isn’t my baby crawling yet? My friend’s daughter crawled a month sooner. I wonder if there’s something wrong.
Despite parenting groups, online forums, supportive friends, and family advice, many young parents feel isolated and inept. They hide their fears and feel guilty when they struggle with insecurity or have negative feelings about being a parent. Many feel torn about their changing roles and resent having to let go of their former selves.
- Can I care about my career without worrying that it will detract from being a mom?
- Is it okay to want to stay home with my child and give up work altogether?
- What if I ignore the parenting advice from my family and in-laws? Will it cause conflict? Worse yet, what if they’re right and I’m wrong?
- Is a mom allowed to feel sexy?
- I feel so guilty when I am bored sometimes, even though I love being with my child.
Even as children get older and moms become more confident, the worries and guilt don’t necessarily disappear, they just morph into another form. As these little people get bigger, their needs, personalities, and vocabularies increase too. The demands of parenting a toddler and preschool-aged child are no picnic.
- How do I control my rage when she drives me over the edge? I am so ashamed that this tiny person can make me so mad.
- Why isn’t he talking as fluently as my friends’ children? Maybe there’s something wrong.
- Sometimes I wish my child didn’t have my nose/hair/legs. I worry that she won’t be attractive as an adult.
- I feel guilty when I sometimes wish he were more like my friend’s child, who is quiet and easy-going. I get so tired of his high energy and wish he were different.
- I miss my old job and workplace status. I resent that others see me “just” as a mom and don’t take my opinions seriously.
The comparisons, worries and guilt don’t disappear once your child enters school. Grades, test scores, talent shows, auditions, and sports try-outs are just a few of the hurdles that loom, along with behavioral challenges such as temper outbursts at home, trouble at school, and difficulty with their friends. Moms also compare themselves to other parents.
- Her kids never seem to talk back to her. How does she do it?
- Where does she get the energy to juggle a full-time job and keep her house clean?
- She seems so confident, always jumping in with great opinions at school meetings. Why can’t I have those creative ideas or confidence?
What can you do to tame the worry-monster? The key is self-compassion.
Recognize that worry is a sign of your love and caring. If you didn’t care, you wouldn’t worry. That doesn’t mean constant worrying, self-blame, and guilt is a parenting requirement. It makes your life miserable and can affect your children. They may sense your anxiety and can become fearful and hold themselves back in deference to your worries.
Self-compassion encompasses the capacity to be kind and accepting toward yourself, and willing to forgive your fumbles and imperfections. Self-compassion can reduce anxiety, shame, and worry, and create a greater feeling of connection with others. It can foster increased compassion for others as well.
You can be a loving, empathetic, attentive, caring parent without the worry and guilt if you try the following:
1 | Practice self-compassion and mindfulness
Some tools are available online, including information from self-compassion and mindfulness experts Kristin Neff and Jon Kabat-Zinn. Many additional websites and phone apps also are available that provide mindfulness techniques.
2 | Recognize when worries, guilt, or self-blame are based in reality
Sometimes these beliefs are fueled by unrealistic assumptions. For example, how likely is it that other parents are always calm, have children who never argue, and rarely struggle with self-doubt? Ask yourself if you would be as harshly judgmental toward a friend or loved one. Challenge your assumptions that other parents have it all figured out, that you don’t get it, or that you must be perfect as a parent.
3 | Trace unrealistic expectations back to their origin
Are they based on your own parents’ beliefs, books or online advice, fictional depictions of parenting, or expectations from friends, your partner, or your family? Have you always doubted yourself or is there something unique to your role as a mother that makes it more difficult? Once you understand what contributes to your worry or guilt, it may be easier to challenge and eliminate it.
4 | Appreciate that self-compassion benefits your child as well
If he sees that you are capable of accepting your imperfections, and can forgive yourself and move forward, he will learn these skills as well. It also provides an example for developing greater acceptance of others.
If the above tools and suggestions are not sufficient, working with a licensed mental health professional may be the next step on the road to banishing mom guilt and developing self-compassion. While it is important to learn from our mistakes and take stock in what needs to change, unrealistic expectations, harsh self-blame, and obsessive worry can rob us of much of the joy of parenting. Don’t let mom guilt get in the way of enjoying life as a parent and time with your child.