Few emotions are as strong as mom guilt. The overwhelming responsibility that parents have for creating and raising healthy, happy, productive people; the virtual certainty that every parent will make mistakes sometimes and inadvertently hurt their kids as they seek to help and guide them; the difficult juggling act of attending to multiple kids, a spouse, a job, and oneself (in the knowledge that it's a given that one or more of those will feel neglected from time to time)... well, it's apparent why moms may feel guilt.
Being a mom is a big job, no one wants to fail, especially on a task as important as raising kids. How can a mom deal with her feelings of guilt and move forward effectively?
Mom should acknowledge her feelings, let herself experience the emotions for a while, and then reason her way past the emotions so that she can move beyond the deer-in-headlights response. It's ok to feel guilt. It's normal. Almost all moms feel mom guilt at various times in the lives of their kids (when baby cries in the middle of the night and mom responds slowly because she is sleep-deprived, when returning to work after baby's birth, when telling her toddler “no” and making her cry, etc.).
However, while it's normal to feel guilt, it's not good to live with guilt on an ongoing basis. Therefore, mom should reason her way through her guilt.
Is the guilt caused by something mom did wrong or something mom fears she may do wrong in the future If the guilt is caused by something mom may do in the future, then mom should release her guilt, choose behaviors that will reduce the likelihood of the future misdeed, and move forward with hope that all will be well.
If the guilt is caused by something mom has already done wrong, was the act intentionally wrong? Was an apology issued? Was the error corrected to the best of the mom's ability? If the act was unintentionally wrong, an apology was issued, and corrective action was taken, then mom should release her guilt as she, as a flawed mere mortal, has done the best she could to handle her human error.
If the act was intentionally wrong or mom has not apologized or tried to correct her error, then mom has reason to continue experiencing guilt until she has decided to make better choices, apologize, and correct her error.
Perfection is not a realistic standard to shoot for. If mom is setting the bar too high, she will frequently (if not continuously) feel guilt for failing to live up to super-woman standards. Mom will not consistently be able to bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan... well, you know the rest... in sum, mom will not be able to be all things to all people at all times. Sometimes, mom will need to cut herself some slack and show herself the same forgiveness she shows her kids.
Mom should ignore the messages that media is disseminating about motherhood. Media tends to hype the super-woman standard. The super-moms on television and in movies are not real.
Mom should select a social support network (family and friends) who validate her. If mom's house has gotten a little messy while she's been busy attending to other important matters, perhaps her visiting friends will not mention it at all, laugh about their own messy houses, or offer to help her clean the house because they know she's feeling stressed about the condition of her home.
Mom should prioritize. Knowing that she can't do everything that she feels she needs to do in any given day, prioritizing and responding to the most pressing priorities first is essential.
Mom should hire a babysitter who will watch the kids while she is at work, on date night with her spouse, or just needing a little time to herself to recharge her own internal batteries. A babysitter well chosen (i.e., one who is reliable, trustworthy, and very good with kids) is a blessing to help mom juggle everything in her life.
Mom should find humor in difficult moments and learn to laugh at herself. Humor is a wonderful coping tool.
Mom should be mindful of the example she sets for her kids. Kids watch their moms, babysitters and other role models and gender expectations (and life expectations) are formed.
If mom is perpetually stressed and upset, kids will learn being an adult (or an adult woman) is about being stressed and upset. No mom wants her kids to have that perception. So, if an occasional mom-day at the spa helps mom be a happy, healthy role model for her kids, then that one day away from her kids (which may inspire some guilt) may be a big-picture gain (thus, the guilt should be released).
In sum, while mom guilt is normal, moms can and should find ways to release that guilt rather than live with it on an ongoing basis. Through reasoning, apology, corrective action, self-forgiveness, ignoring media hype, a strong social support system, solid priorities, a good babysitter, a sense of humor, and mindfulness of role modeling, moms can release their guilt and move forward with peace.