It used to seem as though there was nothing I could do to escape my feelings of anguish as a mom. No matter what the situation was, I felt guilty for doing anything that didn’t involve my child: whether it was going to work, spending time writing, cleaning the house, or even grabbing 30-minutes of “me time” here and there.
The guilt of being a modern mom seemed to weigh heavier than ever on me, and I let it bring me down more often than not. I said no to going to events and lunches with friends, turned my husband down more than once for date night, and skipped doing important things because I felt as though choosing to do those activities somehow made me a bad mom. I worried about everything, felt guilty for worrying too much, and then worried some more about whether or not I was doing enough worrying. I began to see motherhood as this scary venture that required I be present at all times rather than a fun adventure I was on with a new and developing little person.
It seemed as though this mom guilt would consume me and turn me (and my poor daughter) into a veritable hermit, never leaving the house, listening to “baby shark” and the Daniel Tiger theme song repeatedly, and eating whatever scraps were left over from my toddler’s meal.
How I Learned to Let Go of Mom Guilt
Understood My Duty to my Daughter
I was fortunate to have a friend willing to help me snap back to reality and step away from the guilt. My guilt seemed to peak when I was considering skipping a huge opportunity to travel for work, and my best friend saw it as an opportune time to intervene: “Imagine how your daughter will feel if she finds out you didn’t take every opportunity you could to better your career that you love,” she said as she laid it all out to me. She pointed out that in an age where women are doing more and being more while still being treated as less, it was my duty to my little girl to show her that work and life balance is possible, and that my dream of having a career did not have to conflict so directly with my dream of being a mama. I wanted to stamp my foot in protest and say something like feeding and caring for her at all times was my duty, but she read my mind and cut me off before I even started, saying that “pretty soon, she’s going to be watching and learning from you, and you can use this as a chance to show her that you should go after your dreams and goals.” Her reality check helped me create an action plan towards dropping my guilt and reclaiming my joy in motherhood and pursuit of what I enjoy outside of my daughter.
Checked (Emotional) Baggage
I knew my thoughts towards motherhood stemmed from my own difficult relationship with my mother growing up: she loved me, of course, but she wasn’t what you’d call “hands-on.” She was less Marge Simpson or June Cleaver and more like the mom from Matilda—never wanting to be bothered by silly children with silly thoughts or feelings. I decided to be the antithesis of her if I could, and my tightly-wound and helicopter style of parenting was born the minute my daughter was. I somehow convinced myself that the amount of time I spent with my daughter directly equated to my incredible love for her. Thankfully, though, the rational side of me acknowledged that there are moms worldwide seeing their children for moments at a time as they go to work and provide for those children whom they love so dearly: time spent doesn’t have to be measured in quantity, but quality. It sounds so simplistic, but it made me realize that I am an active and involved mother who likes to make our time together count: it assured me that she won’t forget that as she grows.
Remembered Me Before Mom(me)
I have never known how to be still—while this is both good and bad, I realized I was accidentally teaching my daughter how to be complacent in this bubble I’d created for us. We had the same routine and the same patterns, because the mom guilt that accompanied “messing up” her schedule was too intense for me to ignore. I stopped going to most anything I was invited to, didn’t answer the phone past a certain hour, and even ditched my grandparents in favor of not derailing my girl’s bedtime by 10 minutes. Though my guilt was pretty extreme in some of these circumstances, it also forced me to look at the fact that I was getting burnt out. I hadn’t done something for and by myself in so long that I had forgotten what it was that I even liked to do before becoming a mom—and so I resolved to do at least two things per month (starting out with baby steps, y’all!) that would be fun or relaxing that did not include my daughter. It’s been a month in so far, and I honestly already feel like a better mom because of it.
Mom as the First Friend, Not the Only Friend
When my bff made a point to me that my daughter and I shouldn’t be the only friends or social interaction the other has, I had sudden visions of my poor, socially awkward daughter trying to navigate school and work and reality: and struggling to do so because I had monopolized her time. She loves me, of course, (because who doesn’t love their main food supply?) but that doesn’t mean I am the only person she should love or spend time with: her grandparents, cousins, aunts and godparents can teach her things I would never be able to. Why would I want her to miss out on these important and fun opportunities because I was too scared or guilty or worried?
It’s Good to Let Go a Bit
Since I’ve been working towards dropping the mom guilt, I’ve become more cognizant of the fact that my guilt stemmed from fear of missing out on something with my girl in the ways I did with my own mother. I’ve realized I am a lot more fun when I’m half as stressed out, and that a future where my daughter only loves or trusts me is not the best one for her to have. Part of this process has meant letting go of the control of being her one-and-only all the time: and that’s not to say I’m not still that for her most of the time, but relenting a bit has given her a whole new world of engaging and fun relationships. She and my husband go places together now, just the two of them, to encourage me to get back to the things I enjoy doing on a casual basis. Above all else, I’ve learned that feelings of guilt and anxiety and nervousness are part of the mothering process—but they shouldn’t be the main part. Letting go of the mama guilt has given me more joy and clarity than I could have hoped for, and makes me no less of a good mom because I’m not wrought with guilt or constantly breathing down her neck.