Guilty as Charged

April 5th, 2010 by Dionna | 12 Comments
Posted in Just for Fun/Miscellaneous

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Today I would like to welcome Nicole, who has written a guest post on the sources of mama guilt. She is a mother of a beautiful son, a woman of color, and is crunchier than she ever expected to be. You can normally find Nicole over at Navelgazing, where she muses regularly about her experiences with new motherhood. Today, I have a guest post there. So, once you’re done reading Nicole’s thoughts on the sources of mama guilt, head on over to get some ideas on how to deal with and harness that mama guilt.


“It’s Ina freakin’ May! Of course you can bring the baby!”

Those words led to me standing in the back of a university lecture hall inhaling every word that came out of the mouth of the most awesome midwife that ever awesomely midwifed.

To my relief, I wasn’t alone. Of the roughly 50 birth-minded women in the room, there were about four other mother-baby dyads present. We swayed side by side with our very attached babies wrapped snugly in ring slings. When the babies got fussy, we unabashedly lifted/unbuttoned/pulled down our shirts and nursed our babies. When the babies babbled a bit too loudly and excitedly, we slipped through the rear door, listened from the hallway until the babies calmed and then slipped back in to the lecture.

Eventually one of the mothers realized it was time for a diaper change so she sat on the floor with her little one and changed his cloth diaper.

I remember thinking that this environment made babies in cloth diapers seem so normal. I smiled and gazed at this scene. That’s when I realized I had not changed my own son’s diaper in a while. Then I remembered he was wearing a….disposable!

The horror!!!

I slunk out the rear door, hushing and rocking my already calm infant and quickly changed him on a wooden bench in the empty hallway.

Before I became a mother I would sigh every time I saw or heard the term, “mommy guilt.” I was tempted to say that guilt was useless unless it motivated us to do better. In some ways I still feel that way, yet I haven’t escaped the guilt trap.

Why haven’t I escaped? I think guilt has become for many mothers an unavoidable part of motherhood. What we feel guilty about and the extent of our guilt depends on our own individual cultures, philosophies and personalities. However, I think the common thread of our guilty feelings is that we don’t want to be judged as “bad mothers.”

Mother disapproval is a national pastime. Sure, we pay lip service to the supposed sanctity of motherhood but we also love a good mother-bashing. Do any of these examples sound familiar?

Mommy Wars

Stay at home versus work outside of the home mother

Breast versus bottle

Those “mommy bloggers” who ignore their kids


Welfare queens with seventy-billion kids

We are bombarded with so many cultural messages about what makes a “good” mother. Is it then surprising that moms feel guilty over their own perceived imperfections?

I hesitated to agree to attend the Ina May Gaskin workshop because I didn’t want to be seen as “the one with the noisy baby who couldn’t figure out childcare.” Later, I briefly felt like a natural parenting failure because I thought the other mothers would think I was a big fraud. After all, I believe in the advantages of using cloth diapers. If they could figure out how to take their babies out in cloth diapers then why couldn’t I?

But why does it even matter what others, particularly other mothers, think? Most of us want emotionally and physically healthy children that grow into successful, emotionally and physically healthy adults. For many this is the proof of the quality of our mothering. Right or wrong, society will blame us and we will blame ourselves when our children turn out to be less than perfect. We will fear judgment from other mothers, because who better to judge us than someone who knows what mothering is like? And if they could figure out how not to screw up their kids, then what’s our excuse? In the midst of all of this judgment our harshest critics just might be ourselves.

The truth is that despite our best efforts or lack of efforts, our children will never be perfect. Whatever child-rearing technique we choose will attract judgment from someone. We can gather as much knowledge as possible about the “how to’s” of raising your children well and we’ll still fall short of our own expectations. What we can do is manage our own responses to the “just not good enough” thoughts that trouble us and then try to do better next time. If at the end of the day we’ve all survived and our kids still love us, then perhaps that’s all the proof we really need.

B&W Photo credit: jfg

12 Responses to:
"Guilty as Charged"

  1. the Grumbles   thegrumbles

    Ha! I love this. As I was reading along the first thing I thought of when you were describing all the ladies at the lecture was, “Crap, we use disposable diapers sometimes. I suck.”

    Our kids are happy and healthy, shouldn’t that be enough?

  2. Lauren @ Hobo Mama   Hobo_Mama

    It’s funny how we find so many things to feel guilty over, isn’t it? Not funny ha-ha, either. I manage to make myself feel uncomfortable in pretty much any social situation I’m in — and I’ve come to realize that so much of it is in my own head. I’m trying to stop projecting negative feelings onto other people, but it’s hard.

  3. Beecher   Rainbowsouffle

    My husband frequently points out to me that “women of color” and the women of “his mothers circles” loathe my particular parenting style. He is African American, I’m Caucasian. It’s difficult to sum up his theory but it goes along the lines of: “African Americans have many stereotypes and obstacles socially already that whn they see a young white woman APing/ cloth diapering/ bfing etc, it’s like slapping them in the face for having such a difficult cultural history.” I refute that I am only doing what is normal and natural to me as a mother, and much like you’ve pointed out, being ‘our best parent’ can come in many different forms.

  4. Amber   AmberStrocel

    I agree with your conclusions – my goals are really very modest. As long as everyone makes it through the day intact, and I generally refrain from horribly scarring anyone, I’ve done OK.

    But still, the guilt gets me. I remember changing my first child’s disposable diaper at a La Leche League meeting and feeling the same way. Of course, no one else cared but me, but I didn’t feel that at the time. Now I feel the same thing when I tell my many home-schooling friends that we’re going with the local public school. While I feel that I am a good mom, there are still moments when I don’t fit in and it’s not always comfortable.

  5. I’m the woman who brought Nicole to see Ina Freakin’ May. The perspective is so funny — I never would have thought you were the loser mom who couldn’t find childcare. I actually commend you and all the moms who brought babies, because I thought, “wow, you guys are SO attached to your babies! What awesome AP moms!” I was imagining that you’d all think that *I* am the loser who leaves her four kids at home for 12 hours. It’s all about perspective.

  6. alright, because seriously, I ended up with much more typing on this than I originally intended, I used some of my much neglected, often forgotten blogspace to type up my thoughts.

  7. Amber   unlikelymama

    We use cloth at home and disposables when we’re out. I just don’t want to carry along another whole diaper bag just for diapers. They ones we use (BumGenius one sized) take up a lot of room, clean or not. Sposies are just easier to carry along.

    I totally understand though. I talked to much about cloth before our babe was born, that whenever anyone sees me using a sposie..they always ask if we’ve “given up” the cloth yet. Like it’s some sort of competition their having to see which one of our ideals fails first :-/

  8. Maman A Droit   MamanADroit

    Great post! I use disposable diapers. I live in an apartment where it is $2 to do a load of laundry and don’t want piles of diapers laying around until I get a full load. But I feel guilty about it. It’s nice to hear some reassurance that I don’t have to be the perfect mommy, and that really it’s not even possible!

  9. Sheryl   sheryljesin

    I finally got around to trying cloth diapers this summer when Dylan was 18 months. I loved it and was feeling great about it…until November came around and I went back to work and we’ve switched back to disposables…I often feel quite guilty about it!
    I’m going to try to use them right from the start when we have another baby!

  10. Dionna   CodeNameMama

    Thanks again Nicole for a wonderful guest post!

    It sounds like Nicole hit on a big mama guilt factor with the cloth v. disposable thing. We do cloth, and I wish Kieran would LET me cheat with disposables more often but he hates them. HOWEVER – this past week when we were cleaning out the condo (and I didn’t want to do diaper laundry on top of all that work), I put him in pull-ups, which he thought were nifty. He actually *asked* for a pull-up over cloth when we got home once. I was shocked, and secretly thrilled ;)

    I’d love to hear all of your thoughts on “how to deal with mama guilt” – my guest post on Nicole’s site – feel free to hop on over and leave some suggestions!

  11. (@Erika – Hi!)

    Wow! I am somehow comforted by the fact that so many of you also have that cloth/disposable diaper guilt issue. I am learning to celebrate my victories (big and small) and to forgive myself for the things I wish I’d done better. It’s a process. Dionna wrote some great tips in her post on my site.

    @Dionna – Thanks for the invite to post!

  12. Darcel   mahoganywaymama

    There are so many mommy wars it’s hard to keep track.
    Just when I think I have nothing left to feel guilty for, something else happens, or someone says something to me.
    Such is life. It’s good to know we aren’t alone.

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