Recently, many mothers I’ve been working with have shared the guilt they carry in the transition to becoming a mother for a second time. Guilt can show up in a variety of situations, whether it’s feeling guilty for not being able to spend the same amount of time with your first child after having a second, for feeling more partial towards one child over another, for being a working mom, or just in general, feeling like you’re failing your child, like you ‘should’ be more of this, more of that.
Parenting is hard, and only made harder by adding guilt to the experience. I’ll share a personal example about the time I forgot to fully buckle one of my kids into the carseat, only to realize it upon arriving home. Feelings of worry about what could have happened to my child and anxiety about my apparent absentmindedness arose immediately. Judging myself for my mistake would lead to guilt, compounding the emotional discomfort I was already experiencing. So, how does one manage the thoughts that trigger mom guilt?
Explore your Expectations. Reflect on your expectations of yourself in your current role (i.e. new mother, new mom of two littles). Where did your expectations come from? Is it possible to adjust your expectations?
Practice Self-compassion. Begin by objectively identifying your emotions in the moment. From the car example above, I initially felt surprise, and then worry and anxiety when realizing my child wasn’t fully buckled into the carseat. Next, cultivate a sense of common humanity by asking yourself if someone else, who is similar to you and in a similar situation, would feel similarly. The answer is nearly always yes. Finally, find some kind words to tell yourself. For example, “It makes sense that I’m feeling worried. I’m not alone in making this mistake and it’s okay that I’m feeling this way.”
Ask for help. Whether for things small or big, bring in support. Just because you can do something on your own doesn’t mean you need to or even should. Share responsibilities. And if physical help isn’t an option, find some emotional support via friends, family or therapy.
Give yourself permission. Mom guilt is sometimes exacerbated when moms don’t take time for themselves. Give yourself permission to take some personal time. Start small with 5 minutes and build up to an hour to yourself (or more - gasp!) to do something just for you. Sip your coffee uninterrupted, go to the bathroom alone, take a bath, take a nap, exercise, call or visit a friend, go shopping, bake, read, or do whatever it is that brings you joy.
If you use one or more of the aforementioned tools, more guilt will likely show up when you first begin thinking and behaving differently. Mindfully engage with the guilt - it’s a practice to notice the guilt, identify thoughts that trigger the guilt, and let those thoughts go. They do not serve you. The more you practice, similar to exercising a muscle, the easier it will be to let go of any guilt that arises.