I was recently interviewed for a podcast, and was asked if I ever feel ‘Mommy Guilt’, and how I get over it. The interviewer was just starting her motherhood journey, so I wasn’t sure how honest to be, because I just hate it when seasoned mothers act all knowing and smug as they drop hints about what a sh$!show the next phase of development is going to be. Besides, my heart went out to her. That this beautiful young mom, with a gorgeous, 3-month-old baby even knows what mommy guilt is says a lot about our culture, and the burdens we lay on moms. So what I said was “Do I feel mommy guilt? Yes, all the time. How do I get over it? I’ll let you know when that happens.” We laughed, and I suppose it helped her marginally, by letting her know that she’s not alone.
But you know how when you’re in a social exchange, and then you spend the next week replaying it over and over and analyzing what you did, what you said, and how you said it, and then castigate yourself for all the missed opportunities to say something more witty and profound? No? Just me? Well, I’ve been thinking about that mommy guilt question, and now that I’m not constrained by a time clock and having to think on my feet, I have a better answer.
There’s no such thing as Mommy Guilt. To suggest there is is doing women everywhere a disservice, because the guilt and shame we women take on as a mantle from pretty much birth is in no way restricted to mothers. We all receive it as a legacy whether we want it or not, and we owe it to ourselves, sisters, friends, mothers, and especially our daughters, to take it off, look at it, and throw it in the trash where it belongs, and when someone tries to make us take it back, we see it for what it is, and say “No thank you, I’ve had enough for now. If that’s okay with you. Sorry.” (because girls are supposed to be polite, right?).
No, there’s no mommy guilt. Instead, there is a constant, never-ending pressure on ALL of us to be the best at whatever it is we’re doing, and woe befall the woman who’s only doing ONE thing, by the way. I think it’s always been there, but it’s only gotten worse as a) our options increase and b) the doors of the world have opened so that 4 billion people can weigh in on a minute-by-minute basis about how we’re doing.
Just think about it. From the time we start preschool through adulthood, we receive the message that we have to be:
- Smart, and particularly good at science, math, and engineering
- Pretty, but not too pretty, because we don’t want to cause anyone to want to hurt, molest or rape us and even though it’s not our fault, what were we doing dressed that way?
- Kind, encouraging, and a good friend, but also strong and individualistic
- A great cook, but not because we’re girls, just because we are good cooks in addition to being highly creative and able to turn sticks and dirt into award-winning centerpieces
- Fit, muscular, and lean, but not too focused on being thin, and above all perfectly happy with our bodies
- Funny and highly popular with lot of friends to go on vacations and road trips with
- Capable of serving in the military or other protective services and dying for our country
After we finish school, (and college of course, because do you know that currently more women obtain bachelor and master degrees than men?) we then need to get a lucrative and meaningful career where we make the world a better place, pay off our student loans and buy a house. And we don’t want to be too girly, so it’s good if we like sports (maybe not too much, though) and it’s also very cool if we are hard-drinking, because it’s super cute when a girl can pound back beers and shots like a guy and stay standing (and don’t worry, AA is not just for men anymore, so now that we’re catching up on the alcoholism and drug addiction rate, we can represent there, too).
The expectation is not that we excel at any one of these things, it’s that we excel at ALL of them – at the same time. And after we’ve obtained our higher education, traveled the world, and launched our career (or started a multi-million-dollar company) we may decide to get married. If we do, we need to be gorgeous brides who aren’t obsessed with their looks and who plan a perfect wedding (with wildly expensive but homey décor) but certainly aren’t ‘bridezillas’ about it or controlling in any way (because of course you can plan with military precision all the crap that goes with a perfect wedding without being the least bit controlling), and an amazing honeymoon experience that is captured and filtered perfectly for all at home to see, and who seamlessly integrate with their new families without losing their identities or clashing with their in-laws.
By this time, we’re actually somewhat numb to the pressure. It seems normal, and we’re used to having to be good (I mean, great) at EVERYTHING. So what’s left but to have a baby? Naturally, with no drugs, and breastfeed the kids until they’re five, and never let them watch TV, or eat non-organic food, or sleep alone, or with you, or on their tummies, or on their back, or with a pillow, or all alone, and never put them down, or over-cuddle them….Mommy guilt? Face it, you’re doing it wrong by the time you take your pregnancy test. Because EVEN IF you please everyone on social media, your family, your in-laws, your friends, your church, and your co-workers (which guess what, you won’t) you’ll STILL have to do all of this while meeting the aforementioned criteria. You might think if you take some time off from your career, this would ease the pressure. If you do, you would think wrong. Because for every single thing a woman takes off the list, she is expected to make up for by ‘doubling down’ on another item on the list.
So no, there’s no mommy guilt…just a new way to feed us the guilt we’ve been eating our whole lives. How do you get over it? That’s probably another article, but here’s the Cliff’s Notes version.
- Realize the guilt for what it is. Mass manipulation that we only have to feel if we buy into it
- Accept, right down to behind our belly buttons (as my wonderful friend Meridith says) that we’re perfect in our imperfections (as my wonderful friend Cindy says)
- It helps to screw something up royally, and I don’t mean go out of the house with your nails all raggedy, I mean mess up BIG TIME and not kill someone or die
- Let people down, and say sorry
- Be let down, and forgive
- Miss a workout
- Miss a social event
- Do something because you want to, not because you should
- Admit to yourself and others that you’re not perfect, walk away from the people who are disappointed, and grab tight to the ones who say ‘Good! Me either, want some cake?’
So yes, I get guilt-bombs lobbed at me all the time, particularly as it relates to my parenting abilities and lack thereof, but I don’t hold onto it and I don’t give it to other people. I try to throw it away along with those really crappy fake eyelashes, those ‘what was I thinking’ knee-high stiletto boots (not that there’s anything wrong with that, it was more of a balance issue – literally), and the do-it-yourself kinetic sand from Pinterest that was just greasy mud. And I hope you do too.
PS I’ve written, 10 tips on dealing with multiple (conflicting) priorities. If you’d like a free copy, just click here!