Mom Guilt: How to Overcome It and How to Prevent It

Katy Kandaris-Weiner, LPC
7/8/2024

Imagine this scenario: It’s been nine days since you brought home your newborn and you haven’t showered since. While trying to take a shower, you get a sense that you shouldn’t feel ok with leaving your baby to take care of yourself.

This is a prime example of mom guilt. It’s a terribly misunderstood problem that plagues mothers across the country.

In this article, we’ll talk about what mom guilt is, where it comes from, the long-term effects of mom guilt, and ways to stop mom guilt.

What is Mom Guilt?

Mom guilt is the term used to describe the feeling of guilt and feelings of inadequacy most moms will experience. These feelings stem from thoughts that can look like:

  • I didn’t have time to make dinner so I had to order takeout: I should be making my family healthier meals
  • I’m going to take time for myself: I shouldn’t feel good about being away from my family
  • I’m a stay-at-home parent: I should be contributing to my family's income in some way
  • I’m a working parent: I should be spending more time caring for my children
  • The baby rolled off the bed: I shouldn’t have fallen asleep and let my child fall
  • I’m too tired to go to that event: I should have enough energy to do everything

These feelings of inadequacy and shame are developed from outside pressure and create internal turmoil for mothers. 

Mom Guilt For Every Kind of Mom

Mom guilt is not exclusive to one style of mothering. No matter how you raise your children you are susceptible to feeling guilt. In other words, there’s a mom guilt for every kind of mom:

  • Stay-at-home mom guilt
  • Single mom guilt
  • Working mom guilt

While mothers are rightfully thought of as heroes, they aren’t perfect. No one is. However, the expectation that mothers should be superwoman-esque figures creates shame for losing their cool or taking time for themself. 

  • Mom guilt might happen after drinking or just relaxing and enjoying yourself
  • Mom guilt can happen after spending time alone and working on self-care
  • Mom guilt can happen after yelling at your kids when you’re frustrated
  • Mom guilt can be caused by giving your kids screen time

To be clear, motherhood is hard, and while yelling at your kids is not considered a healthy parenting skill, slipping up does not make you a bad mother. And taking care of yourself actually helps mothers care for their kids.

Where Does Mom Guilt Come From?

Mom guilt is commonly misunderstood as a natural thing all mothers simply need to get over. From this perspective, mom guilt originates from a mother’s incorrect thinking. This is a gross misrepresentation of what is actually occurring to mothers. 

Mom guilt is not something that naturally occurs in mothers, it’s propagated through standards and pressure placed on mothers. It grows from the external shame mothers receive from other people and societal expectations. These are some of the avenues mom guilt comes from.

image: against a white wall, a woman with her hands covering her face with disembodied hands pointing fingers at her. Text: pressures that cause mom guilt include impossible standards, social comparisons, online comments, and rude people.a

Impossibly High Societal Standards

America doesn’t have a good history of supporting women. Mothers are tasked with the impossible standards of getting their pre-partum body back, building and keeping a schedule for their children, keeping their children well-behaved in public, keeping a career, being emotionally stable, and making 3 healthy meals every day.

Not only is America notoriously bad at supporting mothers, but the fast-living and busy culture that’s praised in this country is not compatible with healthy living, especially while raising kids. When this style of life crashes against sleepless nights, frequent feeding sessions, and car seat naps, it’s obvious that burnout is imminent. 

However, that doesn’t stop the expectation from going away.

Societal standards contribute to mom guilt because It holds moms to a different standard than what is possible for most people.

Social Media Comparisons

It’s a well-known mantra that comparison is the thief of joy, but social media comparison is proving to be much worse than that.

In general, people only post highly curated versions of their lives—they leave out the chuff and show off the highlights. People often subconsciously or consciously compare:

  • Income
  • Housing
  • Body image
  • Ease of parenting
  • Vacations
  • The happiness of family members

Seeing only the highlights of people’s lives can very quickly turn into social comparison. Social comparison is proven to contribute negatively to emotional and mental health. 

For mothers, this is incredibly targeted. Social media algorithms work to show moms pictures and videos of happy babies, moms enjoying a vacation with their well-behaved children, or fitness gurus sharing how this one thing erased their mom belly.

Social media pages that present a false image of motherhood proliferate mom guilt to mothers by contributing to negative social comparisons.

Social Media Comments

Even on some of the most well-meaning and wholesome content, people feel the need to leave nasty comments.

Everything from when to start using pacifiers, when to start solid foods, whether formula is a good option, and even choosing reusable diapers over disposable is on the chopping block of public opinion.

You could post a video of your 7-month-old discovering sunglasses and still get a comment critiquing a completely irrelevant and preferential parenting choice. Social media comments like these continue the spread of mom guilt by literally guilting mothers for raising their children a certain way.

Rude Comments

Here’s another scenario for moms: You spend the morning trying to get out the door just to pick up some groceries, when the baby spits up all over you and herself. 

After some frantic outfit changes, you finally make it to the store. Upon entering you pass someone who rolls their eyes and says “You know your baby needs to wear socks, right?” Enter mom guilt.

Not only is this comment unhelpful, it’s not correct. Maybe the car was too hot for the baby to wear socks, maybe the baby hates wearing socks. So much of raising a baby comes down to preferences, and when remarks like this land on a mother’s ears it only comes across as hurtful shaming.

Effects of Long Term Mom Guilt

The effects of mom guilt are not minor, and prolonged effects are harmful to mental and physical health. Experiencing mom guilt for a long time is similar to the long-term effects of high stress. 

This list of issues makes it clear that allowing mom guilt to persist is not an option. You may be able to burn the candle on both ends for a little while, but over time it will wear you down. High-functioning anxiety is a common effect of mom guilt and can lead to some troubling long-term issues.

image: a woman holding a sad toddler. Text: you are not alone...according to a survey conducted by care.com, 87% of others feel guilty at some point. 21% report they feel guilty all the time.

You’re Doing A Great Job: 6 Ways To Combat Mom Guilt

Truth be told, no one can “have it all”. Being the mom who can do it all while wearing a smile is impossible because that mom doesn’t exist.

Now that we’ve waded through what causes mom guilt, let's talk about ways mothers can combat feelings of guilt.

No image, text: you cant control erroneous external expectations, but you can remember the real source of mom guilt, practice self care, practice stress management, avoid avenues for comparison, talk about your experience, and seek formal care.

1. Remember The Real Source of Mom Guilt

Remember that mom guilt isn’t present because you’ve done something wrong. Refresh your memory of the above reasons that mom guilt exists. 

Empower yourself with the knowledge that the shame associated with mom guilt comes from a societal structure that misunderstands and devalues healthy motherhood.

2. Self-Care

This combative measure won’t be easy for those who feel guilty taking time for themselves. However, it’s important to find pockets of opportunity to:

  • Take an Epsom salt bath
  • Go for a walk
  • Watch a movie
  • Get a mani-pedi

Finding time to do these things is easier said than done. Ask your partner for help, find a babysitter, or even invite a family member to hang out with your children. 

Think of yourself as a battery or a bank. You only have enough resources to do so much. Self-care refreshes your bank and recharges your battery.

3. Talk About It

Talking to a family, friend, or partner in a healthy manner is a great way to experience catharsis and find support. Connecting with other mothers who are experiencing similar feelings is also a great way to find community and work together to find a support system.

Remind yourself that you’re not alone by talking through your feelings of guilt with people you trust.

4. Stress Management

Stress management involves:

  • Identifying the source of your stress
  • Avoiding unnecessary channels of stress like social media
  • Taking time for yourself
  • Changing things you can
  • Accepting things you can’t

Adding stress management practices on top of your already busy mom life may not be easy. You may feel guilty for having to take time for yourself but try to remember that refreshing your energy bank will help you help your family.

5. Avoid Comparisons

Every mom is different. Your circumstances will change what resources and privileges are available to you. Not everyone will be able to go on vacation every year, have a nice capsule wardrobe, or afford the most ergonomic and aesthetically pleasing high chair.

Do yourself a favor and disengage from social media and other channels of comparison. This won’t solve the issue of mom guilt, but it will remove one way for you to feel bad about yourself.

This also goes for blogs, YouTube channels, and other internet outlets that publish information for moms. Some of these outlets are genuinely helpful, while others may unconsciously create thoughts of inadequacy.

6. Find Formal Help

Mom guilt is a very real issue preceded and fueled by generations of unsupported mothers. Motherhood is hard enough, you shouldn’t have to deal with that hardship alone.

Seeking therapy for mom guilt will help support your mental health, and help you support your family.

Counseling For Moms At Inner Balance

It takes a village. This saying is not just an excuse for grandma to come over and see the grandkids. It’s true, being a mother requires a solid support system. Formal therapy can offer you support as you support your family.

Inner Balance Counseling offers counseling services for several mental health conditions and general mental health. Moms looking for counseling for any topic can receive help with our counseling services including online therapy options.

Don’t let mom guilt hold power over your life any longer. Request a consultation today. 

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Katy Kandaris-Weiner, LPC
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