Saturday, January 17, 2009

Mommy Guilt is the path to the dark side....

What is it about motherhood that makes me feel so guilty all the time? A day isn't complete unless I feel guilty about at least one thing. Why do we do this to ourselves? I always feel like I should be in two places at once. I often wish I had four pairs of arms so I could hold all my children at one time. I sometimes feel guilty for feeling guilty! It doesn't necessarily have to be anything major that sets off a guilt trip. It could be something as simple as telling the kids they can't eat cookies for a snack that day. I've been pretty good about being consistent and sticking to my guns but I feel all ripped up inside as I do it.

So how does one avoid mommy guilt? And is it even possible? I also wondered how many other mothers felt this way and what did they feel most guilty about. I stumbled upon a book called Mommy Guilt written by Julie Bort, Aviva Pflock and Devra Renner. They did a survey involving both SAHM's and moms who work full-time outside the home (notice I didn't say "working moms"...that's because we're all working moms no matter what!) and I found comfort in the results!!

40% of mothers surveyed feel guilty on a weekly basis (compared to on a monthly basis)

70% of mothers said that parenting more than one child increased their guilt (a big AMEN to that)

When asked which stage these mothers felt the most guilt, 27% said the toddler years were most severe and there was a tie at 21% for the infant years and the grade school years.

So yeah, reading those statistics certainly made me feel relieved and somewhat validated for feeling the way I do. And then I wanted to know WHAT caused these moms to feel guilty. Of the mothers surveyed, here are the results:

60% said they felt guilty about yelling at their kids
59% said they felt guilty about keeping up with housework/living in a messy house
57% said finding enough time, after taking care of the child(ren) to spend time with their spouse
51% said spending too much time at work (for those mothers who work outside the home)
41% said sports-related issues (time management, not pushing their children or pushing their children to hard)
38% said working/sending child(ren) to daycare instead of staying home
35% said their kids' eating habits
35% said setting aside college degree or career in order to stay home
35% said fairly dividing time, chores and financial resources among children
31% said school-related issues
29% said neglecting their job/leaving work early to deal with childcare issues
27% said balancing a blended family
22% said their kids' sleeping habits
16% said parenting issues
6% said they never felt guilty over parenting (SERIOUSLY? NEVER FELT GUILT? I demand to know who these mothers are so I can torture them until they tell the truth)

If I'm gonna get real honest here, here's what makes me feel the most guilt:

yelling at the kids
having "me" time
not keeping up with the household chores

My mom was a yeller and so I swore I would never yell at my kids. Then I became a parent...and you know what they say, I was a good mother before I had kids. I don't start off yelling at them but it's when they constantly ignore me or I have to say the same thing over and over again until I get sick of hearing my own voice. And unfortunately yelling works. It's really the one surefire way to get my kids to listen to me. I hate that it's like that and I know I have to work on this. Looks like at least 60% of other moms do too.

I feel most guilty about taking "me" time, even though I desperately need it and deserve it. I think it's true that when moms crumble, the whole family crumbles. We can't afford to crumble. Our families depend on us to run a tight ship....our kids depend on us to feed them healthy foods, wash their clothes, read them bedtime stories, keep them safe and healthy....our husbands rely on us to remember everything. And I do mean everything. I often have to remind my husband of when his mother's birthday is. He's a true mama's boy in every sense of the word and it cuts me to the nerve when I remind him of her birthday and then she gloats about what a wonderful son he is for remembering. Who the heck does she think picked out that lovely birthday card for her?

I remember one time becoming so frustrated with Tim because I was on overload and feeling so burdened with having to remember everything. We were going somewhere and I asked him to get the diaper bag ready. He looked at me, very seriously, and said "what do I put in there?". Um, diapers would be a good start, some wipes would definitely be a wise choice, extra clothes, clean bottles, bottle of water to mix formula with, formula already measured, to hell with it, it was just easier to pack the bag myself. And I did...and I resented him even more, which only made me feel more guilty. Let's mix Yoda from Star War's words up a little bit here and say GUILT is the path to the dark side. GUILT leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering. Okay, so that's probably going a little too far (and did I really just quote Yoda?!) but you get the point.

The more I read other blogs written by mothers, like myself, I can sense the guilt we're all feeling over one thing or another. Whether it's taking 10 minutes to catch up on reading our favorite blogs, or posting to our own blog, or watching a show we tivo'd last week that we're dying to watch instead of folding laundry, or dropping the kids off at the gym daycare so we can get 2 hours on our own to exercise, or feeding the kids chicken nuggets for lunch for the 3rd time this week....we always feel guilty about something it seems (well, except for that 6% who said they never feel guilty, which I think is complete BS).

So what do we do about all this guilt? Is it possible to avoid? I believe, in the end, it is. We need to give ourselves permission to be our own person, in addition to being wife and mother. It takes a strong woman to do what we do day in and day takes an even stronger, more courageous woman to realize when she's in over her head and either ask for help or take a much-needed break.

Give yourself permission to let go of the guilt. Toss it out the window and say "good riddance". Splurge a little on those sunglasses you were admiring at the mall, go get that manicure/pedicure you've been putting off, avoid household chores for a whole day so you can go with your kids to an amusement park, take an extra 10 minutes in the shower to shave your legs!!!

Tonight, as I tucked Cole and Bella into bed after reading them 3 bedtime stories and sharing hugs, kisses and I love you's, they asked me to stay in their room with them until they fell asleep. All I could think about, though, was watching a movie I had rented that has been sitting on the kitchen counter for the last 3 days. I had already spent 12 hours with my children today....good quality time which involved half of the day playing at the park. So I told Cole and Bella, "not tonight, guys. I really want to go downstairs and watch that movie I rented days ago. Sleep tight, see you in the morning". As I headed down the stairs, I could feel those familiar feelings of guilt start to creep up and I thought about going back into their room and staying with them. But then I gave myself permission to let go of the guilt and take time for myself. I had earned it. I deserved it. And you know what? My kids will still love me in the morning.


Lana said...

Well done! You have such a way with words!
Do you know what JUST dawned on me? After 7.5 years of being a mother? Is, by letting kids know we as mothers, have things of our own to do, lets them know that YES! We ARE actually people. Although they won't realize this until they are 25, it's a good "start". For them AND us.

As for the 6% who don't ever feel guilty? HAHA! I think denial is the word.

Debbie said...

I think mothers and guilt just go together. It is hard to let go of that guilt. I'm trying though.

Lori said...

Helene...this really touched me. There is so much pressure to be everything to everyone in the house that I too feel guilty when I have to say no to something or just simply can't find time to get it done. I have a husband who works 50 to 60 hours a week, two boy's (3 1/2 and 11 months), a dog, I'm a full time student and I'm a part-time book editor. Between all of this is the house....begging for my attention. I'm so overwhelmed and sleep deprived! The last time I did something for myself was about four months ago when I went for a 20 minute bike ride. I'm still wearing shoes my son puked on a few months ago because I just can't get out to buy new ones without bringing the kids. Anyway, your post makes me feel not so alone in all of this. Thanks.

Morgan said...

Mommy guilt is something I deal with on a daily basis. I'm guilty of wasting way too much time on things that aren't very important. It's a constant struggle, and that guilt weighs me down.

Nice tip on using those 10 minutes to shave your legs instead! Here's to living a life without regrets!

Anonymous said...

Try not to let guilt creep in. Just cherish the moments you do spend together and make the most of them. You need YOU time to be a better mother.

Anonymous said...

Yes, YOU time is very important!!

eight helping hands said...

What a fantastic job! I believe that all mothers feel guilt, if we didn't we would not strive to be better. However, do no let the proverbial guilt rule to much. Realize that one day they DO know that you gave ALL of yourself to them, and hopefully thank you for it. I am so glad that there is another who feels the same as I do.

The High Family said...

I found your blog on BSU! Thank you for this post. I needed to read this.

I am also was raised by a mother who yelled and I swore that I would NEVER do this to my own children someday. Sadly, I find myself yelling at my 3 year old son on a daily basis. The guilt at the end of the day is overwhelming. I hate it. But I agree, it sometimes is the only thing that helps get the message through to him. I also hate that I threaten things too. It breaks my heart when he asks me if I am happy with if he is wanting me to be proud of him.

I've taken time lately to make sure I tell him if he is doing a good job and spending even more time playing with him. I also have a 7 month old so it was very difficult to get into a new routine since Kara was born. She is also very demanding (Ryan was an "easy" baby) so I feel like I am giving her more attention.

Even now I feel guilty for complaining about my crazy life with 2 and you have double that!! haha!

Thanks again for the tips and I will be sure to visit your lovely blog in the future!


Bobbi :)

Chris said...

Very well worded post.
I think the "mom" guilt is always there. In my case it has just shifted to different areas as the boys get older.
The one thing that always remains constant is my feeling of guilt for not spending enough time with them because I have to work full time and always have. It was a lot worse when they were babies and in daycare now it strikes hardest in the summer when they are home alone. Even though they are 14 and almost 9 I still wish I could be with them.

AmberP said...

I love your honesty!
Too often people try to sugarcoat parenting, try to pretend that everything is a-okay wonderful! And it isn't always that way.
I feel guilt over SO many things, daily. Blah! Thanks for your great post :)

Retro Heather said...

Again, very good read! It was wonderful to see the figures laid out like that, to not feel alone. I definitely feel MUCH guiltier about not spending quality time with Joe Joe since Lily was born. They often need me at the same time, and since she's just an infant he's the one who usually has to suck it up.

I need to let go of guilt, but I also need to keep myself in check and not take too much me time. I had none for a while, but I may be spending too much time online lately. I need to schedule some super-fun and educational activities for Joe every day and stick to them no matter what, then I'll (hopefully) be able to lay off myself a bit!

By the way, you've been tagged. Hee hee. (

Michele S said...

You feel so much guilt because you are such a nice person, Helene. It's inherent to your personality. That's why we like you so much! I, on the other hand, really don't have that much guilt anymore now that they are older. I let it go. Maybe I'm a sociopath? :)

I read that book right before I flew to Manhattan for 5 days by myself and left all the kids with Greg. You should do that to Tim and I'll join you! Guilt-free! hee hee hee!

Journey on! by Kelleye said...

This was good- I need to check that book out! Love statistics!

Sharlene said...

Nobody should feel guilty as long as they are doing the best that they can. Mommy's NEED "me" time. It recharges our batteries. Too often we run on empty and that isn't doing anyone a favor.

Jody Cooper Photography said...

Thank You for sharing! I feel guilty all the time! My poor boys since having Identical Triplets, that is all we hear all the time, so not only do I feel guilt for the things I do (or even Kevin) I feel guilt because people always talk to or about the girls, Ummm Hello the boys are right there, and were here first!!! See not something I am quite over! :) can you tell, your blog post was great thanks!

Paula Constable said...

Yes, I feel guilty for many mom-related items. Mine is not playing with my kids on a regular basis. At times I feel guilty working on biz related stuff when family is home.

Jack of Hearts said...


You hit it right on the money. Just be glad you're not Catholic, too.

I guess the reason we have great vocal chords is because God knew we were going to need to use them!

Love your blog. It makes me laugh out loud. I need that!

LaurieJ said...

I let myself roll my eyes whenever I read a 'perfect mommy' blog and assume they are lying ;-)
I love honest posts like this.
I have days where I feel like mom of the year and days I wonder what the Lord was thinking! I think we all do.
I let my kids eat way too many french fries. I feel guilty about that.
Don't stress about a little me time. You can't be a good mom if you don't take care of yourself!

heather@it'stwinsanity said...

Those are my 3 biggest concerns too. I hate Mommy Guilt but live with every day. I don't believe that 6% don't feel it at all. Liars!

Anonymous said...

omg, I could have written this post.

I have worn all the hats: Mom who works outside the home, SAHM and WAHM. There wasn't one hat I wore that didn't come with a healthy dose of guilt.

Now that my kids are a little older, I don't have the same kind of guilt - it just gets replaced with other kinds of guilt.

And I'm a yeller too. I hate that I am, but my kids know every single button to push and in what order to push them to get the fastest, biggest rise out of me.

Creative Junkie said...

AACCK - my comment posted without my name! Sorry!

omg, I could have written this post.

I have worn all the hats: Mom who works outside the home, SAHM and WAHM. There wasn't one hat I wore that didn't come with a healthy dose of guilt.

Now that my kids are a little older, I don't have the same kind of guilt - it just gets replaced with other kinds of guilt.

And I'm a yeller too. I hate that I am, but my kids know every single button to push and in what order to push them to get the fastest, biggest rise out of me.

barb said...

I agree with Andy, I don't have as much guilt now that I'm older. It's still there, however, just waiting to rear it's ugly head.

Kim said...

You've certainly hit a nerve with this post! In a good way, of course. I'm with you on the yelling. I don't want to yell, but when I get stressed . . . up goes the volume. It works, but it's emotionally draining and sets the worst example for my girls.

Cheryl Lage said...

This is a wonderful, wonderful post.

Truly, I feel little guilt about the yelling (I think of it as "projecting" ;) )
but the taking of "me" time, or the time I spend on the computer working from home (or worse on the guilt-meter, blogging), THAT makes me feel pretty guilty.

Hang in there, you are an AWESOME mom!

Elizabeth Channel said...

Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes! Now you just need a purse.

So inspiring and so, so true!

I'm off to watch HGTV and not feel guilty because there is laundry possibly mildewing in the washer.


3 Bay B Chicks said...

I am going to award you the "best post title that I have read in a long time" award today, Helene. Sadly, there is no associated fanfare, no requirement to pass it onto anyone, not even a fun picture to accompany my award. Just my appreciation for the brilliance that is this title and the resulting post.

You, my friend, are a wonderful inspiration to many, many Mom's.


Devra and Aviva said...

You stumbled upon our book, we finally stumbled upon your blog post about our book. (Thank you Google Blog Search!)

We're so happy to read your post, it validates us to know your felt validated, that was the reason we set out to write the book. We wanted less guilt, more enjoyment for moms (and dads too).

We are thankful for your kind words and your fabulous post. We hope that in the almost year since you've written this entry, you are continuing to take time for yourself and doing so with far less guilt than ever before!

I figure that if the children are alive when my husband gets home at the end of the day, I've done my job.

----Roseanne Barr

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