Evidenced-Based Techniques for Overcoming Mom Guilt
As a psychologist who specializes in working with women, I’m witnessing a surge in mom guilt. Mom guilt is exactly what it sounds like, a name given to feelings of guilt and shame some mothers experience when they don’t live up to their own or others’ expectations. It’s that incessant voice in your head telling you that you aren’t enough…you are doing enough, you aren’t giving enough. Mom guilt is not abnormal and it isn’t an indication that you are doing anything wrong. But it is a sign that you likely need to adjust your mindset.
Mom guilt can leave you on edge, feeling irritable and impatient. Even more concerning, chronic guilt and stress can lead to disease and mental health concerns including depression, anxiety, increased blood pressure and increased heart rate. So, you see, dealing with mom guilt isn’t selfish, it’s imperative.
I practice Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), a highly effective treatment method backed by decades of scientific research. The premise behind CBT is that we all have unhealthy thoughts, called cognitive distortions, that lead us to act and feel a certain way. By changing those thoughts, using evidence-based techniques, we can change the way we behave and feel. Three common cognitive distortions that contribute to mom guilt are comparisons, shoulds, and all-or-nothing thinking.
Comparisons. Oh those feelings of inadequacy that emerge when you see Susan post pictures of her perfect charcuterie board with those fancy salami roses while you’re lucky to remember to throw a Lunchables and juice box into your kid’s lunchbox. You’re comparing one part of your life to her highlight reel, leaving you feeling less-than. Social media and “mommy blogs” can exacerbate your tendency to engage in comparisons. Instead, focus on yourself. When you catch yourself stalking Susan’s social media and engaging in comparisons, challenge and replace those thoughts with thoughts that are focused on the good efforts you’ve made (there are many, I assure you) and be proud! In doing so, you can challenge and correct your comparison thoughts which can lessen guilt and boost self-worth.
Shoulds. Shoulds (musts and oughts) are unrealistic, made-up rules and expectations that leave you feeling frustrated, anxious, and disappointed. The message created when you use should statements is that you aren’t good enough. “I should be more involved in my kid’s classroom activities.” “I shouldn’t be so tired at the end of the day.” Instead, work on self-compassion and reframe your thoughts to be more realistic and kind. Rather than “I should be more involved in my kid’s classroom activities,” say, “I participated in the mother-kid event this month and we both had a really nice time.”
All-or-nothing thinking. All-or-nothing thinking refers to thinking in extremes. You’re either a success or a failure. Your performance was perfect or terrible. All-or-nothing thinking is often the root of perfectionism and can destroy self-esteem. “I missed the last soccer game. I’m a terrible mother.” Really? Is it a fact (not a feeling, feelings aren’t always facts) that because you didn’t go to all the games, you’re a terrible mother? Does going to all the games make you a perfect mother? Instead, gather overlooked evidence that supports the fact that you’re an awesome mom. Shift your mindset by checking your facts, finding shades of grey, and learning to see things on a continuum.
Don’t let mom guilt prevent you from enjoying experiences with your children. Mom guilt is not uncommon, but you don’t have to deal with it alone. Therapy can help you learn more strategies for overcoming mom guilt and provides a non-judgmental space to share and process your thoughts and emotions. There is no shame in seeking support from a therapist.
Author: Dr. Beverly J. Pedroche