paintbrush, paint, canvas

Mom Guilt and the Art of Overcoming

In Parenting, Relationships by Jessie Duniphin

By Jessie Duniphin; Additions by Kelsey Nimmo

I can honestly say that about every day I have mom guilt in some way.

Today is a great example as I had to leave a crying baby with outreached arms so I could get a haircut. Had I been with her most of the morning? Yes. Am I with her most days? Yes. Does that make any difference as I say good-bye over and over and tell her I’ll be back really soon? No.

Unfortunately, mom guilt isn’t limited to just having to leave the house without the little ones. It comes in both small and large waves.

Waves that rush over me as I drop them off at school, hoping that I wasn’t too mean as I hurried them out the door.

It comes as I close the door to their bedroom and think back to giving them the ultimatum to get ready for bed or no books.

Are these instances a big deal in the grand scheme of things? Probably not… but that does not stop me from thinking how I should and could do better.

I can honestly say that before having little ones, I was never this hard on myself. There would be circumstances that I might overthink and wish I had controlled my emotions better, but it definitely wasn’t as frequent as it occurs today.

Why do we expect so much from ourselves as parents?

It’s not really feasible to believe we will be perfect, but that doesn’t seem to stop us from blaming ourselves when we’re not.

So how do we conquer and overcome this relentless guilt of imperfection?

The title of this article is “the art of overcoming” because that is what overcoming mom guilt is. An art form. It’s a perfect blend of colors and flow using a medium that creates your masterpiece of overcoming guilt. I can’t tell you what an ideal artwork for you is, but I can only offer what has worked for me to alleviate the worry that I experience and hope it can spur thoughts for you.

You don’t just “overcome” through will alone. As much as it may be your instinct, you can’t talk yourself out of guilt. Saying “I shouldn’t feel guilty” just adds guilt to the guilt avalanche.

Overcoming has to be an art form because it can’t just be forced away. It is a practiced creative skill. Anyone who ever tried painting like Bob Ross knows it took many crooked mountains and muddy waters to learn the skill of painting in a way that at all resembled his masterpieces.

Similarly, your masterpiece of changing your relationship to mom guilt will look different than mine. You may require a different supply list than what I use but in the end, the art of overcoming will turn out beautiful as long as you practice it and stay creative.

Watching Bob Ross with his soothing instructions and pep talks helped us to become better painters. How else can we learn the art of overcoming mom guilt without a supply list, some soothing instructions, and a pep talk?

Art supply list:

(For full effect, read the following in a slow, soothing voice or maybe frizz your hair?)

1) Self-Reassurance

With Bob Ross, the pep talks came from the TV speaker. With mom guilt, the pep talks need to come from yourself. For me, this usually involves a conversation that I have internally (or even sometimes externally in the car) that tells me I’m doing the right thing.

Or even better yet, I’m good enough.

We don’t need to be the perfect mom, available all the time, and forever patient. In fact, being imperfect teaches our children that it’s okay for them to be imperfect!

And being away from them models that as adults, we can have many parts to our identities — not just our mom-self.

So is it a good idea to have some moments away from your babies to get some fresh air and have a thought to yourself, or even a haircut? It is absolutely necessary! Will you need to reassure yourself with a pep-talk? Probably!

Most of the time, when I get back to the house after getting a break, I hear about how much fun they had and that they stopped crying quickly after I left. Turns out that sometimes there are other very capable adults nearby we can call on for help. (Which opens up another can of worms, doesn’t it? Asking for help… shudder.)

Reassure yourself. Tell yourself they’ll be fine and that having fun with a different playmate will be good for them.

I know it’s not easy to believe, but babies start to understand object permanence eventually and they’ll know you’re coming back to them. And children can enjoy their time playing new games and reading different books in the meantime while you do what is necessary to take care of yourself.

2) Pick your battles

I struggle with this on a regular basis. Is it always necessary for me to correct every little mistake or misstep? I have learned it is certainly not.

Giving the kids an opportunity to explore the world around them, mistakes and all, has taken some getting used to on my part but I feel like I’ve grown a lot. Am I perfect when it comes to over correcting? Nope. Am I always working on it? Yup.

Every day offers a new opportunity for you and your kids to learn. Each day that your child is growing, they gain new experiences and emotions which create hurdles for them (and you) to overcome.

These new feelings have made me adjust how I work with my kids. I’ve learned to get more flexible and accepting of mistakes, which has helped all of us become better listeners and take things to heart more today than yesterday.

As they’re little, children might take in a behavior correction seemingly without much issue. But as my kids have grown, I’ve noticed I have had to correct my corrections.

How do we find balance without overdoing it?

Kids absorb so much more than we know, and they want to make us happy. I don’t want my kids to cry but I know it’s my job to make them better and to help teach them skills for later in life, so I pick the battles that we need to face and cover it the best I can to help them learn.

Get intentional about which things need to be corrected and which things can be let go. Just like you don’t have to be perfect, they don’t either.

Oh, and if you needed more reasons why picking your battles is a good idea instead of trying to A+ parenting, here’s a fun (and terrifying) fact to leave you with:

Research from Carolyn and Philip Cowan in an impressive 10-year study of adults transitioning into parenthood found that moms and toddlers have conflict every 2.5 minutes.

Moral of the story? Pick your battles.

3) Tune into yourself and make the time out count

You will be a better mother, partner, and person if you have time to yourself.

Kids don’t understand this need quite yet which is what makes it hard for us as we look into their eyes, deep with sadness and fear of abandonment.

It’s important for your kids to see you practicing good self-care, especially when you’re getting stressed and can take the time to remove yourself and reset.

Again, you are your kids’ first teacher and along with helping them learn the essentials of childhood and growing, their emotional education will come from you as well.

If we fall, we get back up. If we need a minute, we take a minute. Recentering yourself instead of taking your stress out on a small issue is ultimately a good life skill for all of us to learn. Your children will thank you for it in the long run even though it might take them until their teen years to understand.

Know what you need. If you can get out and take a minute, remind yourself that you will feel better in the long run. Also, keep in mind that “taking a minute” means truly knowing what will feel like a reset for you. Probably scrolling Instagram or Facebook won’t reduce your stress level, even if it seems like the easiest escape.

Take your time to explore different options for what resets and refreshes you. You can’t be the best mom for your kids if you aren’t the best version for your own self.

4) Know that you’re normal

I think it’s important for parents to know that this is common for kids to want you around all the time. You are their safe place and the one they lean on for comfort.

It’s not easy to have the person that provides all that much needed support leave. As much as they don’t want you to go, they don’t understand that you will be all the better after taking a moment to regroup.

A reset for your mind and emotions is ultimately better for the entire household — especially the little ones that rely on you for so much. Take the time to yourself (parents) and your children will thrive with you.

Ultimately, we will never be a perfect parent. Multiple kids means multiple personalities and different reactions to every scenario. The most we can ask for is to be the best parent YOU know how to be.

No one can tell you what works best for your situation and family.

The important thing is to find a balance of loving your kids and yourself in a ratio that works for everyone.

Kids are resilient (more so than adults for sure) and THEY WILL BE OKAY — even when you’re the one in the car crying.

Take the necessary moments for yourself and come home to kids that are happy you’re home.

Also, remember that this supply list for overcoming mom guilt doesn’t guarantee you’ll turn out with a perfect masterpiece in your first week. Unfortunately, mom guilt doesn’t just disappear like that. It’s a canvas that needs to be studied and worked with.

After all, a blank canvas doesn’t disappear, it’s just decorated in rolling hills, shimmering waters, and happy little trees.

You can be an artist, mama. The greatest gift you can give your kids is the gift of imperfection. As Bob Ross would tell us, “There are no mistakes, only happy accidents.” You’ve got this.

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