Overcoming Mom Guilt in Any Situation

Overcoming Mom Guilt in Any Situation

Expert advice for avoiding “mom guilt” in several touchy situations.

By Judy Koutsky

If there’s one thing most moms have in excess, it’s guilt. Moms often feel it when they have a conflict between what they want to do, and what they feel they should do. You may want to go to the gym and put your kids in gym day care but feel guilty that the kids will most likely be watching TV. You feel like you should give your kids iron-rich broccoli, strawberries packed with vitamin C, and heart-healthy whole grains for dinner and yet want to pick up pizza because you’re exhausted and had a long day. Here, seven common situations and expert advice for leaving “mom guilt” at the door.

1. You serve less-than-healthy food. If you do pick up the pizza, it’s OK. It’s not like you’re giving your kids pizza every night. It’s all about balance. Maybe it’s pizza tonight, and tomorrow is a healthy vegetable stir fry. Getting the kids to eat healthful food for every single meal is putting a huge burden on your shoulders. “It’s important to not place unrealistic expectations on yourself to be a super mom,” says Moe Gelbart, PhD, psychologist at Torrance Memorial Medical Center. Instead, get the pizza and use the time you saved to have a great conversation with your kids over dinner.

2. You put your boss before your kids. Your boss calls you at home at 8 p.m. -- the witching hour in your house. It’s an important call and you need the kids to be quiet, so you give them a bowl of ice cream and stick them in front of the TV while you finish up the call. Sometimes life calls for difficult choices and you have to accept the negative consequences -- your kids will be on a sugar high and not having the best parenting moment -- as a way of coping in a not-ideal situation, says Gelbart. Cut yourself some slack. Sometimes you need to make a split-second decision, and doing what you need to do to keep your job is probably a good choice.

3. You miss a meeting with your kids’ teacher. You show up for parent-teacher conferences on Thursday, only to be told the event was on Wednesday. The teacher looks at you disapprovingly . You’re a busy mom and you’ve got a lot on your plate, so don’t beat yourself up for a simple mistake. “Most mothers feel guilty for not being perfect,” says Jeanette Raymond, PhD, a licensed psychologist. Yes, in an ideal world, you’d have everything mapped out on your smartphone, show up on time, and never miss a meeting -- but nobody is perfect. Remind yourself it was a simple mistake, reschedule the meeting, and brush off the guilt. After all, if your husband or child missed a meeting because they had a crazy week, you’d understand. Give yourself some of that compassion.

4. You go out with friends and leave your crying kids with the sitter. You’re a good mom, you plan playdates, go to your kids’ hockey games, even sit through a painful violin recital when you have a pounding headache. You’ve been looking forward to going out with your girlfriends all month. Now that the sitter is here, your kids stage a world class, guilt-provoking cry fest. For many moms, “The result is either reluctantly engaging in activities and experiencing guilt around them, or choosing not to participate in events, and feeling sad or deprived,” says Gelbart. Or, you go out, recharge your batteries, and come back a better mom. Chances are, most kids are fine after five or 10 minutes. To leave the guilt at the door, leave a special treat for the kids or let them watch a special movie on demand.

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5. You pick one child over the other. Your oldest has a ballet recital on the same night your youngest has a spelling bee. Have a trusted friend or family member attend one event while you attend the other. Promise the child whose event you’re missing that you’ll be there next time. “Children are very resilient and actually gain and thrive when their experiences vary,” says Gelbart. Maybe Grandma will bring flowers for your little dancer or a friend will take the super speller out for a special sundae. Make the best of a situation, move on, and know that your child is well cared for.


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6. You don’t measure up to the other PTA moms. Everyone shows up at the PTA meeting with homemade desserts, and you bring a store-bought coffee cake. Maybe cooking isn’t your thing. Or maybe you’d rather spend time playing with your kids than mastering a recipe. Whatever the reason, own it. Don’t feel awkward or bad. Just tell people you’re not a cook. Often moms feel bad if they don’t possess the right “mothering” skills like cooking, notes Raymond. You’re probably fabulous at a number of other things. Focus your energy on that. Sometimes the judge isn’t other moms, it’s ourselves.

7. You second-guess your parenting decisions. Your child just got over the flu and wants to play in today’s football game. You say no, and the team ends up having the best game of the season. Your son is furious with you. Cut yourself some slack; as much as we would like to, parents cannot see the future. You made the best decision at the time -- you thought your child still needed rest -- and you weighed the consequences (getting sicker and missing more school). “If things do not turn out well, rather than view it as a mistake, we must see the choice as a learning opportunity for the next time we are given a similar choice,” says Gelbart. Maybe next time you call the doctor and ask his opinion (then he can shoulder the blame) or make it clear to your son that it’s his decision, but if he gets sick, he has to have a friend bring him the homework.

8. You get unsolicited feedback (read: criticism) from others. You put your child in the afterschool program so you can get your work done. You feel guilty, but you love your job. Your neighbor tells you she could never do that to her son. She loves spending time with him too much. Others will often pass judgment on you as a mom, and will say things that make themselves feel better. The key is realizing that they are not you. They don’t know what’s best for you or your child. “I like to give out a bumper sticker to people: ‘What you think of me is none of my business,’” says Gelbart. As long as the situation works for you and your family, that’s all that matters.

What gives you mom guilt?

Judy Koutsky is the former Editorial Director of KIWI magazine, a green parenting publication. She was also Executive Editor of Parenting.com, AOL Parent and BabyTalk.com. Follow her on Twitter @JudyKoutsky.

Image ©iStock.com/monkeybusinessimages

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