Saying No to Mom Guilt and Yes to Following Your Dreams
The first time I felt like a failure as a mother, it was when my first born was only 4 days old. I was sore, overwhelmed and exhausted, and I had never felt more ill-equipped for a task in my entire life. I was sure that no other mothers had thoughts like “How am I going to function on this level of sleep?” or “Can’t someone else do this for a while?” It seemed like to me that every other mother was sailing through this parenting thing. People were constantly reminding me what a miracle this was and how I should be enjoying every minute, but I didn’t feel any of those things — and it put me in a dangerous spiral. The guilt became overpowering to the point that I was almost paralyzed, afraid to do or say the wrong thing, and that just led to more guilt. I didn’t feel like myself anymore. I was too tired to do any of the thing that brought me joy pre-kids or even spend time with friends and family outside of the motherhood role.
I’d love to say that this was a short-lived time for me, but it wasn’t. The truth is that it took me years to let go of trying to be perfect and to accept — and even embrace — the “flaws” that ultimately just make me unique. It’s not a quick or an easy process, but it is possible to get out from under the pressure, find yourself again and get back to a life you love.
Mom Guilt: It’s a Real Thing
Mom guilt is the feeling you have that you’re not good enough or not measuring up to someone else’s — usually totally arbitrary — standards. This pressure to be perfect often comes from the people who are supposed to support and love us no matter what. Family members may have a thought on the “right” way to parent on everything from whether to breastfeed to when to start introducing the alphabet, and your friends may not understand why you’re not able to be as available to them as you were before. There’s also the huge societal pressures to deal with, and all of the inner criticism we bring by constantly comparing ourselves to others.
Mom guilt comes in many forms and from many places, but no matter why you’re feeling like you’re not measuring up, it’s a very negative mental and emotional place to be. However, it’s important to remember that feeling like this guilt or pressure to be perfect isn’t your fault. There are entire industries making millions off of tired, stressed out moms who feel like they have to be in the “right” shape, have the “right” things, or make sure their children go to the “right” schools. And anything less than perfect is considered total failure. It’s easy to judge your every feeling and thought, but it’s not helpful. It’s not your responsibility to be perfect. It’s not even possible. And by always putting everyone else’s needs before your own, you’re just continuing the spiral. How would you life change if you showed yourself the same kindness, grace, and forgiveness you give so freely to everyone else? It may not be realistic to escape this guilt and pressure entirely, but focusing on becoming more aware of where this outside pressure comes from is the first step to letting it go.
Making Time For Yourself and Your Passions
Right now, take 5 minutes and just close your eyes and try to remember what you were excited about and what you wanted to experience out of life before you had children. Maybe you envisioned yourself with a successful career or wanted to spend lots of time in nature. Maybe you couldn’t wait to travel the world and experience new cultures, or maybe just the thought of starting your own business or volunteering with a cause you’re passionate about made you smile.
It may seem like now that there are children who need your attention, it’s impossible to get that feeling of hope and excitement for the future back, but it’s not. Once you let go of the mom guilt and realize that honoring yourself also honors your children, it’s just a matter of breaking down your goals into smaller, actionable steps you can take right now to get back on track.
And remember that this doesn’t have to be anything big or earth shattering. For me, I’m passionate about reading and painting and being in nature, so taking time for myself can be as simple as consciously choosing to work on a painting for 30 minutes or take a walk after dinner instead of vegging out watching a TV show after dinner. It’s easy to get discouraged when we can’t make big strides toward our dreams and goals, but it’s the little consistent choices we make every day that take up toward — or further away from — our best life. Think about what you love, what makes you feel creative and inspired and go from there.
It Doesn’t Have to — and Probably Won’t Be — Easy
Change — even when it’s necessary and for the positive — is never easy. Set yourself up for success by setting realistic expectations and trying not to judge yourself through your process. Every mother’s journey is unique, and that’s a beautiful thing. This process isn’t about arriving at some perfect destination where you have the ultimate balance or feel totally fulfilled. Focusing on “improving” yourself only feeds back into the cycle of self-judgement. Instead, remember that all of the talents and gifts and love you have inside is already more than enough. By honoring yourself and being authentic when you share your journey with others, you can be a living, breathing, hope-giving example and inspiration for other mothers.
Katelynne has been trying to get the hang of this raising kids thing since 2007 but spends most of her time wondering who stole her copy of Parenting 101. When she’s not playing referee for her two children or writing all the words, she fantasizes about a full night’s sleep, uninterrupted showers, and triple venti caramel macchiatos with coconut milk.