How to Deal With Mom Guilt
Welcome to The Christian Mom’s Guide to Mom Guilt, Part 2: How to Deal with Mom Guilt. If you missed Part 1, What is Mom Guilt? Please go and read it right now, and then head straight back here to read this important information on a tough, but crucial topic.
Does mom guilt ever go away?
In my (very) informal research on the subject, I received responses from women who seem to have moved past their mom guilt, and those that have carried a heavy burden for many years.
One mom wrote:
“Right now I’ve reached a balance between work and home life that I can’t say I really struggle with guilt anymore. My children are also older and don’t rely on me as much, meaning I can be free to pursue my interests without fear that I’m denying them my love or attention.”
So, the deal is that some women seem to get past it, but some moms carry guilt with them even after their kids are long past adolescence and beyond.
The good news is that when you get to the source, you have a shot at being freed from the chains of mommy guilt.
If you’re dealing with mom guilt, there’s not a simple solution, but take comfort in the knowledge that God cares about you (1 Peter 5:7). Also, please be encouraged that with God, all things are possible (Matthew 19:26)!
Conquer mom guilt with these 7 steps
Based on my own experiences, those of my friends and family who have shared with me, and thanks to the many women who volunteered information by taking my survey, as well as reading through some research, I have compiled a list of ways that you can take steps toward dealing with the mommy guilt that’s getting you down.
But first, once again, hear me when I say that I am not a medical or mental health professional. For some mothers, mom guilt is pretty minor, but for others, it’s anything but minor. This blog post is meant to provide information, not medical advice. If mom guilt (or any other emotional distress) is negatively affecting your quality of life or hindering your ability to enjoy your family, PLEASE talk to your doctor about it right away.
1. Make a list
Start out by making a list of the reasons you feel guilty. This can be a general list (you don’t have to write out every. single. thing. you’ve ever felt guilty about minute-by-minute), but try to at least cover all the categories. If you forget something, don’t worry about it, you can always add it later on if it’s an issue.
You may be tempted to skip making a list because it can be very overwhelming to think about seeing all the things you feel terrible about sitting there and staring back at you from a very long list. Here’s the thing, though: You’re already carrying all of that around with you. All of it. Getting it down on paper seems scary, but as my psychologist sister-in-law puts it,
Making a list “downloads” some of that baggage you’re already carrying around in your head. Writing it out helps relieve some of that burden, and it will also make it much easier for you to break it down into manageable pieces.
Once you’ve written it out, evaluate the list one category at a time (do this by yourself or with your spouse/partner or a trusted friend–whatever works for you). Ask yourself these questions:
2. Do your best to live confidently
If you’ve taken the issues to God in prayer, and you really feel that you’re doing what you should be doing, stick with it and ask God to give you confidence. If you think you need to make a change to be in line with God’s will for your family, don’t be afraid to make moves in a new direction.
It’s not important to take other people’s opinions into account. This is about what is best for you and your household, and it’s between you, your partner (if you have one), your children, and God.
What you feel like people think you should do, or what everyone else is doing is not a great basis for decision making; nor should it be a reason to feel guilty or ashamed. But we all know that sometimes we feel guilty about things whether we should or not, so keep on reading for the best ways for us, as Christian mothers, to deal with and conquer that mom guilt.
Shame does its best work in secret, and almost all of us feel better when we talk about our mom guilt honestly. Of the 67 responses to my survey, about 76% indicated that talking honestly about their mom guilt helps them feel better at least half of the time, and 28% said that it always makes them feel better. If that’s the case, we moms don’t have much to lose by opening up about how we’re feeling, and we could have a lot to gain!
Connect with God
As Christian mamas, we know that our first and most important connection should be with God, but sometimes that’s easier said than done. We’re busy, we’re tired, we’re all over the place, and many times our quiet time with God takes a brutal hit–especially during the early years of motherhood.
Waking up before your kids do to fit in your personal prayer and devotions is a popular suggestion, but it’s a whole lot easier said than done. I don’t know about your kids, but my boys (especially A) somehow sense when I’m awake (no matter how quiet I am), and I don’t usually have more than 5 minutes between getting out of bed and someone yelling for me to let them out of their rooms in the morning, regardless of what time I get up.
Staying up late can work but it may not be the best solution, especially for those mamas who have babies and toddlers with frequent night wakings.
Many days, especially when my kids were really young and I was so, so, so exhausted all the time, I just didn’t get to sit down and read my Bible and pray uninterrupted for the time that I wished I could. But, I finally realized that I could take out my Bible (or even use the Bible app on my phone) to read and study a little bit at a time when I was breastfeeding in the middle of the night, when my kids were sitting at the table eating their snacks, or even when they were listening to the story at the library and I could sit on the sidelines and have a minute of peace.
Mama, during this part of the journey please realize that you may not be able to read through the Bible in 180 days or even a year, or maybe even 2 years. Open it and read it whenever you can, yes, but even when you can’t, you are not powerless to remain in close contact with God!
Click here to sign up for daily devotional emails for December 1-25, to help you stay connected during the Advent season. I’ll send you a Bible passage (to read whenever you have a minute), a link to a beautiful related song, and a super simple, low-prep family worship thought that you can use with your kids.
Connect to God through prayer.
Oswald Chambers wrote, “Prayer does not equip us for greater works— prayer is the greater work.” So, pray. You can pray in peace and in chaos. You can pray in the shower, while you’re pumping, while you’re on the way to work, and while you’re preparing what feels like the 45th meal of the day. You can pray by yourself or with your babies. And when prayer doesn’t make its way to your lips, you can throw up the white flag of surrender to God and know that He can read the words straight from your heart (Psalm 139:4).
If you do have a few minutes to read and you want some encouragement, you can always start with Psalm 139, because it IS a prayer, and it’s also such a wonderful reminder of God’s constant presence with us, and His intimate knowledge of us and of what we are going through.
Music is another great way to connect with God. Even if your kids are up and around, it won’t hurt to put on your favorite sacred music playlist and worship Him together. The whole family will benefit!
Connect with your closest friends or family
Reach out to someone (or multiple people) you trust and talk to them about how you’re feeling. Your spouse/partner is the best person to start with (in most cases, anyway), and even if you think that they already know what you’re struggling with, you may discover that they didn’t really understand until you used the words “guilt” and “shame” to help them grasp the intensity of your feelings.
Find your person and be honest and open with him or her, spill out the guilt and the shame of the day/week/month, whatever you need to get off your shoulders, and let them love you. Maybe it’s your husband, or your best friend, or your college roommate, or that mom who’s always in the mother’s room with you during church.
Talk, listen, and believe.
Believe her when she tells you that her kids are just as wild sometimes. Believe him when he says he’d choose you all over again. Believe them when they tell you that you’re doing a good job because YOUR KIDS ARE ACTUALLY AWESOME, in spite of the fact that you sometimes feed them candy with artificial coloring, you haven’t read them any books this week, and you forgot to wash their faces before you left the house 20 minutes late this morning.
Join a supportive group
Whether it’s your local MOPS chapter or a Mommy and Me type of playgroup, many areas have great groups for Christian moms where you can find like-minded women who are more than likely wrestling with and struggling with some of the same issues that you are. My church has a Mommy and Me that is GREAT, but it can be overwhelming if have wallflower tendencies (like I do). Some churches also have small groups for moms, which might be more your style. If your area doesn’t have a group like this, or if you’re too much of an introvert to get out of your house and join one (I’m not judging…it took me forever to get out and join Mommy and Me) you could try joining an online group.
There are some great Facebook groups out there for Christian moms, and if you’re looking, please contact me and I’ll do my best to give you a good recommendation or two, based on your needs and parenting style. I’d love to hear from you!
Take the time to encourage the other mamas in your life. The ones who always look as amazing as their Instagram selfies as well as the ones that look like maybe, just maybe, they might be struggling almost as much as you are. You will be a blessing no matter what, but you may be surprised by how they respond when you simply take the time to say something positive you love about them or their kids.
No matter what, looking earnestly for the best in the moms around you and calling it out when you find it will help you take some of the focus off of your own shortcomings (again, real or imagined). Be the friend you want to have, and you might just find that friend in the process.
Being a blessing IS a blessing.
4. Ask for or Accept Help
Stubbornness and self-reliance are two of my worst qualities (right up there with a terrible sense of direction), and both of them work against me more often than I’d care to admit (because I’m stubborn).
If you’re anything like me and you feel embarrassed or ashamed to ask for help when you’re at your lowest, most overwhelmed place, I want to encourage you to PLEASE ask anyway. And if you can’t bring yourself to do that, accept the next offer you get, because that’s just a tiny bit easier than asking.
On a personal note, today I had a terrible day. By the time breakfast was over I had already gotten to the point of frayed nerves. I’d raised my voice at my kids, and taken away privileges from them (and myself).
I could have used some time to myself to regroup. My husband is out of town (part of a 10 day stretch) and it’s just a lot.
And you know what? I can think of 3 (yes, 3!!) friends I could have called up who would have been available and totally willing to take my boys for me for an hour or two so that I could just take a deep breath, eat some dark chocolate (it’s healthy!), and use some physical and emotional space to remind myself of the fact that my kids are 2 and 4 and they missed their daddy as much as I missed him, and how forcing my kids to finish their breakfasts AT ALL COSTS isn’t on my list of core values.
But I didn’t call them. I just didn’t. I sighed and fumed and my blood pressure was probably awful, and I didn’t even come close to living my best life.
Don’t be like me. The mommy guilt hit me pretty hard tonight during my mental review of how the day went, and it’s just not worth it.
Seriously, just ask for help. And if you don’t get it, ask someone else.
In case you were wondering, here’s where you can find what IS on my family list of core values.
5. Avoid making comparisons
If comparison is your enemy (and it probably is)–avoid making comparisons.
Social media is often the culprit, here. If you think that your social media use is causing you to compare yourself to other moms (whether you know them personally or not) in a way that is making you feel guilty or ashamed, here are some ideas to cut down on unhealthy comparisons:
Social Media and Mom Guilt
Most of us spend our fair share of time scrolling through our social media feeds or watching stories filled with other moms–our friends, family members, and influencers that we admire–putting their awesome ideas, adorable kids, immaculate minimalist living rooms, and admirable spiritual insights out there for us to consume.
I do this. I see these mamas on Facebook, on Instagram, and on Pinterest.
And, sometimes–not always–I think about how I really should be able to get it together because they’ve got it together.
Just to be clear, I’m talking about people I love and admire here. My guilt and shame is not their fault. If I’m being honest, when you look at the photos and little pieces of my life that I post on my OWN accounts, you don’t see much that would clue you in to my biggest struggles as a mama.
I’m not saying social media is the enemy here. I can honestly say that though there are definitely some things about it that I feel make my life more difficult, in some ways, social media has really helped me through some rough spots in my journey as a mom so far. So, my intention is not to villify social media.
But, if looking through post after post by other moms doesn’t inspire you, but rather makes you feel less and less competent, and has you wondering why everyone else is so put together when you’re always falling apart–then maybe it’s time to make a change in your social media habits.
Another reason to think about changing up your social media habits is if one source of your mom guilt is that you spend time browsing your favorite feeds instead of spending more quality time with your kids. There’s nothing wrong with not focusing specifically on your children 100% of every minute of every day. But if you feel like your focus is pulled too often toward Instagram, Facebook, or your favorite YouTube channels; it may be a good time to take a step back and think about trying things a different way.
One Christian mother I surveyed said this:
“I recently deleted my social media apps from my phone including video streaming apps like Netflix/Prime video & it made a world of difference during a struggle period of feeling burnt out as a caregiver. Sometimes we feel like we deserve free time & automatically reach for these things to fill our leisure time, when in reality they just leave you feeling more empty.”
Decreasing mommy guilt from social media
If you believe that social media is a problem for you, I have some suggestions for how you can make some (fairly) simple adjustments to help. Here they are, in order from least to most drastic:
- Turn off your push notifications. I did this a couple of weeks ago and it’s actually made a big difference in the amount of time I spend on my phone in general, including my social media apps. When I’m not getting notifications or seeing those little red numbers pop up on my icons, I don’t feel the same urgency to check on it all the time.
- Set time limits on social media. Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube all have built-in timers that will warn you when you’ve reached the time limit you’ve set for yourself. Or, you can kill all those birds (and more) with one stone and use ScreenTime (for iPhone users) or Google’s Digital Wellbeing tools.
In my house, we’re Apple people, so the tool we use is Screen Time, though I have to confess that I haven’t tried setting limits with it yet. I DO have it turned on and I can tell you that the sad fact of the matter is that my phone usage is up 24% over last week. (I attribute this to my husband being away on a work trip this week!) Even if all you do is loosely track time you spend on different apps or in different categories of apps, I find that Screen Time is pretty useful for being more honest with myself about how I REALLY spend my time. Here’s a quick and simple video to show you how Screen Time works:
- Take more control of what your feed looks like. In the Facebook app (I’m pretty sure you have to do this on your phone/tablet) go to your menu and select “Your Time on Facebook” then “News Feed Preferences.” From there, you can change settings to make the most out of your time on Facebook. See things from your most important, positive Facebook friends/groups/pages at the top of your feed whenever you log in (if they’ve posted since you last checked)! You can “unfollow” unhelpful people without “unfriending” them, which is a great option for people you love, but who aren’t contributing positively to your emotional/mental health during this season of life.
- Delete your social media apps. This one is pretty self-explanatory. Say good-bye to the apps and only use social media on your desktop or laptops.
- Go on a social media fast. Stay off of social media for a predetermined amount of time, and pay attention to how it impacts you. If things are better after you “detox,” consider making the fast permanent, or at least taking intentional measures to limit your social media use as you move forward. (Get some info here about how to try a screen-free week.)
- Delete your social media accounts. By far the most drastic of my suggestions, deleting your accounts (or at least deactivating them) will effectively eliminate your time on social media. We all know people who have done this (and a few who do it regularly). Humans survived (and even thrived) for a pretty long time without feeds, stories, hashtags, and filters–you can live a good life without them too.
The bottom line is that if your time on social media is making you feel less-than, you don’t need it.
6. Prioritize your to-do list
I know you have a list of things you need to accomplish that’s about a million miles long, and you only have nap time and the time you’re supposed to be sleeping to actually work on the list.
So, mama, take that list and put everything on it in order from most to least important. Then, highlight everything that is not negotiable, and see what you’re left with.
You should have a more manageable list on your hands. For awhile, or at least on the bad days, only worry about those non-negotiables. Give yourself the grace you need to be healthy instead of perfect.
Yeah, it would be great to do all the things, but sometimes you can’t. And that’s okay, too.
Give yourself the grace you need to be healthy instead of perfect.
Here’s a thought from one mom who took my survey:
“…I feel pretty confident in my role as a mom and caretaker but sometimes let myself get burnt out. I have to be intentional about making time for myself and giving myself breaks. Sometimes that means something won’t get done on my to do list but it’s worth it for the time I’ll get to breathe. I also have to remind myself that God doesn’t expect us to do it all all at once. Sometimes there are seasons where we have to say no to things so we can shift our focus elsewhere. Once this season is over I can shift my focus back to the other things I want to do or volunteer for. Easier said than done!”
Taking a minute every once in awhile to actually be aware of what is essential versus what is ideal can be really freeing. Taking all non-essential items off the list until you’re feeling more capable or you actually have more time can ease a lot of stress.
7. Take time for yourself.
You might feel bad leaving the kids with your spouse or your mom or a babysitter, but every once in awhile you need to do it! Whether it’s a solo trip to the salon, a jog (without the stroller!) down the street, or a night out with your best friend–take some time to care for yourself and recharge from the incredible demands you are meeting as a mom, a wife, an employee or employer, etc.
Here’s something one mom I surveyed has learned:
“…I’m a better mom when I take care of myself and my own needs and I’m happy. My kids will be happiest if I’m happy and fulfilled.”
Your kids will be fine if you do something for yourself, I promise. So will your husband. And, you’ll be better equipped to get back at it after you’ve taken some time away, even if it’s just an hour or two.
We don’t have to hold on to our mom guilt.
We don’t have to live forever with mom guilt. Hanging on to unhealthy guilt and shame isn’t making us better moms, it’s not making us better women, and it’s not helping us toward fulfilling our purpose as the image-bearers of God.
Get your guilt and shame out in the open so that you can start moving past it. Get the help you need, even if it means talking to a professional (your doctor or a therapist) about what you are dealing with.
Bring your troubles to the feet of Jesus and ask Him to help you leave them there. You will find relief in Him.
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