As a mom, it is completely normal to have moments of exhaustion, frustration, or overwhelm. In these instances, we can take the lead in managing the home because it feels easier to do it ourselves. Sometimes, mothers have been taught to believe that being a good mom means “doing it all” and ensuring their children never experience difficult emotions. However, beliefs such as these can create an extreme sense of mom guilt when you believe you aren’t measuring up.
Mom guilt is pervasive among mothers and can have a relentless grip that impacts all of your decisions. It can present as a range of emotions when you feel like you’re not doing enough, feel you are not parenting the right way, or believe you’re making decisions that may hurt your children in the future.
Several different factors can cause mom guilt. Many mothers have personal insecurities about their abilities.
Outside pressures from family or friends, for example, believing that you need to live up to the standards of your mother-in-law or somebody significant in your life, also leads us to a common cause, comparison.
Comparison can be centered around messages from social media or connected to views toward the women in your life that were the perfect moms. You may find yourself trying to meet unrealistic standards instead of permitting yourself the space and opportunity to focus and hone in on flexible standards for yourself.
1. Children can internalize and feel responsible for your happiness. As a result, mom guilt can unintentionally be internalized by some children. When this exchange occurs, children will constantly desire to please and may feel they are not enough to keep you happy.
2. It can create a level of learned helplessness. When we consistently or constantly do things for our children, it keeps them from building the confidence level they will need as they mature and work toward independence. Children who show signs of learned helplessness are at increased risk for anxiety, depression, or both. Here are some common symptoms of learned helplessness in children:
3. Parenting through guilt can limit your child’s ability to problem-solve and work through their frustrations. Consequently, they may develop a short fuse or be unwilling to try new things if they need more confidence. Some children may also be prone to feeling like a failure because they are accustomed to having you solve their problems.
4. Children raised by an “over-functioning” mom will often have difficulty building intrinsic motivation. Certain emotional and developmental milestones are best acquired over time. For example, inherent motivation builds when children have responsibility and learn to be reliable without frequent reminders.
5. If children aren’t ready to take the reins when a parent is ready to be less involved, there can be an emotional tug of war. At a certain point, age or life changes will require you to back away and balance your time and attention. If this change occurs abruptly or through resistance, it can impact the entire family system.
Managing mom guilt is challenging work, but guilt is not a joyful or powerful foundation for parenting. How you react toward your children matters, and there are active ways to decrease the impact. First, I want you to ask yourself, “whose needs are you meeting? Yours or your child’s?” Then consider how your response will impact their developmental growth now and in the future. For example, will your child be embarrassed if they are with their peers and can’t perform a task without additional help? Also, consider how your child’s emotional responses impact their ability to connect with peers their age. Here are a few other key considerations.
If mom guilt is a pervasive and consistent dynamic in your life that leaves you feeling anxious, sad, or overwhelmed, you are not alone. Consider reaching out to a trusted friend, mentor, or counselor specializing in parenting and working with women. If left unaddressed, our insecurities and fears can inadvertently be passed on to our children and show up at any age of their development.
At its core, mom guilt comes from a place of love. It comes from a desire to do what’s best while recognizing that parenting is not a one size fits all process. You innately possess everything needed to be a good mother, but you may need guidance to harness your mom skills. Use this information as a resource, forgive yourself for any missteps, and remember that better is possible.
Dr. Charryse Johnson is an experienced licensed clinical mental health therapist offering over 20 years of experience serving as a counselor, consultant, and educator. She holds a B.A. in Human Development, an M.A. in Professional Counseling, and a PhD in Counseling Psychology. She is a strong community advocate and has been a contributor on local radio, social media, local news outlets, and documentaries and is passionate about reducing the stigma around mental health. She is founder and owner of Jade Integrative Counseling and Wellness and author of Expired Mindsets.
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