Postpartum Realness: Mom Guilt
Updated: Sep 14
Here I am, 3 and a half years into this mom gig and just about every day I'm plagued with a bad case of the "shoulds". I should be waking up earlier, should be spending more active time with the kids, should be making healthier meals, should be working harder at strict sleep schedules and screen time and... and...and.... The list of things that my head tells me I should do is never-ending. Some clever therapist before me called this syndrome "shoulding all over yourself". (Cute, I know) In mom circles, this is more commonly known simply as Mom Guilt. Yep, you guessed it, the feeling that there are never enough hours or self-help articles or Facebook mom groups out there to make sure we're getting it right. Whatever that means. In the early days of motherhood, the thought of getting it right often feels like an issue of life or death. While this is rarely the case, it is true that lack of a regular feeding schedule or not using a eczema-approved detergent or less than diligent supervision can certainly have dire consequences with small children. But more often than not, it is the other stuff, the more idiosyncratic stuff, if you will, that gets into our heads. The stuff we hear and see other moms doing and begin to believe is "doing it right".
In my experience, when you're new at any job, you want to put your best foot forward. It's human nature. The same is true with motherhood in that so many of us want to get it right to give our babies the best chance at thriving and success. What the research shows, however, is that so long as the baby is fed and adequately otherwise looked after, the next best thing to focus on is the attachment bond between the child and its primary caregivers. Simply put- show that kid some love and attention! Attend to their needs, give lots of cuddles, soothe them when they cry and begin attuning to their emotional states. And let's keep it real (as we always do here)- isn't that basically what every second of new parenthood is filled with anyway? Think about it: We sustain eye contact and make soft noises and communications while we feed (attachment). When we hear crying, we figure out if diaper needs changing, it's time to eat, or it's nap time (attunement). The rest of the day is usually spent cuddling and playing, or taking care of ourselves, other children or the house/work, allowing the child to explore the world on their own until they need us again and the cycle continues. ALL OF THIS IS GOOD STUFF. The baby brand or the new trending technique is generally not as important as the consistency of these simple things. Attuning. Attending. Attaching. And mama, I promise: you're doing all of those things!
Now- to the mom who is worried that perhaps she's NOT doing a great job at those (because sure, some days even the "simple" stuff is anything but simple). The good news is that there is a straightforward prescription for this. TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF. That mom guilt shows up loud and fierce when we're just too burnt out to play peek-a-boo for the eighty-sixth time today. It creeps up when we are so exhausted by cluster feeding that we ask our partner to do a formula feed. Or when we ask our partner to do most of the baby cuddles for the day because we're just too "touched out". And all of that is ok. It's impossible to take care of others when we aren't able to effectively care for ourselves. It's the old oxygen mask on the airplane analogy (which if you ask any mother the thought of oxygenating herself before her child is the actual definition of a dire existential predicament). But the hard truth may come down to filling our lungs with the oxygen it needs to breathe life into our little ones. I often tell my 3-year-old that I am sometimes out of "mommy juice". He knows and can sense when the mommy juice is running low for the day (or the morning :) ). I can also sense when that mommy juice is low and needs a refill. On rare occasions I have time to replenish the entire glass by getting a day to myself to catch up on things I enjoy. Other times I may only get a minute or two of deep breathing or stretching or even just quiet that may fill a few ounces of mommy juice that wasn't otherwise there. And let me tell you- every. drop. counts.
So as counterintuitive as it may seem, the way to rid yourself of Mom Guilt is to take stock of what you're needing more of. Generally, our kids are fine. It's moreso a question of what is enabling the stoking of the flames of inadequacy or guilt. Once we take time for ourselves to get the rest and care that our mind and body needs, we are usually able to reset and give those extra cuddles or heck, even a few more rounds of 'The Wheels on the Bus'. In turn, we are able to tangibly see ourselves attending to our children's needs which creates a renewed faith in our capabilities in motherhood. And just like that- POOF- there goes the Mom Guilt!
For today, at least. :) But hey, tomorrow's a new day and just like all things motherhood- let's just take this thing one day at a time.