Mindfulness and Mom-Guilt

Mom-guilt. If there was one modern parenting thing that I want to eliminate from parenting like I want to eliminate mosquitoes from the world, it would be mom-guilt. (Parent-guilt, really, but I don’t see stuff about dad-guilt floating around in the blogosphere in quite the same way.) From birth on, there’s something to feel bad about.

Pain meds for labor or not? Breast or bottle or both? Work outside the home, work from the home, stay at home? Cry it out or not? Co-sleep or separate rooms? Sports and activities or not? One activity or multiple activities? Have you attended every event for every child? Are you involved enough as a volunteer at school and in other activities? Did you miss a moment of public misbehavior and your child was corrected by someone else? Organic and whole food or processed food or dining out? Too much tech or not enough tech—for you and them? Did you engage in calm positive parenting or did you yell today? Are you creating too many invitations to play, or are you not creative enough and your children are lacking stimulation? Do you care enough about grades, or are you putting too much pressure on the kid? Was the birthday cake store-bought, bespoke, or homemade?

I could go on, but I bet your inner voices are already adding to the list.

People, let the guilt go.

There isn’t a competition for World’s Best Parent (tacky Father’s Day mugs aside). “Perfection” isn’t going to make you happy—especially if the only reason you’re striving for what you see as perfect is because you feel like you have to, not because you want to. We’re all trying to do the best we can, and that looks different for each parent with each child.

But as easy as it is to say, “Let it go” (it’s stuck in your head now, too, isn’t it?), it’s not so easy to actually let the guilt go. Here are some great tips for dealing with mom-guilt by practicing self-compassion and mindfulness.

  • Self-compassion: It is often said that you should treat others the way you want to be treated. Turn that around a bit: you should treat yourself the way you want to treat others. That is self-compassion. We all have moments of suffering and we deserve compassion for them. And this is true even if it’s our own fault that we are experiencing the negative moment (although with mom-guilt, it’s rarely anyone’s fault that we’re feeling bad). Remind yourself of that, even if you don’t believe it just then.
  • Mindfulness: Be/become aware of what is happening. Don’t judge the experience—simply acknowledge it and allow it to happen. This is my favorite step! Example: You forgot today was pajama day at school and sent your child to class in regular clothes. In bed that night, your mind helpfully reminds you of this and is in the middle of explaining to you what a horrible parent you are that you can’t even keep track of something simple like what your child needs to wear to school on a given day. Instead of letting that inner voice ramp up and really get going, you pause. You note to yourself that you’re having some pretty negative thoughts. I usually respond to that observation with something deep like, “Huh.” Then move on. I get that this sounds really simplistic, but it’s truly surprising how well it works! And if the thoughts return, you simply notice them again (“Oh, look! The thoughts are back!”) and then move on again. Interrupting your mind as it tries to run around its little guilt-track is remarkably effective. Some people find it helpful to find an anchor to concentrate on; usually this is something physical, like breathing.
  • Be a friend: So many of our inner voices talk to us in ways that we would never talk to someone else. When a friend or our child is upset, we don’t label and we don’t judge; we listen. Think about what a friend would say to you in your situation? Or, what would you say to a friend in the same moment? Say those words to yourself instead of letting the guilty thoughts hold sway.

You know what? Just be kind to yourself! Regardless of what mistakes you think you’re making, I’m pretty sure your kids think you’re the best—no contest.