Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Letting Go of "Mommy Guilt"

I recently did a Twitter search for "Mommy guilt" and was amazed at what I found. Mommy guilt is everywhere. It’s like an inescapable disease for which there is no vaccine or cure. As Moms, we carry around so much unnecessary guilt, it's a wonder that we're not bent over double. And when we feel the full weight of that burden, we really feel it.

As a Mom working outside of the home, I am basically gone from 8-6 five days a week, so I'm entitled to some guilt. I hate being away from my boys and missing the daily antics as well as some of the important milestones.

But sometimes undeserved Mommy guilt takes on a life of its own. A few weeks ago I took the afternoon off to attend my son’s end-of-school program. The train was timed perfectly, I arrived 15 minutes early, and I got a great seat. I was scoring pretty high on the Good Mommy Scale.

Then, as other mothers began to file in, it quickly became apparent that they all knew each other and the teacher well. They talked about their playdates together and the recent Parent Council meetings. Suddenly, I felt the weight of guilt like a lead box that nearly crushed me.
Why did that hit me so hard? Does that really make me a bad mother? The logical answer, of course, is no. But guilt does not bow to logic. Mommy guilt is the ultimate expression of our perfectionism, our constant comparison to others, and our Superwomen Syndromes, all rolled up into one.

Most of the time we know deep down that the guilt and shame are unwarranted. But, we still have such a difficult time letting go of it. It is challenging to absolve ourselves of these relatively minor lapses and to focus on the big picture of our children's lives. So, I’ve come up with a few guidelines to help begin the process of letting go of the guilt.
  • No more comparing. Comparisons are almost always unfair, unreasonable, or based on inaccurate perceptions of other Moms.
  • Avoid the trap of compensating. Usually guilt-ridden compensation leads to either overindulgence (kids do need rules and limits) or overcommitment (you don’t have to volunteer to do everything for Field Day just because it's the only event that you made it to this year).
  • Consider quality rather than quantity. When you’re with your children, look at how they behave and interact around you. If it's clear how loved they feel and how attached they are to you, then you are doing just fine. 
  • Aim for “Pretty Darned Good” Parenting. Many Moms take comfort in the resilience of children and the concept of “good enough” parenting. But, some hate the phrase “good enough” and their lingering perfectionism leads them to feel like for their standards it’s not, well...good enough. I like to think that “as a parent I’m not perfect, but I’m pretty darned good!”
Letting go of the useless burden of Mommy guilt is another form of self-care. It is about treating ourselves with the same kindness and forgiveness that we shower upon our children. It means focusing on and truly appreciating what we are doing rather than constantly dwelling on what we’re not doing.
*Modified version of my guest post originally posted on on 6/18/2010.

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