Written by contributor Jackie Goldschneider.
Last week, a friend called me from her vacation.
“I’m relaxing on the beach! I even slept until 9 this morning,” she said over the sound of waves.
“I’m jealous,” I said. “I think I had mom guilt 20 times by 9!”
We both laughed, but I wasn’t kidding. It’s so easy to feel bad about how you do things when you’re responsible for another’s well being.
Mom guilt is a phrase often thrown around jokingly, but it’s a burden many mothers bear every day. Bothersome self-doubt weighs on our shoulders constantly. Though most mornings are calmer and happier, on this hectic morning I indeed felt guilty 20 times by 9 a.m. If you don’t believe me, check this out:
20 mom guilt moments in one morning
I woke up to my kids fighting over who’d wake me with a kiss, so I started my day by shouting “Everyone get out.” And then I felt bad (No. 1).
When my son requested an omelet, I said, “Sorry, buddy, on school days it’s poured or defrosted.” He settled for frozen waffles (with high fructose corn syrup: No. 2). Time is crunched on weekday mornings, but who denies their kid a fresh breakfast? (No. 3.)
Then another son complained about the outfit he approved the night before. I made him wear it anyway, and he cried. I’m sure I made him doubt his ability to make decisions (No. 4) and I made him spend his day wearing something he hated (No. 5).
I heated everyone’s frozen waffles in the microwave (safer moms use the oven: No. 6) on plastic plates (BPA-free, but I still heated plastic: No. 7).
While I prepared their lunches, one child dropped a waffle on the floor. He picked it up and ate it. I should have stopped him and made a fresh one, but I didn’t. (No. 8.)
The kids started fighting over something dumb and I yelled at them to stop instead of talking it through (No. 9), and then I made an empty threat (No. 10) and a curse slipped out (No. 11).
With the three minutes I reserved for coffee, I wanted some quiet so I turned on the TV instead of encouraging them to play (No. 12). I started getting peppered with questions about why straws bend and if Grandpa’s boo-boo still hurt. I told them to stop asking questions (I’m so mean: No. 13) and my son declared that mom doesn’t care about Grandpa (No. 14).
When it was time for school, I told them to find their jackets. My daughter couldn’t find hers so I asked if she brought it home yesterday. She couldn’t remember, so I chided her for being irresponsible. Then I remembered I put it in the wash. (No. 15.)
We piled into the minivan and I noticed how messy it was. How embarrassing for my kids that I carpool their friends in this. (No. 16). On our drive, I asked what they wanted for dinner so I’d know what to buy at the store. Then I felt bad that their day just started and I’d already fast-forwarded to the end. (No. 17.)
I gave them dinner options and they chose ridiculous foods not on the list. So I yelled again. (No. 18.) We settled on chicken nuggets and pasta (such a cop out: No. 19). From the car-pool line, I watched other parents lovingly walking their kids to the school door. But I chose car pool since technically my clothes were pajamas. (No. 20.)
So what do parents do with all this guilt?
I spoke with an expert to find real-life solutions to help us unburden.
“Parents today have impossible expectations of what we should be doing all the time,” said Dr. Jennifer Politis, a Ramsey, N.J.-based family psychologist who often counsels stressed-out moms.
Guilt, she says, unfortunately, goes with the territory.
“I see it constantly in private practice, and my friends and I experience it as well,” she said. “All those negative thoughts weigh on us, so we need to find ways to lessen them, because they generally don’t just go away.”
Recognize what type of guilt you’re dealing with
Politis explains that there are two types of guilt:
- Internal guilt we place on ourselves (e.g., I didn’t cook this week, my kids haven’t had any fresh meals), and
- External guilt others burden us with (something a neighbor says or something you read in a parenting magazine that you believe you should be doing).
“Social media has made it so much worse,” she added, noting that women often spend entire sessions comparing themselves to others based on what they post on Facebook. “We’re constantly seeing and judging other families’ lifestyles, and it’s really doing us a disservice.”
But there are ways to alleviate parenting guilt, and Politis has a few suggestions, beginning with examining each guilty thought when we have it.
Ask yourself some questions…
“We tend to exaggerate our thoughts, so take a second and think if the situation is really true,” she said. “Did my child truly not eat a healthy meal this week? Is anyone really suffering from this?”
Next, ask yourself what you can do about it right now. “If there’s something you can do about it now, then great, do it. But if not, you need to let it go and move on, because nothing productive will come from just feeling guilty,” she explained.
positive mantras, stress-relief outlets
If guilty thoughts consume you, Politis notes it may be time for professional help. But for everyday mom guilt, she said some moms benefit from written reminders, perhaps a note in your wallet or on your phone, with creeds like “I won’t be hard on myself” and “I won’t second-guess my decisions.”
Further, she advises finding healthy outlets for guilt. “A physical outlet, like exercise or meditation, is always helpful to de-stress,” she said, as are friends. “You need to get together and vent, share stories and laugh some of this stuff off.”
I certainly plan to take her advice and I hope I will be able to let go of some of the guilt, and maybe even get my kids off to school feeling great about our morning.
And if all else fails, maybe I just need to start sleeping past 9.
Written by Jackie Goldschneider, Special to The Record and NorthJersey.com