Most moms on the planet feel that deep-down nagging that they aren't perfect parents. "Mommy guilt:" that they're coming up short on shaping their children's character, intellect, happiness or opportunity; that they might be sending their children down a pathway to ruin, or at least something short of a career in rocket science.
For me, with a 3-year-old and a young infant at home, mommy guilt is definitely a fact of everyday life. I feel guilty that my 3-year-old now has less of my attention. Then there's the guilt that I don't have time to constantly adore and dote on my baby. (When did he last have a bath?) I can't remember the last time my husband and I went on a date ...
The dishes have been in the sink three days; there are mountains of laundry to gather, spot-clean, wash, rewash, dry, re-fluff, sort, fold, put away; any number of moldy items are in the fridge; I let my child eat something with Red 40 in it; she's been watching "Curious George" most of the morning ...
I'm a horrible mother. I'm a horrible housekeeper. I'm a horrible wife.
Okay, not horrible - less than what I want to be, less than what I want my family to have.
It is so easy to get bogged down by those feelings, especially in my current "survival mode" season of life.
Here are 10 thoughts that help me pick myself back up and strengthen my confidence.
1. Like many moms, I tend to expect too much of myself
I am a full-time cook, housekeeper, caretaker, psychologist, interior decorator, activities director, nutritionist ... families used to employ a full household staff to handle these things. I can't stage "Downton Abbey" singlehandedly. Something's gotta give.
2. My family is healthy
We are not in a daily struggle for food or shelter or safety. The odds of survival are in our favor. Everything beyond that is a luxury.
3. Take some deep breaths
Seriously. Daniel Tiger does it for a reason, and I try to do it noticeably in front of my daughter. Studies show that deep breathing relieves stress. Psychologists even direct anxiety patients to do regular breathing exercises.
4. Whatever has me stressed out, will it even matter tomorrow?
Next month? Next year? Ten years from now?
5. The fact that I'm concerned about being the best mom I can shows that I am, in fact, a good mom.
6. Am I stressed out because I'm comparing myself to Mrs. Jones and her homemade soaps?
"No one can make you feel inferior without your consent," said Eleanor Roosevelt. And if Mrs. Jones is actively trying to make me feel inferior, then Mrs. Jones should use that extra time to make soap for poor kids whose mothers don't, since apparently homemade soap is that important.
7. I am not currently in a mother-of-the-year contest
8. I am not alone
It is totally normal to feel mommy guilt, and it is so relieving to talk to other moms about my mommy traumas. Sometimes it's just a chat with a friend or my own mom. Over the past year I've also come to value the support of other moms in MOPS- and Early Childhood-type groups.
9. Along the lines of point 2, I love this quote: "On particularly rough days, when I'm sure I can't possibly endure, I like to remind myself that my track record for getting through bad days so far is 100%, and that's pretty good."
10. Kids need a healthy mom way more than they need reindeer-shaped treats - particularly a mentally healthy mom.
When I am overcome, sometimes I put myself in time-out for a few minutes - it's also setting a good example for my toddler. I never do well enough at setting aside some "mommy time" - whether it's sitting with my coffee during the toddler's quiet time, or passing the kids off to my husband or a sitter for even an hour - but I've learned even a little goes a long way! "When Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy."
Sometimes healthy moms ask for help, even when it's hard to do.
I've dealt with depression and anxiety for close to 20 years, but it took me 10 years to set aside my pride and talk to someone about it. I often wonder what those first 10 years could have been like if I'd asked for help sooner. Anxiety and depression are especially something new moms (and those around them) should watch out for in the form of "baby blues." Not sure if what you're feeling is "clinical" depression or not? It never hurts to talk to your doctor about it.
Ariel is a stay-at-home-mom whose 3-year-old has been asking “Please I come out?” of quiet time for the past 15 minutes, non-stop. She has a background in reporting, editing, publication layout, and digital libraries, and wishes she could spend all day doing family history research. She and her husband have two tiny humans and not enough coffee.