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.

Posted on April 5, 2010, in Guest Post, Natural parenting and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 15 Comments.

  1. I have read 3 of the 4 books you recommend, but not “Respectful Parents, Respectful Kids”. I will definitely check it out!

    Something else that has helped me to deal with the mama guilt is to find like-minded mama friends. While I believe in the way that I have chosen to parent, I find that I am more prone to second-guess myself when I am surrounded by people who are parenting differently. Of course, I’m not saying that my way is the only way, but rather that having a community of like-minded parents helps me to feel more confident.

  2. Amber, I completely agree. I feel that my like-minded friends both make me feel better and motivate me. Plus, it’s always nice to commiserate with them – to know that they’re not perfect either!

  3. I have a confession: I haven’t read any parenting books. I got very very turned off when my babe was three weeks old, my SIL arrived to meet my daughter and brought along a copy of the famous Ezzo.
    Anyway, DH bought it, hook line & sinker and I knew instinctively (and from reading the cover) that it wasn’t for me. So I’ve been instinctually parenting since then, though I wish I had the money to buy a LOT of the GOOD ap’ing books I hear mentioned.
    That’s a source of a lot of my mama guilt.

  4. Beecher – Oh good gracious, no wonder you guys butt heads sometimes – he needs to get deprogrammed!
    I love to read and learn, so I’m quite happy with a good parenting book. But I definitely have my favorites. Others I’ve read I can pull things out of, but I hate recommending them because of other crap they include. Of the 4 I listed, I’d recommend Playful Parenting for you AND your hubby. I think he might actually get more out of it.

    • Thanks for the suggestion. I’ve been wanting to pick up a BLW book and I think I will buy this one while Im at it. It would be nice to have a…textual support. A reference. So thank you.

  5. My guilt these days comes from being a working mom. I feel guilty that I don’t spend enough time with my son, and I also feel guilty b/c I often feel that I could be working harder, making more money and furthering my career. It often feels like a no win situation!
    I do find that focusing on the positives helps (your tip #4). I’m only away from my son 3 days a wk so we have 4 wonderful days together. And I am making some money and have time in the future when my son is older to work more….

  6. I’m a big fan of self-forgiveness as a way to deal with this guilt thing. If you can find your way there then you’re on the track to “mama guilt recovery.”

    Thanks to Dionna for such well thought out tips!

  7. Sheryl – and I’m sure that you make more of an effort to be *present* for your son when you are together!

    Nicole – you’re right, it doesn’t do us any good to hang on to the guilt.
    Thank you for letting me guest post on your site!

  8. I haven’t read any of those books. I’ve been meaning to pick up Playful Parenting, because my hubby is the more playful one.

    I read a quote on someone’s Facebook page that stuck with me.

    “I am not my mother’s child, I am my child’s mother”
    I am not destined to repeat everything my mother did or said to me, and when/if I do….I have the power to change it!

    Thanks for the reminder to take care of myself.

  9. Darcel – I saw that quote today somewhere too! I really think Playful Parenting is a good read for men. I’m going to check it out again for Tom to read!

  10. Thanks for this post – I really needed to hear these words at this point in time. It’s really important to examine and overcome that Mama Guilt 🙂 I am currently reading the Naomi Aldort book and enjoying it.

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