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Mom Guilt and A Messy Bouquet of Flowers

I grew up an only child with a working mother.

I remember one day during the summer I spent the entire day watching the TV Guide Channel. Do you remember that channel? The blue boxed lines would slowly scroll up with bold text outlining the hourly programming. In the upper right hand corner was a small screen for infomercials. I’m not even kidding when I say, I watched that channel for an entire day. Never moving from the living room and never changing the channel. WTF!? First off, weird kid. Second off, my mom didn’t feel guilty.

My mom worked from home, but as many learned during the last year, working from home is extremely difficult. My mom ran a trucking company before the internet or convenience of a smartphone.

I learned at a very young age that even though my mom was in the house, she was very busy. She was a pioneer for raising a child and being a CEO in a male-dominated industry. Yes, she was there to help me, feed me, get me on and off the school bus…but she wasn’t there to entertain me. I had to get creative as an only child. We didn’t live in a neighborhood where I could just bug the neighbor kids to play with me when I was bored. I was on my own a lot… and here’s the kicker, my mom never felt guilty. Or if she did, she never showed it.

Mom guilt (or parent guilt) isn’t new, but I do think our culture has shifted over the years pulling those feelings from the shadows. When did we start putting a huge emphasis on creating meaningful and educational activities and playtime for our children? When did we become their entertainers? When did working or not working create such a cloud of guilt? When did we start feeling terribly selfish for wanting “me time”? It probably all started with the dawn of social media. This isn’t revolutionary, but it helps to be reminded.

Mom guilt isn’t just based off one incident either. I recently read an article where the author relates mom guilt to a bouquet of flowers. Each stem symbolizes a different reason for her guilt. I like that description.

My first stem of mom guilt came when my first born was very young. He didn’t speak his first words until he was 2. I remember friends lovingly asking about me getting him a speech therapist. They were also talking about their children being in playgroups and church groups and having playdates with other moms. I didn’t do any of that, and doubted myself as a new mother.

Along the road of motherhood, I have collected various stems for my bouquet. Stems like: working too much, leaving my career, not having the kids involved in enough, having them involved in too much, not having a nursery, co-sleeping, breastfeeding, bottle feeding, never having a strict nap time, not having a consistent bedtime routine, not designing Instagram worthy rooms for them, not buying them new clothes with the change of every season, looking at social media too much, working too much, letting them have too much screen time, not reading enough with them, not playing with them, failing as an educator, not spending enough one on one time with each child, forgetting stuff. My bouquet is massive at this point in my life, it’s heavy, and it desperately needs a change of water.

I posed the question to you on IG: what makes you feel guilty as a parent? I was bombarded with parents (mostly moms) pouring their heart and soul out to me.

Here are the most common answers:

  • Working or not working. I can relate to this, it’s the main reason why I left the news business. I felt guilty for not being home with my kids. Then, I felt guilty for leaving a successful career. Just like with every other decision we make as parents: know you’re making the best decisions for your family and doing the very best you can. Try to make peace with that decision (as hard as it may be) and let the guilt roll off your back. Plus! Studies show that daughters raised by working mothers are more likely to advance in their personal careers, and boys raised by working mothers grow up to be compassionate and helpful partners. 
  • Taking time for yourself: This answer came in second behind working too much. Taking time for ourselves is hard to do when we are spread so thin. A few weeks ago, my parents took the kids and my husband was golfing. I had the house to myself for 6 hours and you would have thought I won the lottery. I sat on my butt and watched Netflix and didn’t touch the laundry or clean the kitchen. I can’t advocate alone time enough. Just spend some time watching tv, taking a bath, walking the aisles at Target, get a pedicure… whatever makes you happy. A well-rested mother is a happy mother, and that’s all our kids want. So give yourself a little break and remember that loving yourself is one of the best ways to love your children.
  • Not playing with them enough: Reverting back to my childhood, I could probably count on my two hands the amount of times my mom actually sat down and played with me. I’m sure she’d argue it was more than 10 times, but they weren’t memorable. Your kids won’t remember you sitting on the floor playing Barbies with them 20 years from now. They will remember how they felt being around you. Thanks to social media, if you scroll through instagram I’m sure you see Pinterest perfect parents setting up slime stations and building forts with cheesy smiles on their faces. I can’t stress this enough: You don’t need to entertain your children. In fact it’s good for them to be bored! They have toys, books, and imaginations. I was an only child and I figured it out. Trust me, they can figure it out themselves too. 
  • Not having “mom guilt”: sounds counterintuitive, right? I had a few people message me about having backwards mom guilt and it makes perfect sense. If your child is sleeping through the night, isn’t a picky eater, is very well-behaved, you’re kind of out of the “mom club”. Don’t feel guilty about that. Childhood is messy and sticky. If your kid is seemingly perfect now, there will be a time when things aren’t as perfect as they once were and you will be initiated in. Until you receive your bid, don’t feel guilty for being on the outskirts of the sleep-deprived mom club. I’ve been in for 8 years, it ain’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Mom guilt is not a competition, what makes me feel guilty may not be the same for you. What doesn’t make you feel guilty as a parent shouldn’t reflect your parenting style. We are all in this together.

At the end of the day, parenting is all about compromises. We give up so much of our own identity to nurture our children, and we need to be recognized for that. People need to feel valued. In the workplace, at school, at home. Moms need to feel valued. Why do you think we love Mother’s Day so much?! When you feel valued—as a worker, as a person, as a partner, as a parent—you become more confident in the compromises you make. The former you doesn’t feel so distant. The part you surrendered when you became a parent doesn’t completely disappear.

I hope these words help the flowers in your bouquet blossom. And please, don’t forget to change your water every now and then.

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