Look no further than a mother if you want a raw, unadulterated version of guilt on steroids. We often set new mothers up to fail because of one primary assumption made of us all — we must participate constantly in our children’s lives. That is an expectation.
Feelings of guilt start as soon as a woman finds out they are pregnant — we are faced with a laundry list of dos and don’ts — Don’t eat lunchmeat, take these vitamins (don’t take those), keep exercising (but don’t overdo it), manage your stress, don’t gain too much weight — the list goes on and on.
Once the baby is born, the guilt and anxiety only intensifies. If you work outside the home, there is the guilt over sending our kids to daycare because we get told we had a child for “someone else to raise.” We miss choir concerts and volunteer opportunities in classrooms. We aren’t always there to pick up our children from the bus stop and frantically coordinate carpools to after school activities. We juggle and rearrange and rationalize. There are a hundred times a day, every single day, we feel like we aren’t enough.
Guilt is a perfectly normal emotion but according to Psychology Today, when parents become consumed by it, it can “unwittingly creating more serious problems for themselves and even their children.” Not only can it have a negative impact on our relationship with our children, it can have a devastating effect on our mental and physical well-being, including increased anxiety, insomnia, and can also contribute to cardiovascular disease, gastrointestinal disorders, and can do a number on our immune system.
A 2014 survey by Care.com found that one in four working moms cry once a week due to the stress of trying to “have it all.” Additionally, 29 percent of working moms can afford to hire help, but won’t because they feel too guilty. Women can’t even allow someone else to help us for fear of even more judgement and, you guessed it, subsequent internal shame for needing help in the first place.
When I talk to other mothers about why they feel guilty, it usually comes down to feeling like they are missing out. Even when we are with our kids, we have a million other distractions and responsibilities; it can often feel like we aren’t “really there” at all.
Maybe that’s the burden of motherhood, the constant feeling that we aren’t doing enough and should be doing so much more. That everyone else we know seems to be able to juggle it all better than we are and maybe we simply weren’t cut out for all of this. We worry every decision we make could have a profound effect on our child, causing irreversible damage if we don’t get every single thing right.
To say nothing of what it is doing to us.
So, how can we overcome the guilt and anxiety that seems to plague us all? The American Management Association suggests it is can be a simple as letting some things go and trying to look at the bigger picture. Also laughing with our kids and learning to “live in the moment.” It’s true, it’s difficult to feel guilty about missing a baseball game or being divorced when you are completely present and tuned into your child, enjoying the time you have been given.
We also need each other — call a family member, hire a babysitter, go for a walk, or call a friend and take time to decompress. Lean on other women and admit, sometimes we are all just winging it, as our parents did with us. Acknowledge we are doing the best we can.
Before we know it, we will look back wondering where the time has gone.