Taking on one of the most meaningful and challenging roles of all – becoming a mom – can provoke endless questioning and insecurity. No matter how prepared you think you are, pregnancy raises doubts and fears.
After the baby is born, the worries and guilt may skyrocket with endless opportunities to compare yourself, your marriage, your parenting acumen, and even your child to those around you.
Despite parenting groups, online forums, supportive friends, and family advice, many young parents feel isolated and inept. They hide their fears and feel guilty when they struggle with insecurity or have negative feelings about being a parent. Many feel torn about their changing roles and resent having to let go of their former selves.
Even as children get older and moms become more confident, the worries and guilt don’t necessarily disappear, they just morph into another form. As these little people get bigger, their needs, personalities, and vocabularies increase too. The demands of parenting a toddler and preschool-aged child are no picnic.
The comparisons, worries and guilt don’t disappear once your child enters school. Grades, test scores, talent shows, auditions, and sports try-outs are just a few of the hurdles that loom, along with behavioral challenges such as temper outbursts at home, trouble at school, and difficulty with their friends. Moms also compare themselves to other parents.
What can you do to tame the worry-monster? The key is self-compassion.
Recognize that worry is a sign of your love and caring. If you didn’t care, you wouldn’t worry. That doesn’t mean constant worrying, self-blame, and guilt is a parenting requirement. It makes your life miserable and can affect your children. They may sense your anxiety and can become fearful and hold themselves back in deference to your worries.
Self-compassion encompasses the capacity to be kind and accepting toward yourself, and willing to forgive your fumbles and imperfections. Self-compassion can reduce anxiety, shame, and worry, and create a greater feeling of connection with others. It can foster increased compassion for others as well.
You can be a loving, empathetic, attentive, caring parent without the worry and guilt if you try the following:
Some tools are available online, including information from self-compassion and mindfulness experts Kristin Neff and Jon Kabat-Zinn. Many additional websites and phone apps also are available that provide mindfulness techniques.
Sometimes these beliefs are fueled by unrealistic assumptions. For example, how likely is it that other parents are always calm, have children who never argue, and rarely struggle with self-doubt? Ask yourself if you would be as harshly judgmental toward a friend or loved one. Challenge your assumptions that other parents have it all figured out, that you don’t get it, or that you must be perfect as a parent.
Are they based on your own parents’ beliefs, books or online advice, fictional depictions of parenting, or expectations from friends, your partner, or your family? Have you always doubted yourself or is there something unique to your role as a mother that makes it more difficult? Once you understand what contributes to your worry or guilt, it may be easier to challenge and eliminate it.
If he sees that you are capable of accepting your imperfections, and can forgive yourself and move forward, he will learn these skills as well. It also provides an example for developing greater acceptance of others.
If the above tools and suggestions are not sufficient, working with a licensed mental health professional may be the next step on the road to banishing mom guilt and developing self-compassion. While it is important to learn from our mistakes and take stock in what needs to change, unrealistic expectations, harsh self-blame, and obsessive worry can rob us of much of the joy of parenting. Don’t let mom guilt get in the way of enjoying life as a parent and time with your child.