004 - Mama2Mama and Mom Guilt

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We’re going to continue to explore the topics that came up during the Mama2Mama Campaign because I think during our motherhood journey, we’ve all been in many of these places, and felt many of the feelings these women shared. Some of the non-critical information has been changed to protect the identity of the mama. Today we are going to talk about mom guilt. This theme came up in almost all conversations when women over and over told me all the ways they were failing their kids. But, the fact that these women thought they were failing their kids, most certainly meant they weren’t! I’m going to share the stories of two mamas to dig a little deeper into this powerful and paralyzing epidemic.

I’m going to start with a stat. According to a recent Baby Center survey, 94% of moms confessed to feeling shame in the last 3 months. 94%! That’s unbelievable! According to authors Devra Renner and Aviva Pflock, coauthors of a book called Mommy Guilt: Learn to Worry Less, Focus on What Matters Most, and Raise Happier Kids, mommy guilt is an equal-opportunity condition which strikes women of every age, every race, every economic level, in every part of the country, urban and rural.

There is literally no escape from any of the three camps moms find themselves in.

The moms who are “JUST” stay at home moms say they feel guilty because they quit their jobs and aren’t helping to support their families so finances are more stretched.

The moms who work outside the home feel guilty because they send their kids to daycare every day and aren’t around to see all the special moments and milestones. On top of that level of guilt, a good number of moms who work outside the home feel extra guilty because they actually enjoy getting showered, dressed, and being at work, doing a good job, spending time with other adults, and getting recognition, and they think choosing their happiness and fulfillment makes them a bad mom.

Finally, the moms who work from home feel guilty because they are always forced to choose between work and family and feel they do half a job on each, not really thriving in either role… and there is always more they could do for both.

Guilt is a way we have of recognizing that we have not lived up to our own values and standards, but this is 2018, and we are not setting out values and standards based on the women in our community who model good mother or good wife or good caregiver behavior. We erroneously set our values and standards based on all the beautiful people we see living fabulously perfect lives on social media and on TV.

Mariana had this exact situation. She is a mom who works outside the home because first, she loves her job, and second, she makes more money than her husband so it makes sense for her family. Her mom lives with them to care for the kids, but she constantly feels like she isn’t being a good mom by leaving her kids with her elderly mother when all her friend’s kids get to go to paint pottery and take music classes and take gymnastics during the day. To add icing on this guilt-cake, her friends kept including her in texts and invites to daytime outings, knowing she couldn’t attend. They would post pictures on Facebook of all of them meeting for coffee or visits to the trampoline place and tag her with sentences like, “when you want to be a real mommy, come join us!” Mariana brushed it off at first, but the digs didn’t stop. She barely goes on Facebook anymore and doesn’t answer any texts or phone calls from this group. When she is home with her kids and she snaps at them, she suffocates herself with self-criticism and uses those instances as evidence that she is a bad mom, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Danielle works at a lower-paying job and can only make ends meet with the help of her sister, who watches Danielle’s two kids after school for a few hours, and all holidays and breaks. She thinks her sister is a good mom, but when her kids come home with bad habits or new vocabulary that she doesn’t like, she hates herself for not being their primary caregiver and hates her job even more for keeping her from what she wants more than anything, which is to live the perfect stay at home life that she sees on Instagram. Her feed is filled with pictures of cute kids and happy moms at the zoo, getting their nails done, shopping for shoes and baking cookies. I asked her what her feed would look like if she put it up on Instagram and she said it would be a messy house with piles of unfolded laundry and unwashed dishes, a stack of unopened mail, and kids sitting alone watching TV because she is cooking, paying bills, cleaning the bathroom or looking for that form that her kid needs in the morning. She asked how could she be a good mom when she barely has time to be a mom at all?

Mom guilt comes in two main streams- either external or internal. External guilt comes from the burdens, judgements and criticisms of other people, and internal guilt is what we place on ourselves after comparing our life to that of other people. The strategies to shed some of the guilt is the same:

First, experts recommend examining each thought as it enters our mind and check if there is something you could do about the situation differently. So, when you say, “I lost my kid’s form because I’m so disorganized and now they are mad at me and I am such a horrible mom” pause for a moment and examine that sentence. You lost your kid’s form? Or did your child hand you the form in the middle of a dozen other things and you put it down? What does this tell us? We need a system. There are two main options. One option is to create a physical space to hold this stuff. You can have an inbox or tray or folder and all forms and papers go into there and you check it regularly, fill it out, and then they can pick it up from there. For my life, that holds too many opportunities for messing up. With three kids in three schools and 5 sports, I used to lose hundreds of papers every year because I would forget to check the folder or move the tray and then everyone was lost. So I go with option 2: Put it all on them, age-appropriately. Now, I don’t let my kids hand me papers ever! At the end of the evening, after dinner, after cleanup, as we are preparing for the next day, I will ask them to check their school folders or agendas for anything they need me to pay attention to and we do it together at the kitchen table. They bring their forms to me and I sign it and they stay with me until it’s done. Oh, and I don’t fill out any forms. If they can write, they can do it. In our school district, every form needs our name, full mailing address, phone number, email, school name, teacher name, homeroom, and a bunch of other info. I hate these forms. I’ve called the district to complain about these forms. But, we get at least 3 every month so I needed a system. So, part of my rule is that my kids fill all that info out, and all I do with any form is check that it is correct and sign it. They manage it from start to finish. So, by not getting a form in the middle of dinner or booking a campsite for the summer or scheduling an appointment for their dental check up or anything else, I don’t create a situation where I can call myself a bad mom. In fact, I feel like a great mom, on top of things, modelling good systems for my kids, and getting it done the first time.

So, as the experts recommend examining each thought as it enters our mind and check if there is something you could do about the situation differently, let’s think about Mariana and Danielle. For Mariana, she felt less than. She felt she wasn’t enough. She felt like she was failing. She felt this way because her friends kept pointing out how she wasn’t really a mom if she chose to work full time. That just isn’t true. She needed to tell her friends how she felt. If they were open and receptive, understanding and compassionate, they would not want to hurt their friend. When Mariana called me back with an update, they hadn’t realized how hurtful they were being and not only did they stop, but they invited Mariana’s kids along a few times so they could play with their friends while Mariana was at work. I asked Mariana if she wanted to invest in these friendships and she said yes, so I suggested she could take the lead and schedule some activities on the weekend so she could participate as well and she felt more connected and loved than she had in a long time. When her friends heard how she is the main provider for their family, they found a new respect for her and really supported her in new ways. For Danielle, what could she do differently? Well, the first thing was to do a social-media detox for a while, and put her focus on all the blessings in her life, instead of all the 'missings'. It was important for Danielle to reflect on what she wanted most for her life with her kids, and how best to achieve it. Could she change jobs to something more flexible or higher paying? Maybe, she would look into it. Could she organize her schedule so she can have easy-to-prepare meals during the week and spend more time playing board games or other activities with her kids? Yes. That was an easy one. We popped onto Pinterest and created her a page for free and easy kid’s activities, a page for freezer meals, and a page for organizing chores because her kids were old enough and could benefit from helping out around the house. When we were done, we had created a 14 day rotating meal plan with an emphasis on easy and versatile, a chore chart that everyone loved, and a daily schedule so she could spend 2 hours of quality time with her kids every night. You know what we also did? We wrote out these words for her to post on her fridge: Listen to my heart and let love lead the way.

Another tip from the experts to shed the mom guilt burden is to find a community of like-minded women, with the same struggles, successes and situations as you because it will keep things in perspective. Danielle texted me that she created a dance party time every night after dinner for 15 mins and one night they didn’t have it and the kids were cranky and she was snippy and she started to feel guilty but quickly realized that she could reflect on the situation and make a change and through that thinking, she realized how important rituals were for her kids, as well as time to play together and find happiness.

If you find you can’t get out from under the mom guilt at all, it might be time to chat with a professional. There are therapists who specialize in women and moms, and are amazing at helping you reframe your perspective. But, if you feel that you are looking for a community, you are in the right place. The power of community and the feeling of belonging is a core desire for us as humans, a critical component just like food and shelter and it is fundamental to our feelings of happiness and well-being. I think about how much courage it took for these women to watch my Facebook video, deem me to be someone safe, find me and allow me into their life and say, “I have a need. I’m overwhelmed and drowning in my guilt. Can you help me?” But, that inspired action was all these women needed to do to absolutely change their lives and their family’s lives. It’s not that I was some magician or superhero, it’s just that I can see things they can’t see because I bring an outsider’s perspective. That is why being connected in a community is so important! If you are looking for a community, a wonderful, warm, inviting place to ask and share and read and offer support and get support, join us in our MamaConnects private Facebook group. It’s free and we are designing it to be a place to find encouragement, education, and inspiration on your motherhood journey.

If you enjoyed this podcast, please join me in our MamaConnects Facebook group, or leave me a review. I am here to bring you the best ideas and stories and I would love to hear your thoughts on this episode. Thank you and thanks for listening!

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