Oh, Mom Guilt. My old friend. Or should I say “frenemy”.
This morning wasn’t one of my most shining moments as a parent. I woke up late, exhausted (which is the new thing I do since becoming a parent), and laid in bed for too long. I woke my four-year-old up and instructed her to get dressed. She wanted to wear her pajamas to school. We said no. She asked her Dad to eat breakfast at the table, which we both knew wasn’t possible given the fact it was so late.
Cue the crying.
Only today it was a hoarse cry that sounded painful. And of course, we had guests downstairs and I shushed her, hoping she wouldn’t wake them. And of course, I had a hearing this morning. And of course, my other half was less than pleased.
I began my hearing (one of my first) feeling frazzled and disconnected. I couldn’t focus. I kept thinking about her teary eyes and wondering if maybe I was too dismissive of the hoarse sounding cough she was making. I wished more than anything I could drive back to the daycare, scoop her up and cuddle her for the rest of the afternoon.
But no. Life doesn’t work that way.
We didn’t handle this morning well.
I got to thinking about Mom guilt. As my daughter gets older, I find myself getting more and more frustrated, which leads inevitably to my feeling guilty. As she grows more independent and her vocabulary and reasoning skills skyrocket, I notice it doesn’t take much to test the limits of my patience.
This isn’t the Mom I wanted to be. I don’t want to be constantly obsessing over our latest interaction or – worse – wondering what sort of damage I could be causing as my patience frays.
Do you struggle with Mom guilt, too? Here are five ways to handle it:
Analyze the situation (but don’t over-analyze it)
Whose fault was it that we were so short on time, which caused my daughter to melt down when she learned she had to eat in the car again?
(*raises hand sheepishly*).
Mine. I lazed around too long. I woke up too late. I stayed up too late last night. Not hers.
Where is the mom guilt coming from? When I take some time to think about it, I realize it stems from my own childhood. I lacked love, empathy and nurturing as a young child, and so I take great pains to avoid doing the same to her. In fact, I’m hyper-aware, which is why these less than stellar parenting moments are played over and over again in my mind.
Ann Smith writes:
If you had a very painful childhood you may be falling into the trap of viewing your children through the lens of your pain. You may be driven by your need to make it all better by giving your children a pain free childhood.
Do have compassion for yourself and your painful experiences. But try to separate your past experience from the new and improved approach you are providing for your children.
I don’t want to be a product of my upbringing, and so I have to remind myself to have more compassion for myself and my experience. Which brings me to my next point:
Empathize, don’t punish
This comes more naturally to me than it does my spouse. He’s quicker to anger, and I’m more likely to be the parent who bends when she shouldn’t. There’s sort of a happy medium in there, and we need to find it. I found that once we stopped the threats (which, let’s be honest, we’re not going to follow through on most likely, anyway) and I took a few deep breaths before hugging her and rubbing her back, the situation started to de-escalate. Soon she calmed down and stopped crying. Then, she let me brush her teeth. Finally, she let me change her pajama shirt… (the pajama shorts stayed on, but (again) that brings me to my next (sort of interrelated) points)):
Strive for “good enough”
As Smith writes: “the goal is “good enough” — not perfection. Children need some challenges and frustrations to become healthy functioning adults.”
Don’t sweat the small stuff
This seemed to work better for me when my kiddo was younger. Not everything needs to be a power struggle. Try to consciously track the number of times you find yourself saying “no”. Are you saying “no” because it comes automatically to you? Is what your child is proposing to do a threat to her safety health or well-being or the safety health well-being of others? If not, consider re-considering. Just like kids need challenges and frustrations, they also need to learn to take some risks. Micro-managing our kids’ existence won’t benefit either party. Take a deep breath, step back, and aim to cut down the “no’s” by half. Then, cut them down again.
Remember: their brains aren’t developed
A fellow Mama friend and I laughed about this one over drinks last weekend. Honestly, when my four-year-old is acting irrationally, I sometimes have to verbally remind myself that her brain is not fully developed. She is literally incapable of being held to adult cognitive standards. And, here’s the kicker: some research suggests that the brain isn’t fully developed until as late as age 25. TWENTY-FIVE (which totally explains a few questionable decisions on my part, but I digress…).
I know the excuse that her brain is developing won’t forgive all manners of sins (particularly as she gets older), but for now when I’m ready to lose my cool I sometimes blurt out: “YOUR BRAIN IS NOT FULLY DEVELOPED YET! YOUR EMOTIONS ARE NOT REGULATED!”
And somehow, magically, this simple revelation can get me through the moment with my wits intact and without beating myself up for the way I handled things.
I’m working on keeping these strategies top of mind, especially as the months and years wear on and I’m losing my patience more than I’d like. Another thing I’ve realized is that by the time I’m losing my patience, it’s my mind’s way of letting me know that I need a break – and soon.
What sort of things do you do to help minimize the Mom Guilt?