5 Ways to Deal with Mama Guilt

February 1st, 2011 by Dionna | 6 Comments
Posted in Consensual Living, Gentle/Positive Discipline, natural parenting, Strive for Balance

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Mama guilt is a universal phenomenon. Guilt can come from yelling or using other harsh discipline techniques when we strive to parent peacefully, or from not respecting and treating our children as people with their own thoughts and feelings. We may feel guilty for not spending enough quality time with our children, for wanting more time by ourselves, or for not living up to the standards set by ourselves or our parenting community. Sometimes we can’t even pinpoint where the guilt comes from. Regardless of the source of mama guilt, it is unhealthy to remain shackled by it. Here are five ideas to help you deal with the mama guilt in your own life.

1. Take Care of Yourself

Parents are people with needs too, and we must give ourselves permission to take care of ourselves. If you – like me – find yourself denying your own needs, it will be helpful to keep these two things in mind:

First: you cannot meet your family’s needs if you are neglecting yourself. Failing to take care of yourself long-term will find you becoming resentful, depressed, angry, or a combination of the three. There’s a reason for the saying “if mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.”1

Second: if it helps to put it in terms of your kids, think about this – do you want your child to learn that she must please everyone else before she takes care of herself ? Do you want your child to expect her future spouse to cater to everyone regardless of the spouse’s needs? You are a role model for your children, and it is healthy for them to learn that parents have needs too.

2. Look to Your Own Childhood

Have you ever reacted strongly – and automatically – to something your child says or does, only to realize later “that was my mother talking!” We all bring our own childhoods forward into parenting, and your automatic reactions are often based on your parents’ words, playing in your subconscious memory.

Notice your words in reaction to your child over the course of several days, and then spend some time in self-reflection. After noticing your automatic responses, start practicing the first step in Naomi Aldort’s S.A.L.V.E. technique: separate yourself from your child’s behavior and emotions with a silent “self-talk.” Let your mind run through what you would have said, and then form a response that you will wish you would have said later. Choose to build your relationship with your child rather than to react automatically and thoughtlessly.2

3. Mistakes Are Learning Opportunities

Parenting is a path of maturation and growth if we dare to learn more and teach less.3 Each interaction with your child gives you a chance to learn and grow as a parent. When an interaction results in hurt feelings and a disconnect between you and your child, use it as a chance to explore other ways to reconnect.

Rather than allowing mistakes to send you spiraling into a tunnel of self-doubt, self-criticism, and self-judgment, welcome mistakes as opportunities to try new strategies of connecting with your children. Parents aren’t perfect; that is something we can show our children every day. Forgiving yourself for your own mistakes is a wonderful lesson for kids, because we want our children to be able to forgive themselves.4

4. Focus on the Positives

After you’ve engaged in some self-reflection and forgiven yourself for making mistakes, take a few minutes to let go of the negative. Breathe, do some yoga, take a walk, focus on the positives in your life. If it is difficult for you to concentrate on the good things, start a journal. Every night write down at least one positive interaction, one positive conversation, or one positive parenting moment that you remember. When you are feeling down, open your journal and recall those happier moments.

5. Takes Steps to Change

If you find yourself constantly guilty over how you interact with your child, harness your guilt: use it as motivation to change yourself. Are you expecting too much? Reevaluate your expectations based on your child’s developmental stage. Are you yelling or constantly resorting to time-outs (that don’t work)?5 Find new ways to connect with your children based on love and respect rather than rewards and punishment. Are you missing quality time with your kids in the hustle and bustle of life? Set aside a date night each week to reconnect without planning some “special” activity.

If you are unhappy with some aspect of your parenting, there is no time like the present to work on changing it. In the footnotes of this post are some excellent parenting books that focus on building relationships with your child based on love and respect. I highly recommend them to every parent.

Photo credit: winterdove

This post has been edited from a previous version published at Navelgazing.

  1. Respectful Parents, Respectful Kids devotes a chapter to taking care of your own needs.
  2. S.A.L.V.E. comes from Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves, at 7-9.
  3. Lawrence Cohen: Playful Parenting
  4. To learn more about this concept, read Respectful Parents, Respectful Kids.
  5. For more on rewards and punishments (and their healthier alternatives), read Alfie Kohn’s Unconditional Parenting: Moving From Rewards and Punishment to Love and Reason.

6 Responses to:
"5 Ways to Deal with Mama Guilt"

  1. I love this post!! Absolutely true! The best thing about being a parent is getting second chances :)

  2. Suchada @ Mama Eve   mamaevetweets

    My favorite is the last one. If we feel guilty about something, but don’t do anything to change our actions, the cycle will just continue. I’m trying to move on and realize there is much more to motherhood than guilt.

  3. Darcel @ The Mahogany Way   mahoganywaymama

    I am one of those moms who doesn’t take care of herself like she should.It’s really hard at times, but I’m making more time for myself. I take better care of my family when my needs are met.

  4. The ArtsyMama   The_ArtsyMama

    You are such a sweetheart. I know from the other night it can be so hard to forgive ourselves for the mistakes we make. Thank you for posting this to help us regain composure and forgive ourselves.

  5. Maman A Droit   MamanADroit

    Interesting tips! I think I mostly agree, except I’m less concerned about taking care of myself than probably most moms. Part of that is religious-I try to practice and do want to teach my kids the concept of self-giving love and self-sacrifice. I don’t think that it’s bad at all if my kids see me, my whole life, putting my family ahead of myself and I hope they’ll do the same thing as parents. Basic hygiene is of course a must, but beyond that I’m not much of a believer in “me-time”.

  6. I completely agree with everyone else here. I think this is a wonderful post that shows that mothers don’t have to feel guilty in any way if they want or need some “me” time here and there. If I am happy as a mom, I will automatically carry that over to my husband and children. So if I take care of myself and my needs from time to time, I will be a happier/better mother and wife.

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