Mom guilt is a very real phenomenon. Often, no matter the influence, no matter the intent, no matter the action, parents second guess their parenting decisions. Mom guilt can motivate us towards change, or it can be a destructive, shaming rabbit hole that leads to paralyzing self-condemnation.
These two extremes are present in our lives, but often have more subtle nuance. For example, I awoke at 3:00 AM one morning and rode the rabbit hole of destructive mom guilt for about an hour before I was able to succumb to sleep again. The concern behind this spiral? Whether my four year old was getting enough active time.
My evidence? We moved into a smaller house so he cannot run around as much inside, we haven’t been to the park very much and he’s currently not in a pre-k program to encourage activity with his peers.
The verdict? I was a horrible Mom that was not doing enough.
The direction that mom guilt often projects us into, is one that is not productive for our emotional health, mental health, or parent/child relationship. Here are a few ways to battle against this minefield when it rears its ugly head. Ways to combat the worst ever game of wack-a-mole.
MEASURE AGAINST REALITY
As I wrestled with the trial of my parenting that 3:00 am had brought me, I was slow to come to my own defense. I hammered myself with the failings I supposedly contributed to, but I did not present the case that we are a newly transplanted family. I began to chronicle the various accusations and hold them up to reality.
A smaller house? Yes, but living somewhere that would provide more bearable weather to endure outside play time.
Infrequent park trips? The weather had been in the triple digits. That’s not healthy for anyone.
Not in a pre-k program? We have lived in our new town for about a month.
Being able to invite reality into our emotionally elevated headspace, can be difficult, but it is vital. We are often our own worst enemy, but doing accurate self-reflection is important. We can see ways we are not meeting our own realistic expectations and make plans to correct our behavior. It can also give us a reprieve when the spiraling mind is being irrational and intensely vindictive. I would also not recommend having those moments in the early moments of the morning. News alert: Your brain is definitely not being rational.
MEASURE WITH A FRIEND
We all need someone with which we can be vulnerable and accountable. Someone that will offer us some reality with love. This can be correction if we are not living up to the needs of our children or guiding us toward better reality testing if we have gone off the rails.
I must insist on something, this CANNOT be a social media account. Reality testing cannot be done through the highlight reel of Instagram. All parents look like rockstars if they choose to on this platform. All rooms cleaned, multiple activities for the children and they are rocking this homeschool thing. Can this be done? Maybe. Everyone has their own strengths.
These honest conversations can be held with someone that knows your strengths, can call you to be the best parent you can be and will not prompt you to do more crafts with your kids if that’s not your thing. We talk about a mom tribe, but more important than a mom tribe is that one friend that will be a taste of rational thinking when the tornado begins.
MEASURE YOUR MIND
One of our greatest weapons when dealing with errant thoughts? A similar tactic we use with toddlers. Redirection. Spiraling about how few clean clothes your family has while you are doing laundry? Put on some music. Put on a TV show. Call a friend. Derail the thought train, because there are no helpful depots along the track. Thought stopping is a great way to combat anxious rumination and depressive spiraling.
Sometimes it helps treating your mind like a tantruming child. Check for hunger, exhaustion, need for a moment alone and then find something different to focus on. It needs to be something that can consume your mind, so not necessarily only an action but also something that you enjoy. Find a way to make yourself laugh, yell at the dishes and then sing your favorite Hamilton song (“Work, work! Angelica! Work, work! Eliza! And Peggy! The Schuyler sisters!” is my go to).
The self-flagellation that often is the result of mom guilt is very unproductive. It cripples the joy that comes from parenthood and wraps every event in the “not good enough” cast-off clothes. We deserve better treatment from our minds and our children deserve better parenting motivation. You do not struggle with this beast alone. Speak up, share concerns and allow others to speak into that rabbit hole. When spoken out loud, lies often scatter like bugs exposed to sunlight. Unproductive mom guilt lingers long after the problem area has been resolved and growth has begun.
Letting in the light,
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