Allow me to introduce you to two women, Marcia and Phyllis. Marcia has a 4-year-old daughter and 3-month-old son. Phyllis is a proud first-time mom to a 6-month-old boy.
Both Marcia and Phyllis are, by today’s standards, “lucky.” Because they have an equal partner to help manage the home and parent. A partner who encourages them to take time for themselves and do the things they enjoy.
Marcia just had a tough time going back to work full-time but knows it is the right choice for her and her family. Phyllis loves being a stay-at-home mom but is not sure she will ever feel okay about going back to her volunteer work for the local non-profit she loves.
Marcia enjoys CrossFit and cycling, and makes time to work out a few times a week. Phyllis loves running and has been wanting to get back into it since she had her 6-week postpartum checkup.
Marcia and her partner catch up with each other most nights after the kids are in bed and have sex regularly. Phyllis and her partner barely have had any form of intimacy since the baby arrived.
Marcia and Phyllis both suffer from mom guilt. The difference? Marcia is managing hers, while Phyllis is not. Volunteering, running, and wife-ing, Phyllis wants all those things but her son needs her. How dare she do anything that doesn’t involve devoting herself 100% to her child…right?
Why Is Mom Guilt So Real?
So, Marcia and Phyllis are not real.
But, I think every mom (myself included) has been a Marcia or Phyllis at one time or another.
Mothers give so much of themselves and their time to their children, so how do we feel like it is not enough? Why do so many mothers feel like any part of us who is not “mom” is not worthy of being?
This is not able specific struggles like the choice to work or stay home, exercise, or make time with a significant other — those are just quick examples. This really applies to anything outside of being a mom, anything that makes you feel like you yet takes away from the tiny humans you created.
What to Do About Mom Guilt
I am not here to tell you the magic potion to get rid of mom guilt. I can’t even offer any deep psychology and research to help understand why moms are destined to have mom guilt.
What I do have are a few things to share that have helped me learn how to manage mom guilt.
Some things I have learned through my motherhood journey and one big chunk of that advice comes from a lesson I learned from Mindy Kaling — yep, that Mindy Kaling (writer, actor, producer, speaker, and single mom of two young children).
I have never met Mindy Kaling (I wish!). But I did have the opportunity to hear her speak at a conference, not long after she became a mom and when I was a new mom myself.
While fielding questions from the audience, a fellow new working mother asked her the big question, the one on all of our minds:
How do you deal with mom guilt?
Mindy’s Advice on Mom Guilt
While I have found various ways to cope with mom guilt, Mindy’s strategy was one I had never considered, but I love it.
She shared with us a story about her own working mother. While society would call Mindy a “latchkey kid” or have her believe she was not as important to her mother as someone who had a stay-at-home mom, Mindy instead saw her mother as a hero.
She admired her mother for being driven. For working hard and providing for her family. And she admired her mother for doing things for herself — things other than being a mom.
Mindy’s strategy for overcoming mom guilt: she reminds herself that her daughter (and now son) will hopefully see all those same things in her and be proud.
This really gave me perspective and caused me to think about what my kids will and won’t remember.
Coping with Mom Guilt
When I feel guilty about working, I remind myself that it is quality, not quantity, time that matters. And the precious hours I do get with my boys are all about them.
When I feel guilty about running, I remind myself that I’m a happier, more energetic mom because of it. And in the time I spend with my boys after I am more engaging and playful.
I even feel guilty about letting my boys’ grandparents take them for an afternoon to do something fun. Those are the times I remind myself this one is not about me, it’s about them having special time with their grandchildren, and every part of that is good.
What They Won’t Remember
I know my boys will not remember those weeks I had to travel for work.
They will not remember that I left them with their nana on a Saturday morning so I could run a race.
I’m even pretty sure they will not remember the evening (okay, evenings) I fed them cheese and crackers for dinner because I was on a writing roll and really wanted to finish a blog.
What They Will Remember
I hope what they do remember is how happy and present I was when I was with them.
That they admire how good I am at my job. How I try to set an example that hard work matters.
I hope they enjoyed the miles spent in the stroller and think it’s pretty cool that I run marathons.
That they believe I was and am the best mom to them, because I am more than a mom.
I hope they are proud to have me as their mom, even though I don’t know how our Smart TV works, have no idea who is the coolest pop singer, and didn’t give them a trendy smash cake when they turned one year-old.
I never expect them to think I’m cool (which I’m not, I’m aware), but I am hopeful they are as happy as I am that this world chose me to be their mother.
You are doing a great job. And your child will be proud of you for all the others things you do. Now go do them!