There’s this thing called “mommy guilt.” Google this phrase, and you’ll find blog posts and books galore on the subject. No mom is alone in feeling this, and no mom will make it very long unscathed once a child enters her care.
(Except, of course, the moms who abuse, neglect, and harm their children. They don’t seem to feel any guilt–at least not enough to stop their horrible behavior towards their children.)
So let’s start there: mommy guilt means you care about and love your child. Congratulate yourself for doing so. Seriously, do it.
Now then, what causes mommy guilt? A lot of things, but here’s one of the culprits:
With no roadmap for parenting, how do we know we’re making the best decisions for our kids? There’s no one way to do things. No one way to potty train, get your kids to eat, or even to feed your baby. Breastfeed? Formula? Pumped breastmilk? ALL OF THE ABOVE IN ONE FEEDING? (Yep, done it.)
How do we know that, as their mother, we’re doing, thinking, and feeling all the right things? What does “right” even mean in these situations?
To help us navigate this parenting maze, we turn to the voices–voices that come from TV, the Internet, friends, family, and even strangers at the park. Other voices can lift us up, and grant us strength. They offer direction.
Unfortunately, other voices can also have the opposite effect: they can crush us. They tell us we’re not doing or feeling the right things. I’m not talking about, like, simply telling a parent that they’re not strapping their kids into their carseats properly–this is universal among our nation.
I’m talking about those paths of motherhood that are NOT universal, yet are believed by others to be so. These can be the paths that we feel unsure about, and hearing that our way is the wrong way can lead to even more uncertainty. If we’re already feeling insecure, depressed, or exhausted–all of which are seeds for growing plenty of negative thoughts and feelings–then those voices can also make us feel guilty.
What do we do? We can’t get rid of those voices because we’re not the only people on this planet. However, when we’re feeling low, we can turn them off for a time.
Turn off the voices you read online
The Internet can be a great resource. We can search online at 3:00 in the morning to confirm that our newborns won’t suffer permanent damage from twenty-minute-long hiccups. (I’m not the only one who did this, right?) We can read experiences just like ours. We can find support.
But there’s also a lot of criticism and opposing opinions. Comment sections, articles, companies pushing their products at us–there can be a lot out there saying that our way isn’t best, that our way is lacking. We can often be the victims of bad timing if we’re struggling with some aspect of parenthood, and then we hear or read something online that makes us feel totally guilty about it.
The good thing is, these are the easiest voices to turn off. Disconnect from it all–from the opinions, from the strangers on Facebook judging parents who have tragically lost their children, from those who insist that there is only one way to do things. Turn them off for a while.
Turn off the voices that criticize or speak without thinking
When friends or family give unwanted advice, criticism, observations, or speak without thinking, sometimes their voices can sound as loud as bullhorns blowing your failures in your face.
They say: Oh, I think anyone could give birth without an epidural.
Mom who got an epidural every time: I must be a total wuss.
They say: Well yes, fed is best, but breastmilk will always be superior.
Mom who always used formula: So my children are inferior?
They say: My child never did that.
Mom whose child is doing that: I’m a failure.
None of those statements were probably meant to be insulting, but neither were they spoken in consideration of someone else with completely different experiences. They send the message, “You’re not doing the right thing.” Such voices can be crippling if we’re already feeling vulnerable.
Since we can’t mute people, or undo their words, you can do the next best thing: make time and space for yourself later when the opportunity comes, and turn their voices off. Replace the stinging words with the smiles of your happy children. Give those voices the benefit of the doubt: maybe they didn’t realize how their words would sound. Remind yourself that even though some people are bad at putting themselves in other people’s shoes, everyone DOES have a zillion different experiences and perspectives.
Most of all, think of your giggling baby–all he or she asks of you is food, sleep, some good cleansings and diaper changes, and love. I bet you’re already doing it.
Turn off the negative voice in your own head
Only we can navigate the complex maze that is our own strengths, weaknesses, and ability to make decisions. A guilty voice can motivate us to change, and even help us teach our children about making mistakes and forgiveness. But if that guilt starts to eat you up inside, and steer your life into a downward spiral, then turn your voice off. Listen to those who say you’re a good parent. Listen to your children telling you they love you, even if they can’t talk yet.
The hard moments will happen, simply because that’s life. Being a mother will lead to hard moments. But the key is to not let those hard moments define how you see yourself, or how you see your children. Turn the voices off from time to time, see the awesome that is you and the amazing children you get to raise, and smile away that guilt.