The hidden struggle of working moms? Guilt. Here's how to overcome it

January 10, 2022 - 18 min read

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What is mom guilt?

What causes mom guilt?

How does mom guilt show up?

10 ways to overcome mom guilt

Have you ever felt like you aren't doing a good enough job raising your kids? Mom guilt can make the already tough job of being a mother that much harder.

Worse. It isn't necessary or helpful. It can eat away at your confidence and your satisfaction with both your work and your family.

Mom guilt is the feeling, or worry, that you should be doing more or that you’re not a good enough mom. Mom guilt can spring out of comparison — the feelings of inadequacy that creep in when you see other moms doing crafts with their kids while yours are glued to the iPad.

It can also be rooted in the type of parent you want to be. The doubt that crops up when you drop your kid at a full-day preschool every morning or the longing to be more present instead of always finishing up a work project. 

Almost anything can cause mom guilt — from being a working mom to having a different parenting style than your friends or family members. 

While a certain amount of mom guilt is normal, it’s important not to let it be your predominant emotion.

Let’s explore what mom guilt is, how it shows up, and ten strategies for overcoming mom guilt.

What is mom guilt?

If you’re experiencing mom guilt, the first thing you need to know is that it’s completely normal. Beating yourself up for feeling guilty will only make matters worse, so give yourself a break

Mom guilt is also particularly prevalent among professional women. Professional women often feel torn between their desire to continue working and mixed feelings over leaving their child.

They may feel sadness or ambivalence about not being able to spend more time with their child. They may feel guilty for not wanting to spend more time with their child. And, they might feel real stress and concern about the cost, quality, and logistics of childcare while they work. 

A moment of mom guilt now and then is entirely normal. But unless you learn to manage it, it can lead you to believe you’re not a good enough mom. 

According to researcher Brené Brown, there’s a difference between guilt and shame — in fact, one leads to the other. 

Feelings of mom guilt focus on your behavior, for example, “I don’t spend enough time with my child.” This focus leads to feelings of shame, such as, “I’m a terrible mom.” If left unaddressed, these feelings can impact your mental fitness.

What about dads?

Fathers aren’t immune to guilt related to child-rearing. After all, they also want what’s best for their little ones. 

Dad guilt has become more common than it used to be because fathers now take a more active role in raising their children. That means many dads now feel torn between providing for their children and spending time with them.

However, traditional gender role expectations and the aspiration to “have it all” can put additional pressure on moms. 

Society expects them to be the perfect mom, wife, and businesswoman and excel in all areas. That isn’t realistic for most women, and these unfair expectations often add to the burden of mom guilt.

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What causes mom guilt?

Many situations can cause moms to feel guilty, including being a working mom, feeling bored when parenting, and more.

Mom guilt can make you feel lonely. It might even make you worry that there’s something wrong with you. Don’t worry — there isn’t. 

To help you understand that what you’re feeling is natural, we’ve listed the top causes of mom guilt below.

1. Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding is one of the first dilemmas that can make new moms feel mom guilt. While some find it a breeze, others find it more challenging. It might be that they don’t have enough milk, find it overwhelming, or even suffer from D-MER.

Dysphoric milk ejection reflex (D-MER) is a disorder where you feel an influx of negative emotions during breastfeeding. Alia Heise theorizes that prolactin (a milk-producing hormone) replaces too much dopamine in some women.

Before discovering D-MER, many mothers felt intense guilt and shame about how breastfeeding made them feel. But when you understand that it’s a perfectly natural biological response, it’s easier to accept these emotions.

There’s nothing wrong with giving your baby formula, but many new moms struggle with guilt over old taboos around it. If that’s the case for you, let go of your focus on others’ expectations. Follow your intuition to find the best solution for you and your baby.

2. Being a working mom (or not)

Working mom guilt is another common form of mom guilt, particularly in countries like the US, where maternity leave is just 12 weeks. Leaving your baby in daycare so early on in life can feel shameful. 

But stay-at-home mom guilt is just as real. You may worry you’re not setting a good example by not going out to work.

3. Being bored

Even if you love being a mom, childcare can sometimes be boring — and that’s okay. 

It’s normal to crave adult conversation or a more stimulating TV show than Peppa Pig. It’s also normal to miss the things you used to do in your pre-baby life, like making spontaneous dinner plans with your friends.

4. Giving them too much screen time

It’s important to limit the amount of time your littles spend in front of screens. But sometimes, you just need some time to yourself. 

It’s okay to give them a little extra screen time if it gives you ten minutes for a much-needed soak in the tub.

5. Asking for help

They say it takes a village to raise a child, so don’t feel guilty if you can’t cope alone — you’re not supposed to.

Modern life has most of us raising children without the support of an extended family network. But trying to do it all yourself can lead to caregiver burnout, especially if your children have special needs. There’s no shame in seeking support if you need it.

6. Not spending “enough” time with your children

Spending time with your kids is important. But that doesn’t mean you have to spend all your time with them. And remember, as they grow up and start to go through different stages of life, they will gradually become more independent from you.

If you decide you need a spa day to relax and enjoy some alone time, don’t feel guilty for leaving them with a babysitter. Instead, reframe your self-care day as helping you be your best self when spending quality time with them.

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7. Judgy family members

Unsolicited opinions and advice from family members can trigger feelings of mom guilt. But remember, just because they raised their children one way doesn’t mean you have to do it the same way as them. Your kids are unique, as are you, and you can figure out the best way to parent them.

These kinds of judgments can get on your nerves even more during holiday season, adding to the already-high levels of holiday stress. This can lead to emotional outbursts that leave you feeling guilty.

8. Losing your temper

Parenting is hard, and unlike your full-time job, you never get to take a break from it.

It’s normal to find your kids annoying at times. It’s also normal to lose your temper with them or your partner — you’re only human. As a new parent, you deal with hormonal fluctuations, sleep deprivation, and more. Nobody — not even your children — expects you to be calm and stoic all the time.

Just make sure you apologize to them afterward.

9. Comparison

It’s so easy to look at social media and think someone else is a better mom than you. But you’re comparing your reality to her curated highlights reel. If you could see the reality behind it, you would see she feels just as inadequate as you do.

10. Postpartum depression

If you think your mom guilt has reached an unmanageable level, consult your healthcare provider. Your excessive feelings of guilt may be caused by postpartum depression.

How does mom guilt show up?

Hopefully, by now, you’re starting to feel better about your mom guilt. But how do you know when normal levels of guilt start becoming excessive? Here are five signs mom guilt might be negatively affecting you.

1. Low self-worth

Guilty thoughts can make you believe you are a bad mom, negatively affecting your self-worth and self-acceptance.

2. Inconsistent mental well-being

Excessive feelings of mom guilt may even cause you to experience depression, anxiety, or poor mental fitness

3. Negative coping strategies

We use negative coping strategies to avoid difficult feelings. If you find yourself indulging excessively in food, shopping, alcohol, or your phone, you may be trying to avoid your feelings of mom guilt.

4. Trying to do it all

Some moms try to overcome mom guilt by “doing it all.” You might be working, cooking, cleaning, and staying fit, as well as taking care of your child. 

You might also put pressure on yourself to be everything: the perfect partner, daughter, friend, and professional, as well as mother. But this is not realistic and can lead to burnout, so cut yourself some slack.

5. Spending too much time on social media

Social media is an escape for many of us, not just moms. And it’s okay to spend a healthy amount of time using it. 

But sometimes, guilty-feeling moms use it as a way to prove they’re a “good mom” by only posting the positive aspects of parenting. If you’re using social media to try and prove something, it may be driven by underlying mom guilt.

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10 ways to overcome mom guilt

Next time you’re experiencing mom guilt, try these ten strategies to help you overcome it.

1. Take a deep breath

Mom guilt often arises because of automatic thoughts. If you feel racing thoughts and guilty feelings creeping in, stop and take a few deep, mindful breaths.

2. Identify the source

Start a journal and take note of the things that cause you to feel guilt or shame. Becoming aware of the areas where you feel the most mom guilt can help you take practical action to address it.

3. Show some self-compassion

Brené Brown says the antidote to shame is empathy and compassion. Often, we find it easy to be compassionate to others but struggle with self-compassion. When you’re being harsh on yourself, take a step back and focus on the positive.

4. Challenge negative beliefs

Once you’ve identified the beliefs that trigger mom guilt, the next step is to change them.

Challenge negative beliefs by asking yourself whether there’s evidence to support them. Often, you’ll find that there’s none. Reframing these beliefs as positive statements will give you a more realistic perspective.

5. Prioritize self-care

Helping yourself before helping others isn’t selfish — it’s common sense. Establishing a regular self-care routine can make you more present and patient with your kids, leading to fewer feelings of mom guilt.

6. Listen to your intuition

A mom’s intuition is fine-tuned to the needs of her child. Most of the time, she knows what they need. 

If your kids are perfectly happy playing while you’re reading a book, there’s no need to feel guilty about reading. They’ll let you know when they want to spend time with you.

If your kid is begging for your attention, but you can’t give it right away — for example, because you’re busy working from home — don’t feel guilty. Just make sure you spend time with them once you’re finished. 

Your child will let you know what they need. All you have to do is pay attention, follow your intuition, and you’ll do the right thing. 

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7. Surround yourself with supportive people

All moms sometimes feel judged, leading to anxiety, guilt, and shame. If the people around you are overly critical or negative about your parenting style, try to minimize your contact with them. Instead, connect with others who support and validate your choices.

8. Take some time off

Yes, you are allowed to take a break from parenting. If you have a partner, ask them to take over for a few hours so you can spend some time alone.

If you’re a single mom, find a support group for single parents and take turns looking after each other’s little ones.

9. Seek professional help

If you’re struggling to cope alone or feelings of guilt are becoming overwhelming, you might want to consider working with a coach or therapist. 

Some coaches specialize in supporting working parents, and they can help you find a better balance between work and family life

Finding the best solution for your family while shifting your mindset and expectations can ease feelings of mom guilt.

10. Try conscious parenting

Conscious parenting is a technique that encourages parents to use mindfulness and emotional intelligence instead of reactivity. It starts with becoming aware of your own thoughts, feelings, and behavior and learning to manage them.

When you manage your own feelings better, you’re less likely to react in ways that lead to feelings of guilt later on.

Don’t let mom guilt control your life and well-being 

Feeling mom guilt from time to time is completely normal. And it’s okay to experience it, as long as you have strategies to deal with it. Otherwise, feelings of mom guilt can cloud your judgment as a parent and prevent you from connecting with your kids. 

Being a mom (or dad) is one of the most rewarding yet challenging jobs in the world. And just as a coach can help you improve your career, they can also help you become a better parent.

Curious to know more? Try a free coaching session to discover how individual coaching could work for you.

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Published January 10, 2022

Erin Eatough, PhD

Sr. Insights Manager

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