The Mom Guilt Mom Guide: How to Recognize and Overcome It

Updated April 28, 2021
mother embracing little daughter

Being a mother is the most wonderful job in the entire world. It is also the hardest job known to mankind. The pressure of raising humans can become daunting for many mothers, and when it all gets to be too much, the dreaded mom guilt sneaks in, stealing mothers' self-esteem, joy and motivation. You don't have to live with mom guilt. Once you recognize it for what it is, you can identify strategies to combat it and feel like your happy, confident, kick-butt self once more.

Why Do Moms Feel So Darn Guilty?

Do I yell too much? Are my meals garbage? What do people think of my wild children screeching in the neighborhood? Do I give enough of myself to my children?

These are typical questions that run through mothers' brains on repeat. Moms experience feelings of guilt for countless reasons. Specifically, they begin to doubt themselves, thinking that what they are doing and giving is just not enough. Mothers only want the best for their families, and they will often bend over backward until they break, trying to achieve this elusive state of perfection.

It is easy to fall into this space where you begin to believe that if you don't do everything under the sun for your kids, you are an instant failure, and if you don't do it, no one else will. Mothers create a mountain of pressure upon their shoulders that really doesn't need to sit there.

Constantly Comparing

Your kids deserve YOUR best, not THE best. If you feel guilty because you think there are other kids out there with better mothers than you, hence your child is suffering in some way, stop it. Sure, there are mothers somewhere in the universe who devote every minute of their life to creating wonderment for their kids in the form of Guggenheim-worthy bento boxes and Pinterest-perfect crafts, but these women are like Bigfoot. You hear tales of them; there are "supposed" sightings, but do they really exist? Probably not.

Remember that even the picture-perfect mother who displays all of her parental joys and successes for the world to see has skeletons in her neat and organized Marie Kondo closet. Don't compare yourself to other mothers. You are unique, your kids are unique, and your parenting experience is, you guessed it, unique.

So Much To Do, So Little Time

24 hours in a day is just not enough to do all that is required of a mother. It doesn't matter if you work, stay home, have ten kids, or one kid, moms are stretched super-thin all the time. When plates get piled sky-high with careers, school, sports, activities, and home duties, it becomes impossible to get everything done in a day. There are always going to be some misses and unchecked boxes on the to-do list, and when this happens, mom guilt pops up, shouting, "Here I am failure mom!"

You can't always make your chores and responsibilities disappear, and the kids certainly aren't going anywhere, so your mind is where the adjustment takes place. Everything in your life has rank regarding importance. Decide what is an absolute "to-do" on any given day and give those things priority. Give other tasks medium priority and call everything else a bonus. Refolding all the clothes in your drawers is a bonus, don't feel guilty about not getting to this task. Weeding the garden on a Tuesday, also a chore for the bonus round. The weeds will be waiting come the weekend. It's okay if that task gets pushed back. Feeding the kids and getting them to school are high-priority tasks. Do those at all costs. If you can't manage your family's basic needs, mom guilt might not be the problem, and professional help could be a better course of action.

Self-Doubt Is Your Worst Enemy

Mothers are their own worst enemy, and self-doubt will get a mom to the Land of Guilt quicker than anything. If you are experiencing bouts of mom guilt, talk to yourself, maybe not in public or in the school carline, but be your own cheerleader. Use lines like:

  • I am a good mother.
  • I do the very best I can.
  • My kids know that I love them.

Find a few mantras and say them over and over. Don't doubt your abilities as a parent and when you feel really low, know that tomorrow is a brand new day. You have the chance to try again. Celebrate small victories and try to recognize where improvements have been made. Maybe a month ago, you were late to school every day, which caused feelings of doubt and guilt. Yet this month, you were only late a handful of times, wonderful! Look at you slaying like a mom boss.

New Roles, too Many Hats

Mom guilt is particularly common with new mothers and working moms. New moms often feel like they are doing nothing right. They are tired, anxious, and watched far too much TLC's A Baby Story while expecting. For nine months, they created a picture of motherhood that thus far is nothing like the reality. Of course, guilt, self-doubt, and negative feelings are going to sneak on in and take hold. It is okay to feel like you don't quite know what you are doing as a new mommy. You have never been here before, so give yourself some grace. Like anything else in life, this too takes practice, patience, and time.

Working moms try to do it all, and commonly alone. These ladies are incredible, devoted, driven, overachievers, wanting to rock careers and motherhood to the fullest. Sometimes, because they tend to have those "go-get-em" personalities, they end their day feeling like they dropped the ball somewhere. In a study of 255 working parents, working moms displayed a significant level of guilt over the work-family balance. It is impossible to give 100% to a job and 100% to your kids. There is only so much of you to go around. Give what you can and live with the knowledge that you are doing not one but two important jobs every day. You are basically a superhero, and when was the last time you saw a guilt-ridden superhero? Never.

Recognizing Mom Guilt

Recognizing when you are experiencing mom guilt is similar to recognizing other conditions and ailments. Do a bit of self-assessment. Have you been experiencing negative feelings or thoughts about yourself? Does it seem like no matter how hard you try, you are forever feeling short? Is your brain constantly racked with thoughts and ideas about how you can improve in the parenting department? If the answer is yes to questions like these, you could be going through mom guilt.

Knowing really is half the battle. When you identify that yes, you are experiencing guilt, sadness, and anxiety over motherhood, then acknowledge it. Mom-stare that ugly beast in the face and know that there are ways to combat these feelings of inadequacy and despair.

Ditch the Guilt

If you have young Disney fans, then you have heard this phrase on repeat for the last couple of years: Let it go. Yes, ditching the mom guilt is far easier said than done, but hard doesn't mean impossible. There are specific methods and actions that you can adopt in your life to help you recognize your self-worth and ditch the mom guilt for good.

Mother and son playing together

Ask for Help

Yes, asking for help from others sometimes makes you feel like a failure, but it shouldn't. Asking for help to manage your life and be the best parent you can be is a sign of strength, confidence, and intelligence. You're the mom! You know what your family needs, and if it needs an extra set of hands to function, that kudos to you for recognizing that and setting a plan into motion. What a great mother you are for giving your family what it needs to be a success. You probably already feel less guilty now.

Make Time for Yourself

If you don't take care of yourself, how will you take care of everyone else? Moms constantly feel guilty when taking a bit of "me time," but truthfully, this self-care is essential to everyone. Moms need to recharge their batteries so that they can continue doing all that is required of them. Taking time for ones-self can come in so many forms and often depends on the mom herself. Every mom has a different means of decompression and relaxation. Some mothers might need a quiet bath once a week, while others require a little getaway for a weekend. Whatever it is that you need, make the space to address it. If you go down, your entire family ship is going to sink, so keep yourself afloat with some self-love.

Create One-on-One Opportunities

Parents of multiple kids know firsthand how hard it is to spread the love equally and always. Someone forever seems to be getting a bit less than a sibling, because as parents, the focus sometimes falls on whoever needs the most at any given time. When moms realize that they have been tuned into little Jimmy much more than Little Anna because Jimmy is in one of those super-fun demanding stages of life currently, they feel guilty. Remind yourself that Anna will go through her struggles too, and when she does, you will be there to aid her through.

Another strategy is to create one-on-one opportunities for bonding with each child. This doesn't have to a huge event, but once a week, go on a walk with each kid, sans siblings. Take a different child to the supermarket each week, color with one child, and then do a puzzle with the other. If you feel overwhelmed with how and where this task will fit into your schedule, put it on the calendar and prioritize it.

Find Your People

You need a tribe to lift you up and remind you that you're a baddie. Like-minded mom friends are wonderful supports in times of mom guilt. They are the ones who call attention to all the good that you are doing. They are the ones who say, "Yep! Me too!" They know your heart, your family and love you unconditionally. Find these women and lean on them when you are feeling low. They are worth their weight in gold.

Perfection Is in the Eye of the Beholder

Everyone has heard the term beauty is in the eye of the beholder. This applies to motherhood, and the "eye of the beholder" is your child. To them, you are wonderful, a goddess, absolute perfection. Even when you allow mom guilt to grab hold of your brain and create those "meh" feelings of doubt and anxiety, remember that to your child, you are magnificent. So long as they feel safe and loved and you just keep on trying and fighting the good fight, rest easy, and know that you are doing just fine!

The Mom Guilt Mom Guide: How to Recognize and Overcome It