by Christina Furnival
I feel it, again. Heck, I feel it all the time, really. I’m talking about guilt — of the mothering variety. Mom guilt.
And I bet you feel it too.
You and I are not alone. There is not a mom out there who does not, at least sometimes, question her choices, actions, and decisions in regards to her children and her role as mom.
I am a mental health therapist and motherhood blogger, and I am here to say that I think mom guilt gets a bad rap. It’s something we often hear that we should stop. “Get rid of the mom guilt,” they shout!
Guilt may not feel great, but it is not all bad
Just like every creature has its purpose, so does every emotion — including guilt.
It isn’t only there to make you feel like you’re a bad mom. It’s actually there, in appropriate doses, to help you learn how to be a better one.
Guilt is one of many emotions that we consider “negative”. We don’t like feeling negative emotions, so we are inclined to dislike them, bury them, or push them away, when what we should actually do is take a second to tolerate it. Listen to it. What is it trying to tell you?
Like every emotion, guilt is a response to our thoughts, which are a response to an event. If we engage in an action that in reflection we are not happy with, we may feel regret, disappointment, and guilt. It does not feel good, but that’s because it shouldn’t.
Guilt is an uncomfortable emotion because it wants us to consider how we could do things differently. It is there to make you look at yourself, to encourage you to initiate change.
Types of mom guilt and how to manage it
We mamas feel mom guilt for a number of reasons, but there are four main ones. By exploring the type of guilt you are encountering, you can create a game plan to manage it.
- For what you did – REFLECT
If you did something that was not good, you will feel guilty about it. For example, “I feel guilty that my focus was not on my children today.”
With this type of guilt, you can do two things: reflect on what you could do differently next time, and determine if what you did is actually worth feeling guilt over.
Is there anything you could have done differently?
Using the example, was it possible to focus more on your children today? Maybe not! Maybe you did your absolute best to get other things done so that you can refocus on your children later or tomorrow. You’re feeling this guilt not because you’re a bad mom, but because you are such a good mom that you would love to focus more on your sweet kiddos.
2. For what you thought of doing – REFRAME
If you thought about something that is not good, you may feel guilty, as if you had done it. For example, “I feel guilty for thinking of running away from my life.”
When your guilt is based on a thought, you can reframe.
Remember how our feelings are reactions to our thoughts? The thought in the example was to run away. Reframing that thought, it turns into, “I need more breaks and me-time.” The feeling that would follow the reframed thought may be determination to plan that time, or eagerness to practice self-care, instead of guilt.
You can also reframe how you look at the whole situation. You thought something that you might regret doing, and you chose to not act, which is not easy to do. Remind yourself of the positive that you had a thought, but chose to not act on it. Realizing this, you may feel much less guilty, and may even be proud of your choice.
3. For what you think that you did – FACT CHECK
If you think you did something wrong, even if you didn’t, you may feel guilty. For example, “I feel guilty because my child is extra clingy today. I am assuming it is because she is feeling neglected by me.”
This type of guilt can be managed with fact checking and problem-solving.
What is the evidence to suggest your child’s mood and behavior is 100% down to you? What other things could be causing their clingy behavior?
And what can be done about it? How can you help your child feel better or what could you do differently to give your child more attention, if you think that really is the root of the problem?
4. For what you wish you had done – EXPLORE
If you wish you had done something that you did not do, you may feel guilty. For example, “I feel guilty that I am stretched so thin and was not able to spend special time with my kids today.”
When your guilt is based on wanting to have done something that you didn’t, explore why you made that choice.
Was it even possible to do anything differently? Was the situation outside of your control?
There are many situations in which we are incapable of doing something we would have liked to. It can make us feel bad and feel guilty, but if we take the time to explore and recognize it was not in our control, then we will be able to relieve ourselves of some of the blame.
If you did have the power to do something differently, then you have the choice next time to do so.
Use guilt for good
As you are well aware, motherhood is one of the most amazing, wonderful, challenging, consuming, beautiful, and bizarre things we will ever experience.
We feel more emotions than we knew existed, and we often feel them all at once.
While we do not enjoy feeling negative emotions, we can absolutely learn from them. Guilt is one such emotion that can make us feel uneasy, but, if we allow, it can also be a useful tool in helping us become the mothers we would like to be.
If your mom guilt is overwhelming you, and is impeding your ability to complete daily activities, you might be dealing with a bigger beast, such as depression or anxiety. Guilt will make daily appearances in all of our lives, but it shouldn’t keep you from living. If you are having a really hard time, please reach out to a mental health professional.
Christina Furnival lives in sunny San Diego with her British hottie of a husband and boisterous children: a fiery three-year-old daughter, and spirited two-year-old son. In between making meals, cleaning up messes, and wiping bums as a stay-at-home mom, Christina works as a mental health therapist (LPCC) and is the writer behind the motherhood blog with a therapist’s twist, Real Life Mama. She would love for you to follow along with her blog as well as on Facebook and Instagram too!