Mom Guilt: An Exposé

Guilt is a weight that will crush you whether you deserve it or not, it’s not always rational, not always necessary.

Photo by Caleb George on Unsplash

“I don’t want to live with you anymore.” I watched, crestfallen as those words came out of the mouth of my 13-year-old daughter. Yes sure, she had previously confided in me that she was having trouble accepting the role her stepdad has in her life as of late, but our relationship? It was always good. At least I thought so. We laugh together, (at the same things), we like the same things, we’re not just mother and daughter, we’re friends. Right? Then why would she want to leave me? For her dad? How dare she?

When I’m hurt my knee jerk response is anger, and it usually works well for me, (actually not, but another time). But I can’t seem to be angry at my children when they “hurt” me. I can’t use anger as an escape or as a way to numb the pain, no, it just HURTS. And typically the hurt turns to guilt. And not the type of guilt you experience when you eat that piece of chocolate you weren’t supposed to. Or the guilt you have from eating a grape in the grocery store (we’ve all done it). No, it’s the worse kind there is (at least in my experience). Mom guilt.

Mom guilt is that pervasive feeling that you’re just not enough, of a parent. You’re not doing enough, you’re not understanding enough, you don’t know enough, and ultimately you’re going to mess up your kids in the long run.

It’s the “woulda, coulda, shoulda’s” catching up with you. My mom guilt stems from a few places, but primarily these two: My personal insecurities and experiences in my childhood. In addition to this little place I chose to live in called “society.”


Societal Influences

I’ve never been the PTA mom “type.” And for those of you who are PTA mom’s? My hat’s off to you, you’re a better person than me, period. I cannot conceive how this type of mom can go to work, go to the gym, have dinner on the table, take little Johnny to soccer practice, Suzie to ballet class, and teach little Sam how to read all in one day and make it look so effortless.

I’m sure you know that mom. The one whose toddler was potty trained at six months, reading at one, and had solved the world’s child hunger problems at the ripe old age of six. Do I outwardly roll my eyes at this type of mom? Indeed. But am I secretly envious, that they can raise the “perfect child” and be there for their children in ways I can’t conceptualize? YES. Well, not so secretly now, but you catch my drift.

My son wasn’t potty trained until 3, and it took a pandemic for me to have the time to do it. My daughter turns six months next week, and has not mastered sitting up straight without support, and my 13-year-old can barely heat up a pizza in the oven without help. And I can’t help but think of how much of a bad mom this makes me.

There’s no thought of the fact that each child moves at their own pace, in their own time. Do I think about how I’m not perfect, and I’m doing the best I can? Or even that what my children need most from me is love, guidance, and encouragement. All those things are well and fine, but that kid over there just won the Nobel peace prize, what am I doing wrong?

Personal Insecurities and Experiences

My childhood wasn’t great. My parents married one another twice and divorced each other twice. With many separations in between. My mom was just trying to survive a bad relationship, and an unsupportive partner. Which meant night school to finish the degree she was unable to because she got married and had kids at a young age. Which means she didn’t have time to help with my homework, she had her own. And as for my dad? I had my first beer at 11 because he gave it to me.

They were bad examples. And I didn’t want to be one. Period. So I don’t take “me” time, because my mom’s favorite expression was “close my door.” I chose not to spank my kids too much because it was the only way my dad knew discipline. But these things came back to haunt me. My mom had strict rules about media consumption. Tv time? About an hour a day. Maybe two if it’s the weekend. Reading? Yes, it’s fundamental but reading the “wrong things”? Completely unacceptable. So I was bored a lot.


It’s Ok..and It's Going to be ok

I used to feel like if my children were not constantly entertained, I was a horrible mother for letting them be bored. Remember how you used to feel when you were little? I’d think to myself. Do you want that for your children? What kind of mother are you? Turns out, it’s not always my job to entertain them. Check out these benefits from about how boredom might be the best thing for your kids:

Boredom improves creativity: When our minds are bored, they start to daydream, and that daydreaming sparks creative thought. When our kids have nothing to do, they exercise their imaginations and that just might be the most important skill they can develop.
Boredom Improves psychological well being: When our kids are bored, it helps them find value in their own experiences and develop their own unique worldview, which makes them psychologically stronger for the future.
Boredom makes kids more motivated: Boredom gives children practice in making their own decisions and finding ways to be interested in what’s going on around them.
Boredom makes kids more interesting: Giving our kids too much attention can create some major problems. Inadvertently, it can teach them that they’re the focus of the world and that everybody’s here to serve them. It can also cause kids to accept an identity developed by their parents, instead of developing their own.

“Maternal Instinct” is Overrated

Dr. Catherine Monk, a psychologist, and professor of medical psychology in the departments of psychiatry and obstetrics and gynecology at Columbia University Medical Center has this to say about maternal instinct:

Monk says the idea of maternal instinct implies that there is an innate knowledge and set of caregiving behaviors that are an automatic part of becoming and being a mother.

Without launching into a diatribe about good mothers vs. bad mothers, I’ll just say that the idea of maternal instinct based on the above definition is exaggerated. Sometimes you just don’t have the answers. Maternal instinct does not imply that every mother knows what to do for her child in every situation. If that was the case, I would have seen it coming when my daughter approached me about wanting to leave. I would have known how to respond, and it wouldn’t have hurt me so much.

No one naturally knows what to do in every circumstance. You just can’t. And sometimes it’s impossible to do it alone. “It takes a village to raise a child.” Yes, it’s one of the most overrated expressions used EVER, but there is some truth to it.

We all need help. You can’t make that soccer game because you have to work? You didn’t have time to cook dinner so you stopped by little Caesars? You need a little “me” time so you close your door? DO IT. No matter what you tell yourself, you’re not a “super mom,” that doesn’t exist. And it’s ok to lean on others for help.


Who told you, You were a bad mom anyway?

Who defines who a “good mom” or “bad mom” is anyway? Where is the list of standards? Where’s the test you had to pass to determine what “type” of mom you are? Everyone will have expectations and certain “standards” for what a “mom” actually looks like. But most of those expectations are based on their own experiences and thoughts. Just like yours. The entire concept is subjective, take comfort in that.

What do you think a “good mom” is? What type of expectations do you have? What type of person do you want your child to be? And how can you contribute to that? These are things you should focus on. What’s going well? What’s not? How can I improve? Try thinking of these things the next time you come down with a bad case of the “mom guilt.”

I’m off to take my own advice and remind myself that teenagers are just confused little people trying to find their way into the world and their own voices, stuck in this awkward phase of life. And not my biggest nightmare disguised as my daughter.

Thanks for listening.