What Would a Day Without “Mom Guilt” Look Like?

I start most days feeling like I have a clean slate and am armed with a plan for what the “perfect” day will look like for me as a parent. I am confident, calm, and ready for what the day brings. And then inevitably things don’t go to plan. I react to situations in less than perfect ways, as my stress, anxiety, and exhaustion influence my decisions. The mom guilt sinks its teeth into me and doesn’t let go the rest of the day. All I can think about is how I am not doing enough, being enough, or making the right decisions. 

I forget a conference call for work because my kids are having simultaneous meltdowns. Guilt.

I don’t notice that my baby has pooped and by the time I change her she has a horrible rash. Guilt.

I plan to work out but do not find time (for the fifth day in a row). Guilt.

I get short with my toddler when she accidentally knocks the baby over. Guilt.

My toddler begs me to play hide and seek, but instead, I put her in front of the TV because I have to send in an assignment for work. Guilt.

I am so tired by 5 pm that I just heat up a pizza instead of cooking a quality meal for dinner. Guilt.

I spend so much time trying to get the baby to sleep at night that I miss reading books with my toddler. Guilt.

By the time I get to bed a replay of my failures for the day are running through my head, adding to the exhaustion and depletion I already feel. I lay there with a lump in my throat and a tightness in my chest feeling defeated and worried that I am messing everything up.

The other day I tracked how many times throughout the day that was hard on myself. By bedtime, I had racked up 16 different instances of intense mom guilt. It got me thinking, what would a day without mom guilt even look like? Could I ban guilt for a whole day? 

I tried for a whole week to notice when the guilt was coming on and stop it before it hijacked my feelings and my day. It didn’t go well. By the end of the week, I hadn’t made any progress, other than being more aware of how hard I was on myself.

The other day I caught my daughter starting to show this same negative attitude towards herself. We had been teaching her to use the potty and she had an accident at the park. As I was telling her it was okay and how proud I was of her for how hard she had been trying, she started to repeat over and over “I didn’t do a good job.” It broke my heart to see her beat herself up. And then I realized she is just doing what she sees me do to myself. 

My mom still tells me about the things she wished she had done differently as a parent. And I keep telling her that I had an amazing childhood and she was a present, supportive, incredible mom. I wouldn’t change a thing. But she grapples with the guilt of feeling like she missed the mark.

In a 2020 interview, Kate Middleton was asked if she ever feels mom guilt. She replied, “All the time.” For me, she was the epitome of a mom who has it all together. So, do any of us escape the daily onslaught of mom guilt?  

As I continued to grapple with my mom guilt, I realized that part of the problem was my expectations. I had a vision of what the perfectly executed day would look like for me as a working mom and it was unrealistic. Parenting is hard, and so I need to cut corners and make less-than-perfect decisions to survive. I inevitably will get impatient and need a break. It’s not that I am messing things up, but rather that parenting is just that difficult.   

I have started to loosen the expectations I put on myself. I’ve learned I need to let myself off the hook for doing what it takes to get through the day. I give myself permission to make a “lazy” dinner, use screen time so I can get things done, or tell my kids I can’t play barbies because I just can’t handle one more second of playing “pretend” and would rather drink a cup of coffee at the kitchen table.

I certainly don’t let myself off the hook for moments where I do need to make improvements, like when I get short or impatient with my toddler. Those are always opportunities for growth (and apologizing). However, beating myself solves nothing in moments where I am already feeling on edge. I need to expect that I will lose my cool sometimes. I am human, not a robot mom. In those moments I need to take some deep breaths, grab a bite of chocolate, and embrace a little self-forgiveness. 

The guilt-free day continues to elude me. But I keep trying to expect a little less perfection from myself because let’s face it, parenting is hard.   

One comment

  • This really helped me, I have been mom guilting myself for 16 months. I don’t want her to be as mean to herself as I am to myself sometimes. We need to be just as nurturing to ourselves as we are to our kids. I just came across your blog and all your articles Megan and I feel like the universe put them in my path because it’s exactly what I needed. Thank you ❤️

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