5 Ways to Deal with Mama Guilt
Today I would like to welcome Dionna, who has written a guest post on dealing with mama guilt. She is a lawyer turned work at home mama of an amazing son, and is one of those crunchy liberals her parents warned her about. You can normally find Dionna over at Code Name: Mama where she shares information, resources, and her thoughts on natural parenting and life with a toddler. Today, I have a guest post there. So, once you’re done reading Dionna’s thoughts on dealing with mama guilt, head on over to find out some of my thoughts on the sources of mama guilt.
Mama guilt is a universal phenomenon. Guilt can come from yelling or using other harsh discipline techniques when we strive to parent peacefully, or from not respecting and treating our children as people with their own thoughts and feelings. We may feel guilty for not spending enough quality time with our children, for wanting more time by ourselves, or for not living up to the standards set by ourselves or our parenting community. Sometimes we can’t even pinpoint where the guilt comes from. Regardless of the source of mama guilt, it is unhealthy to remain shackled by it. Here are five ideas to help you deal with the mama guilt in your own life.
1. Take Care of Yourself
Parents are people with needs too, and we must give ourselves permission to take care of ourselves. If you – like me – find yourself denying your own needs, it will be helpful to keep these two things in mind:
First: you cannot meet your family’s needs if you are neglecting yourself. Failing to take care of yourself long-term will find you becoming resentful, depressed, angry, or a combination of the three. There’s a reason for the saying “if mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.”
Second: if it helps to put it in terms of your kids, think about this – do you want your child to learn that she must please everyone else before she takes care of herself ? Do you want your child to expect her future spouse to cater to everyone regardless of the spouse’s needs? You are a role model for your children, and it is healthy for them to learn that parents have needs too.
2. Look to Your Own Childhood
Have you ever reacted strongly – and automatically – to something your child says or does, only to realize later “that was my mother talking!” We all bring our own childhoods forward into parenting, and your automatic reactions are often based on your parents’ words, playing in your subconscious memory.
Notice your words in reaction to your child over the course of several days, and then spend some time in self-reflection. After noticing your automatic responses, start practicing the first step in Naomi Aldort’s S.A.L.V.E. technique: separate yourself from your child’s behavior and emotions with a silent “self-talk.” Let your mind run through what you would have said, and then form a response that you will wish you would have said later. Choose to build your relationship with your child rather than to react automatically and thoughtlessly. (1)
3. Mistakes Are Learning Opportunities
Parenting is a path of maturation and growth if we dare to learn more and teach less. (2) Each interaction with your child gives you a chance to learn and grow as a parent. When an interaction results in hurt feelings and a disconnect between you and your child, use it as a chance to explore other ways to reconnect.
Rather than allowing mistakes to send you spiraling into a tunnel of self-doubt, self-criticism, and self-judgment, welcome mistakes as opportunities to try new strategies of connecting with your children. Parents aren’t perfect; that is something we can show our children every day. Forgiving yourself for your own mistakes is a wonderful lesson for kids, because we want our children to be able to forgive themselves. (3)
4. Focus on the Positives
After you’ve engaged in some self-reflection and forgiven yourself for making mistakes, take a few minutes to let go of the negative. Breathe, do some yoga, take a walk, focus on the positives in your life. If it is difficult for you to concentrate on the good things, start a notebook. Every night write down at least one positive interaction, one positive conversation, or one positive parenting moment that you remember. When you are feeling down, open your notebook and recall those happier moments.
5. Takes Steps to Change
If you find yourself constantly guilty over how you interact with your child, harness your guilt: use it as motivation to change yourself. Are you expecting too much? Reevaluate your expectations based on your child’s developmental stage. Are you yelling or constantly resorting to time-outs (that don’t work)? Find new ways to connect with your children based on love and respect rather than rewards and punishment. Are you missing quality time with your kids in the hustle and bustle of life? Set aside a date night each week to reconnect without planning some “special” activity.
If you are unhappy with some aspect of your parenting, there is no time like the present to work on changing it. Following are some excellent parenting books that focus on building relationships with your child based on love and respect. I highly recommend them to every parent.
Naomi Aldort: Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves
Lawrence Cohen: Playful Parenting
Sura Hart & Victoria Kindle Hodson: Respectful Parents, Respectful Kids
Alfie Kohn: Unconditional Parenting
Photo credit: winterdove
(1) Aldort, Naomi, “Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves” at 7-9. See also Hart, Sura & Hodson, Victoria, “Respectful Parents, Respectful Kids” at 32-34.
(2) Aldort at xvi.
(3) Hart & Hodson at 119.