Worst Mother Ever & The Positive Side to Mom Guilt
I was the worst mother. EVER.
This wasn’t coming from some dramatic teenager or a temper tantrum-throwing toddler. This was coming from the depths of my own heart, and it was neither the first nor the last time.
What no one seems to tell you in all the pregnancy books or the maternity wards all across the world is that the day you give birth to your baby, you also give birth to an all-consuming emotion that truly strikes to the core. If you’re thinking ‘Love’.... How very sweet of you (and yes, it’s true) but I’m talking about guilt. My initial foray into mom guilt began on day one. It appeared when I didn’t have any milk, when I didn’t know how to calm my baby, and when I was too tired to pick her up. Before long, me and mom guilt, well…. We were tight.
Mom guilt would greet me on those mornings when, too exhausted, I wanted it to be bedtime already. Or when I wasn’t in the mood to play with my child.
It hit me the day we had gotten my daughter the bicycle she had been begging for, complete with a flowery basket, pastel streamers on the handles, and training wheels. It taunted me for forgetting the helmet to go along with it.
Mom guilt mocked me when I brushed off her complaints about stiffness and pain in her upper thigh as nothing more than growing pains. Turns out, she had a slipped capital femoral epiphysis. If it sounds like kind of a big deal, it is. She ended up having a metal pin surgically implanted into her hip.
Worst. Mother. Ever.
Then there was the time I inadvertently dozed off on the couch, woke up, and couldn’t find her... Or the day she ate a mushroom from the yard when I wasn’t looking, and spent the day vomiting. And the list goes on.
While I often felt like the most horrible mom to walk the face of the earth, truth be told, my daughter turned out okay... Better than okay, in fact. She loves me despite all the moments I could have done things better. So why is it that we, as mothers, feel eternally guilty for practically every aspect of raising a child?
Guilt: The Mother of All Emotions
We’ve all felt it... Even in the most minor situations. And we end up berating ourselves for the smallest offenses no one else would bat an eye at. The most common triggers for mom guilt include:
- Not playing enough or spending enough time with our kids
- Letting them watch TV or play on electronic devices
- Feeling too tired or overwhelmed by the day’s tasks
- A lack of patience / losing tempers
- The inability to immediately respond because of other tasks at hand
- Going to work outside of the home
- Splitting time and emotions fairly among siblings
- Not spending enough time educating them at home
- Not feeling guilty when we leave them
Yes, we even feel guilty for not feeling guilty!
With some distance, when you’re not actively being consumed by guilt, it’s easy to see that nothing on that list is really so detrimental as to qualify you as the worst mother ever. However, in the thick of things, that’s hard to accept.
So why the mom guilt? Why does it haunt and overwhelm us?
Guilt is an emotion that comes from our human connections. It’s a feeling of having done something wrong to someone else that could have caused them harm. It comes from a place of deep concern for someone else’s well being – and it thrives on empathy.
Our maternal bonds – and the emotional investments they imply – run so deep and so strong that they love and empathy we feel for our little one quickly turns to guilt to make sure we’re on track to protect and promote their well-being.
The good news is... You’ve been looking at guilt all wrong.
The Positive Side to Your Mom Guilt
We often associate guilt with shame and either use it to punish ourselves or think it’s an emotion we need to overcome. But guilt has its positive side. It’s a moral emotion that’s meant to help us heal or inhibit potentially harmful behaviors. It’s there to help us reflect and to learn.
Unrealistically high demands of being a good mother are nothing new. But really, none of us have hands-on experience of raising children until we become moms ourselves. When we talk about motherhood as a journey, it’s exactly that.
We’re constantly learning on a path where guilt is our moral compass. It’s our conscience talking and it’s saying that we care. Any time we stumble, it sends us a little notification when it’s time to reevaluate the direction we’re taking so that we’re not aimlessly meandering this way and that. Guilt gives us the opportunity to stop, look back on the steps we’ve taken so far, and adjust for what lies ahead.
That’s not to say that the alarm bells sound off at all the appropriate times, always. Sometimes, we feel guilty for really insignificant things. But we can take the opportunity to reflect and then decide whether to disregard the notification or to change. Guilt provides us with that break we need in our stretched-too-thin and eternally busy lives to figure things out as we go along.
Guilt is a thinking emotion. It pushes everything else aside and gives us the time and space to reflect. We play out scenarios in our mind… I should have, I could have, If I had know what I know today…. It helps us prepare better for similar situations in the future.
Guilt is an emotion bred from love and empathy. It reminds us how invested we are in our children. And when we share our guilty feelings with them in a positive and constructive way, it tells them how much we care.
So rather than letting go of our mom guilt, we can embrace it. As long as you stay focused on your own parenting goals, rather than giving into motherhood myths and perfect ideals, it can help you stay true to yourself on your motherhood journey.
How had mom guilt helped or hurt you? Share your stories with us.
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