While you wouldn’t trade your role as a parent for all the free time in the world, welcoming a baby into your life is a huge adjustment and can seemingly double your to-do list overnight. And when some of these items don’t get done (and they won’t), you may feel inadequate or guilty.
These feelings are normal, and all new parents experience them from time to time. But if your mom guilt is becoming overwhelming and you're struggling to cope with your guilty feelings, there are strategies that may help.
What is mom guilt?
Mom guilt — and dad guilt, too — is the feeling that you're not doing enough as a parent. It can appear at any time, but some common triggers may include going back to work after maternity or paternity leave, juggling household tasks with parenting responsibilities and dealing with unwanted opinions about your parenting choices.
Other moms may struggle to balance their role as a parent with their own needs and might feel guilty for prioritizing self-care or spending time away from their children.
While some guilt is normal, it becomes a problem when you spend too much time sweating the small stuff and lose the big-picture perspective (like how adorable your baby is and how it doesn’t matter if you didn’t get all the laundry folded). Unchecked guilt can even be dangerous, leading to unhealthy behaviors and depression.
How can you manage mom guilt?
If feelings of guilt seem to be taking over or you’re starting to resent your kids, take action. Here’s how to start:
- Help yourself first. Flight attendants deliver wonderful parenting advice when they remind you to secure your oxygen mask first before assisting your kids with theirs. After all, if you can’t breathe, how can you possibly help anyone else? So, give yourself a little air — get a pedicure or spend time with friends. Keep in mind that loving yourself is one of the best ways to love your children.
- Share your responsibilities. If you have a partner, ask them if they can pitch in on chores that aren’t already on their list so you can carve out a little more “me” time. If you’re single, seek out a network of other moms who are on their own with whom you can share babysitting duties or an empathetic cup of coffee while your munchkins romp nearby. Downtime and friendship are both very beneficial for your mental health.
- Surround yourself with supportive people — and shake off the rest. There’s nothing wrong with avoiding people — even relatives — who make you feel guilty or judged. If the naysayer is droning on again about your latest parenting failing, just find an excuse to leave the room. After a couple of times, the person should get the message.
- Recognize irrational thoughts. A classic example of unhealthy mom guilt is returning to work and worrying incessantly that being away from your baby hurts her development. It doesn’t, and all that doubt only makes you less efficient at both jobs. Trust your caregiver or day-care provider and know that most children thrive and flourish even when both parents work full-time. The truth is, returning to work is harder on you than on your baby.
- Avoid the bragging game. Parents are notorious for bragging about their kids, and it’s easy to get caught up in it. Resist the urge to engage, since making comparisons often leads to feelings of inadequacy and guilt. The next time some mom wants to compare how early your kids started talking or how long you breastfed your babies, politely change the subject. Remember, you and your child are unique — embrace the parent you are and the child you have.
- Nurture your relationships. It’s not unusual for your other relationships, such as with your partner or friends, to take a backseat when most of your time is spent caring for your little one. But spending time with your significant other helps you maintain a strong emotional connection. Plus, children learn to value relationships by watching your example. If you can’t manage a weekly date night, at least set aside some “couple time” daily — even if it’s just a 10-minute catch-up or cuddle.
- Talk to a professional. If guilt continues to plague your days and prevents you from enjoying your life, you may benefit from talk therapy with a mental health professional.