Mommy Guilt

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Let’s talk about Mommy Guilt. You know, that little voice inside your head, or often coming from other people, that tells you that no matter what you do, it’s not quite enough. We all live under the specter of Mommy Guilt. Because let’s face it–sometimes we moms just can’t win.

Take the working moms vs. stay at home moms (SAHM). Working moms–what terrible people! If they loved their children, they’d eat ramen noodles every day and stay home to nurture their children in the way only a mother can! And moms who actually choose to work–you know, so they don’t lose their sanity–well, that’s even worse. What’s wrong with you??? And those SAHM’s–how beatific, the self-sacrifice in order to surround your child with your love and care 24/7. What do you mean when you say you’re bored and would love some adult conversation that didn’t involve discussing sleeping problems or food, both on the way in and on the way out? If you loved your children, you’d leap with joy for every precious second. Why on earth would you say something like, “I’d kill for a little time for myself”? Don’t you know that there are working mothers out there who would love to be in your position? What’s wrong with you???

Like I said–working or not, we just can’t win. It’s that Mommy Guilt at work, and the key word in Mommy Guilt is should. Working moms, you should stay home with your children. SAHM’s, you should be grateful and not complain. Working moms, you should do all of your parenting yourself, not at daycare. SAHM’s, you should put your children in preschool or a group setting, lest you raise some kind of weird, unsocialized freak who can’t make friends or get along with anyone else.

And of course it’s not just working vs. not working. This Mommy Guilt is pervasive. Just sit and think for a moment about your kids. Count how many times “should” or “shouldn’t” pops up. Right now I’m on the couch with my laptop while Mouse is in the Pack ‘n Play gazing rather dumbly at the sturdy carrying bag that came with some expensive blocks (which he just threw out of the PNP in favor of the bag). See that dull, rather unintelligent look in his eyes? Shouldn’t you be reading to him or practicing rolling a ball back and forth, which the book says he should be able to do but can’t, probably because he spends a great deal of time in the PNP playing with the sturdy carrying bag that accompanied the expensive blocks? I’m getting ready to feed him some lunch (although I should have started that already). When I throw stuff on his tray, it really should be fruits and veggies I grew myself, organically, in our back yard. I also should engage him with eye contact to work on his language development skills instead of taking the opportunity to fold some laundry or do the dishes (which really should be done already). Oh, and did I mention that Mouse doesn’t eat with a spoon very well? Why? Because he makes such a mess of it that nearly nothing goes into his mouth and it all ends up either in his hair or his sleeves or the floor or inside the dog. Of course, if I take the time like I should be doing and teach him this valuable skill, he’ll be far less likely to go to college eating like a caveman.

Wow, seven shoulds that I probably won’t do all lined up for the next ten minutes of his life. A+ Mommy!

Now honestly, I can’t bring myself to feel terrible about each and every one of those things. He’ll get it eventually. Much of the time, we moms are very good at managing that Mommy Guilt, recognizing it for what it is: total crap. But there are other times when the Mommy Guilt stays with us. When it really does make us feel like we’re not quite enough. This can be devastating. It can be positively paralyzing for moms. Did you know that you can have post-partum depression for a full year after your child’s birth? Nothing feeds depression like a big old dose of Mommy Guilt.

Where does all this Mommy Guilt come from? Well, the easy answer that every well-educated person gives is “society.” It’s simply a part of American culture, that no mom is ever quite enough. But it also comes from our own heads. Again, think about all of your shoulds and shouldn’ts. If we recognize that Mommy Guilt is crap and we are good enough, smart enough, and gosh darnit, people like us, why do we still carry all of this around inside? And what can we do to get rid of it?

Let’s talk about Mommy Guilt. Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

And yes, Mommy–you are enough.

The Scrivener

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7 Responses

  1. Perfect post! I am much better about mommy guilt than i was with my first child, i swear you just reach a point of sleep deprivation and realization that your child is thriving DESPITE YOUR PARENTING

  2. Beautiful post, Shelby. As a SAHM I definitely struggle with feeling guilty that I’m not interacting with Stella 24/7. Honestly, it took a dumb email from whattoexpect.com or something that explained, ‘no, you do not have to play/talk to/cuddle with your kid during her every waking moment and it’s okay, even GOOD FOR HER, to leave her alone (figuratively) and let her play independently sometimes,’ for me to stop feeling bad for leaving her in the jumperoo long enough to do dishes or even *gasp* dick around on the internet for 20 minutes. I mentioned this to my husband and he was like, “duh?” I hate that guilt and fear of inadequacy is so innate to being a mother but I’m glad that women I like so much are willing to put themselves out there so we don’t all feel so alone. Kudos for another awesome post.

  3. I feel little to no mommy guilt, though I am far from perfect. Does that make me a bad mom?

  4. Joanna, not at all. I think it is wonderful you don’t experience mommy guilt.

    Thanks for this post. Especially when my daughter was a newborn, I felt so much mommy guilt because I wasn’t going to the park with her every day, playing music for her or (whatever else).

    There’s so much pressure in our society to be Super Mom, and I think a lot of mommy guilt comes from this idea that we mothers must be everything and do everything.

  5. I have been feeling major mommy guilt over my daughter’s eating habits because I don’t *gasp* make my own baby food. I don’t have time, I’m a terrible cook, and she seems just fine with her little jars. Oh and don’t forget that I hardly ever wear her (she hates it!) and we have a bunch of flashing plastic electronic toys in the house, which I freely let her play with. I feel like parenthood is just a constant series of compromises and sometimes you just have to figure out what you can live with and what is non-negotiable.

  6. Shoulda, woulda, coulda. Yep, there is never a right answer. Or if you do it the right way, the “right way” changes and then you did stuff the wrong way. Parent from the heart, that’s what I say.

  7. I had a friend who used to say “Never should on yourself.” I have to agree. 🙂

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