For most moms, parenthood is mostly a joy. But most moms will also tell you a certain amount of angst (some call it "mom guilt") also comes with the territory.
“Since I’ve had kids I haven’t stopped feeling guilty,” a Dallas mom named Lauren wrote on the popular blog “Scary Mommy”. “Anything can turn into a reason to feel guilty.”
So what is the answer to that mom guilt? For Lauren, it was learning to accept imperfection.
“I’m choosing to embrace the guilt because doing so allows me to accept that I’m not perfect,” Lauren said. “And when I accept that I’m not, I can get on with the important business of loving my kids as an imperfect mom.”
Barbara Alderete, clinical educator for Texas Health Behavioral Health, agreed with Lauren’s outlook.
“There is a time when we just have to let go of the guilt,” Alderete said. “Do an internal self-talk, and realize that we want to be that ‘good enough’ parent, because we’re never going to be a perfect parent.”
For instance, perhaps a mother lost her cool and yelled at her children. Alderete said instead of holding on to the guilt, try to think about how you would do it differently next time.
“And then let go of it. Acknowledge the mistake with your kids, and let them see you’re human,” she said.
That messing up, she added, takes the pressure off children as well, since they know they can make mistakes and still be loved and forgiven for them.
But if you can’t let go, or it seems like a decision is bringing continuing angst, Alderete said it may be time to talk to your spouse or partner.
“If the guilt is continuing, and it’s about a choice or decision and it’s continued for several months, it may be time to sit down and re-evaluate,” she said. “Sometimes that guilt can spur a change that is better for your family.”
Moms often tend to come last on the list of family priorities and needs. But self-care is important and vital to being a well mother.
Self-care includes making sure you see a doctor for a regular physical, eating right, and exercise. But it can also include things like taking some time for yourself and getting a manicure, or taking a book to the park for some alone time and reading, or even just a solo trip to the grocery store.
Alderete also advises that a healthy relationship with a spouse or significant other is important.
“You have to nourish the couple,” she said. “Date nights, or even just taking time at home after the kids go to bed can help provide times to talk.
“When my children were young, my husband and I used to get them in bed by eight one night, and then order Chinese food,” Alderete said. “Those date nights can be done around the kids’ schedules and at home, too.”
And don’t forget family as a way to get that alone time with your spouse or for yourself.
“Grandparents want to have that opportunity to have one-on-one with grandchildren,” Alderete said, adding that as a new grandmother herself, she loves spending time with her grandchild, even though the baby is out of state. When she and her husband go to visit, mom and dad get a date night.
Moms also have to remember a lot. Some of the day-to-day things that happen to make the family function as a whole fall on mom, which can be exhausting. When mom is the “family computer,” as Alderete said, dad can and should step in to deal with some of the familial minutiae.
Alderete suggested having a family meeting between spouses to go over the family’s calendar and divide and conquer duties. Maybe dad can be the one who picks up that present for that birthday party one child is going to this week, and maybe mom remembers to pick up the snacks for soccer practice.
“Many dads are willing to do that, it just needs to be discussed and coordinated,” she said, stressing that moms shouldn’t be asking for help – these are duties that both parents should be sharing from the beginning.
And even children can be encouraged to shoulder their part of being the “family computer.” Parents can delegate in age-appropriate ways, and even make lists that break down tasks for younger children.
“Often moms are taking on too much responsibility,” Alderete said.
Sometimes, though, the mom guilt goes to dark places or spirals out of control to the point of being debilitating. It’s at that point, Alderete said, that moms should consider seeking professional help.
If a mother finds that she’s lost interest in things, has a continuing sense of being overwhelmed, and is having a lot of difficulties maintaining a schedule and activity levels, it can be a sign that it’s gone beyond just garden-variety mom guilt and has gone to those "dark places." Other signs that normal mom worry has become something more include being too self-critical and negative or having a preoccupation and dread of things you can’t control. If you or someone you know needs help, the caring team at Texas Health Resources Behavioral Health can help.
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