Mothers are so hard on themselves. I often joke with clients that when women give birth someone secretly implants a guilt chip in their brain making them feel guilty about everything. Although the brain chip is not real, the issue of mother guilt is very real and it is depleting mothers who experience it and robbing them of the opportunity to be in the moment with their children. Who can be present when they are busy berating themselves for their many perceived failures.
Mother guilt comes in many forms and often disguises itself as trying to be a perfect mother. Well, I want to be clear that the perfect mother is an illusion. She does not exist. And women everywhere are killing themselves striving for something that is impossible.
I have two children who are now adults. They survived my less than perfect mothering and they are two lovely humans. And I had many mothering moments that I wished had not occurred. But, what I considered to be my worst mothering moment ever – that I was certain had scarred my son – he did not even remember. He had no memory of this. So not only did I feel terrible in the moments after it happened, I then felt guilty over the years because of the impact it had had upon him. An impact I imagined in my mind, that produced bad feelings about myself, that were not even real.
Can you relate? Most of us can.
So what are you feeling guilty about? Does it inspire you to be a better mother? I bet it doesn’t. Guilt serves as a bind that holds us down so we don’t have the energy to be the kind of mother we want to be. This creates a vicious loop that can feel impossible to break free from.
Mothering is hard work. It demands more of us emotionally, physically and socially than any other role we take on. We want to do it so well. We want to be that kind, patient and loving mother. And many times we are. But we can’t pull that off all of the time – not because we are bad moms – because it is not humanly possible. Because we are human, we will make mistakes. We will yell, lose our patience, be rougher than we intended, feel bored playing and wish we could be anywhere else, and think to ourselves, “Will you just stop talking!”
It is so easy to focus on the places where we feel we have failed. We let ourselves down and more importantly, we feel we have let our children down. But the reality is that those are moments are surrounded by many lovely mothering moments where we were there for our kids. We read the extra book. We gave the extra snuggle. We laughed and shared some silly moments together. We did the messy crafts. We responded with love and patience.
As you continue on the journey of mothering, use some of these affirmations to help you let go of guilt and embrace the good mother that you are (not the perfect mother you wish to be, because she doesn’t exist):
- I can still be a good mom and have some bad moments
- Mothering is hard work and I can give myself credit for what is going well and compassion for areas I want to improve
- The perfect mother does not exist, let go of that myth
- Guilt does not serve me or my child, let it go so I can move forward
by: Mary Joan Brinson MSW, RSW