Mom guilt – the robber of all motherhood joy. It’s been a hot topic with my Instagram tribe lately, so I thought I would write a blog post on the root causes of it and how ultimately, we can get out of the cycle of guilt.
Let me start by painting you a probably familiar picture:
It’s the weekend. You’re excited because that means that finally you’re going to get some kid-free time after a full week of working and parenting. You actually have a little outing prepared to have coffee somewhere with a friend and for once, have an uninterrupted conversation.
Your partner recognizes how much you do and knows how important this little getaway is for you. Who knew that something so simple such as grabbing coffee could feel so rewarding? You shower and put your fancy pants on, a little lippy to go with. With a spritz of perfume and a quick cuddle to your now-crying toddler, you’re out the door.
Music playing in your car on the way, suddenly it hits you like a ton of bricks: that panging feeling in your belly telling you to go back and be where you should be – at home with your kids.
One thought after another pops up into your head – will she be okay without me? Did I leave enough lunch prepped? Will he know where to find their shoes? What if they fall while out on a walk?
You were so excited for this.
You’d been gearing up for it all week and yet here you are, feeling guilty for that very same thing.
Sound familiar? Keep reading to get to the bottom of mom guilt.
What is guilt as an emotion?
Guilt arises when we behave differently from the values and norms we have placed on ourselves, or feel a moral obligation to act a certain way and haven’t.
It is actually an inhibitory emotion, which means it prevents us from feeling our underlying core emotions of for example anger, sadness, grief.
Guilt then offers us the opportunity, when we unpack it, of understanding our real needs.
Is guilt bad?
While it can be tempting to put a label on guilt as it blocks us and keeps us from experiencing joy, it’s important we avoid doing such.
Any emotion we live is only there to remind us to connect to the present moment and what we need more or less of.
Emotions arise as we traverse our beliefs, past traumas, values and external expectations. Where we feel more of something, it is a sign that there is something we need to work on, something that needs to be healed.
When we view emotions from this perspective and offer ourselves compassion, we are much more likely to be able to pass to the next level of conscience.
Guilt is merely a sign of an unmet need
The four main causes of guilt
After a lot of reflection, I’ve narrowed down the main causes of guilt. Why are we focusing mostly on the cause of guilt rather than the emotion itself?
What happens is when we identify the root of something, we can stop the process from manifesting more as we comprehend at a deeper level what’s going on.
For example, things we want to focus on (and we go through these in a session together) are how it feels for you when the emotion comes up, when it occurs the most and what the trigger is for you.
Every person’s trigger will look different from the next because we all have our individual stories, history and programming.
1) Belief system
Let’s talk about your belief system. Your beliefs started to form throughout early childhood when you were shown values by your parents and mimicked those values. Most of what you believe you actually just subconsciously accepted so part of getting to the root of any belief is reliving those first memories a little.
Here are some journal prompts/questions to ask yourself:
- What do I believe is being a good mom?
- What examples of mothering did I learn? (Can be any authoritative figure)
- I believe a good mother is….
- I am supposed to…
- I should do more of…
- I always…
Tip: Notice the slightly negative phrases that come up from here, any words used with certainty for example always/never because these are beliefs that you’ve integrated that don’t actually stem from you.
Anything that feels ‘sticky’, gives you an anxious sensation when you say it, is somewhere you need to work on and pick apart.
Another main cause of mom guilt is that of living up to expectations – be that what others expect from you, or the high…you hold yourself to.
I could bfeel guilty for not having written enought for my website, or I could feel guilty for not having been present enough with my kids – what this shows us then is that guilt is always there ready to consume you, it just depends on the expectations you have.
Since your expectations are ever changing, you need to modify them in order to stop guilt in its tracks.
Unfortunately, like beliefs, expectations often come from an outside source and we just integrate them as our own.
To decipher whether or not an expectation is your own, try asking yourself some questions:
- Where did I hear this phrase before?
- Do I really believe it?
- Have my parents said this to me?
- Have I seen it in a program?
We are constantly picking up subconscious messages, even from dvertising billboards, television series, books and magazines so sometimes this can take a a bit of unpacking.
3) People pleasing & perfectionism
People pleasing is another cause of mom guilt. Similar to holding expectations, yet this time it’s you expecting from them their unconditional love in return for your behaviour.
It is said that this is learned from childhood as a need to feel security and attachment to the parent who can be emotionally instable or distant.
What this translates to in later life is forcing yourself to do things because you would feel guilty otherwise – take for example not asking for help with the kids or the chores, as you believe this is something you should manage alone.
Some other traits you might recognise can be:
- Setting up the perfect activity for the kids
- Taking on all the responsibility for the house
- Feeling the need to work extra hours
- Unable to say no to a play date if not feeling up to it
- Letting people ‘use’ you as boundaries are too weak
The difference between a good intention and people pleasing can be very subtle, but you will start to notice them when you feel a strong pull against doing something, yet do it anyway.
Start to tune into your intuition, the gut feeling guiding you when you want to say yes to something – are you saying yes from good intent, or are you scared to lose trust
4) Societal need for productivity
Wow – this is another cause of mom guilt I could talk about forever.
If you have stumbled on my website, chances are that you have your own wellbeing at heart, in which case you’re already aware of the effects of modern society on your health.
The high-paced, reply immeditately message that’s going on makes us feel complied to do things – or feel guilty otherwise.
It’s a typical case of doing, doing, doing, to feel productive and valued.
We are valued for our producitivity.
But you know better than that! You are so much more than how many tasks you get checked off your to-do list.
How do you know if the push for productivity is the cause of mom guilt? Watch out for the following:
- Ignoring the urge to rest
- Saying to yourself ‘I just need to finish…’
- Putting work over your health
- Skipping meals to finish up
- Many late nights to catch up on to-do’s
I know that it’s not easy to put aside your to-do’s when you finally have a moment’s peace to do so, but your mental health relies on it.
Doing things that make you feel good, that you actually enjoy, will leave you actually feeling accomplished or satisfied.
When you continually prioritize your to-do list over your health, you’re acting from an over-working response, again made to help you avoid what you’re actually feeling. Eventually, you will start to feel overwhelm, and guilt because you seemingly ‘can’t win’.
Get coaching from me
If you need more help working through these emotions and gaining clarity on what you want or need, book a free call with me and see if we’d be a good fit.