Sometimes it seems as though the level of guilt we feel as mothers starts growing with the placenta and just doesn’t stop. There are so many things, external and internal, constantly making us question our decisions as mothers. For single mothers, this pressure is even more stressful because people may be much more critical of your choices. But changing the way you think can help with the constant self criticism and your reaction to the criticism of others.
The external elements which can add to mother guilt are endless. From your friends and family to the parenting newsletter you get in your email, everyone has opinions. What and when you feed your children, how you dress them, how you discipline them, how you educate them, your lifestyle, even when you put them to bed. Everyone has ideas on these things, and no one keeps them to themselves. So many of these ideas are expressed in a critical way. But whether the comments are critical, well meaning advice, or just an offhand observation, it is all too easy to take them to heart and feel irrationally guilty if they differ from your own. Somehow, I think, we as mothers consciously or unconsciously tend to assume that everyone else knows more about the way we should raise our children than we do.
Your internal dialog may be even worse than the barrage of implied or open criticism you get from others. If a baby fusses a lot, you may wonder what you’ve done to cause it. If a six year old shows a lack of impulse control, you may wonder what steps you haven’t taken to fix it. If a teenager gets into trouble, you might wonder how you could have stopped it. Everything, big or little, can cause you to wonder what you have done wrong or haven’t done properly.
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t be thinking about these things, and I’m definitely not saying that seeking advice from others around you or online is bad. It’s the way you think about these things and the way you feel about the advice you receive that needs to change.
Instead of blaming yourself for doing something that is making the baby fuss, maybe you can ask yourself if there’s anything that you can do to make the baby more comfortable, and if there’s anything that can be changed in your routine to help the baby be less fussy. Instead of wondering what steps you haven’t taken to help the six year old child with impulse control, you could go see what others are doing and try some new tactics. Instead of blaming yourself for your teen’s actions, perhaps you could try and find out why they are acting the way they are, and see if there’s anything you can do to help. It’s a matter of perspective. Instead of feeling guilty for something that may not have been your fault, turn your emotional energy to finding ways to solve, or at least cope with the issues in your life.
And remember, many of the things that make us feel guilty as mothers shouldn’t’ be a cause of guilt at all. Are your children happy? Are they healthy? Are you doing all you can to make sure they grow up to be well rounded and well adjusted adults? Is the horrible thing that’s making you feel guilty right now going to be an issue, or even remembered by you or your child in ten years? This whole mothering thing doesn’t come with a manual. A lot of it is trial and error. Some things are going to work, and some aren’t. Some aspects of your life are going to be fabulous, and some may not. If you are a single mom with limited time and you choose to spend it with your happy, thriving children instead of making your house spotless, do you really need to feel guilty about it?
Also, keep your mother guilt in mind when you’re talking to other moms. Try to remember that not every solution works for every family, and don’t add to the mother guilt of others. Offer sympathy and advice, but don’t be critical. Try to do it in a way that doesn’t judge the other mom. If all moms followed this advice, how much less mother guilt would we be passing back and forth?
Most of all, I think, just remember that you are your child’s mother, no one else is. Don’t give anyone else your mental permission to judge you. If you know you’re doing your best to help your child thrive and be happy, focus on that the next time you are feeling guilty. Overcome mother guilt by concentrating on finding solutions or ways to deal with your problems instead of focusing on the negative, by not sweating the small stuff, and knowing with absolute certainty that you are the best mother for your child.