Five Strategies For Coping With Mom Guilt
On April 21, 2015, I gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. He was everything I ever dreamed he would be. And becoming a mother was everything I ever dreamed it would be. I spent countless hours doing skin-to-skin with him, gazing into his beautiful brown eyes, holding him, nursing him, singing him lullabies, brushing his hair, bathing him, and taking him for long strolls. I could go on and on but I think you get the picture. We spent a wonderful amount of uninterrupted, quality time together. It was magical.
Fast forward to the present. I am now the mother of two little boys. I gave birth to another beautiful baby boy on December 1, 2017. He is also everything I ever dreamed he would be. But have I spent countless hours doing skin-to-skin with him, gazing into his beautiful brown eyes, holding him, nursing him, singing him lullabies, brushing his hair, bathing him, and taking him for long strolls? The answer is sadly, “No”. I would love to be able to spend as much time with my new baby as I did with my first, but I can’t - I have another little guy that is also depending on me. And I feel guilty about it.
I am a wife to the love of my life, my husband Rich, and I am a work-at-home mom (I don’t use the term stay-at-home mom because it fails to include what I do – work). Richie is our 3-year-old son and Quincy is our 9-month-old son. They are both loveable and feisty boys and they keep us on our toes. And they require a lot of supervised time although for very different reasons. Richie is at an age where he needs to be kept busy or he will find things to do which sometimes are not desirable. For example, the other day while I was pumping breast milk for the baby, he decided to increase the setting on the breast pump causing me to have to try and stop him from turning it all the way up while at the same time trying not to spill my milk. It was truly a sight. Quincy, on the other hand, has recently become mobile. So now when I put him to sit down on his play mat, before I can even turn around, he takes off scooting to the coffee table and tries to pull the storage basket down on himself.
Life with these two little guys can get pretty exciting and I love it but sometimes feelings of guilt take hold of me and that’s no fun at all. These feelings surfaced early on in my last pregnancy. For the first time, I had to think about the safety and well being of not just one child but two children. Also, I was put on modified bed rest toward the end of my pregnancy, which meant I could no longer pick up my toddler, play hide and seek with him or take him to the park. This was our norm and because I couldn’t be there for him like I always was there were times when I felt like a horrible mother. In my mind, I was neglecting the needs and happiness of my son even though it wasn’t intentional. And there was no way I could really explain to a 2 year old why Mommy could no longer pick him up even when he was crying. It was hard. However, nothing could have prepared me for the guilt I would feel after I gave birth. One night, while me and the baby were still in the hospital, my husband and I decided it was better for our 2 year old son to sleep at home in his own bed instead of at the hospital. But when it was time for my husband to take my son home, I could not hold back the tears. I was overcome with sadness. I balled my eyes out for 2 hours after they left. Don’t get me wrong I was in love with my sweet, new baby and enjoyed every moment nursing him, doing skin-to-skin and cuddling with him but I just felt so torn – so guilty.
After we brought the baby home from the hospital, I made a promise to myself that I would not let guilt get the best of me and steal my joy. And with a lot of determination, I have made great progress in dealing with these feelings.
The following strategies are helping me cope with my mom guilt and I hope that they may be of help to you too:
1. Remember that you’re not alone. I know that sounds cliché but it really is true and once you acknowledge this, I think it can make things a lot easier. There are so many moms around the world who also question themselves and experience mom guilt. The guilt is different for each person but for many moms it can feel quite overwhelming. But somehow they are able to find ways to cope with their guilt and still thrive as mothers and you can too. I tell myself this everyday. We can and should draw from the strength of other mothers. We’re in this together. 2. Talk to other moms.
This strategy has been very helpful for me in my motherhood journey especially when dealing with guilt. And the first person I relied on for advice with this was my own mom. After all, she raised four of us so I thought she must have felt guilt at some point for some reason. And she did. She shared with me that she felt very guilty at times. Her feelings of guilt were a bit different from mine but she was still able to share some tips with me that helped her. I’ve also talked with my sister and my mom friends and they also shared similar feelings and provided me with ideas about how to deal with my feelings of guilt. Opening up to other moms has been really helpful. 3. Write down your feelings.
It has been incredibly beneficial for me to keep a journal of my thoughts and feelings. And what’s so great about journaling is that it is absolutely free of judgment. It’s private and therefore I can be truly honest about every guilty feeling I have. 4. Share your feelings with your spouse or partner. I was quite surprised when I decided to share how I was feeling with my husband and he told me that he also experienced feelings of guilt. To be honest, I really didn’t consider that he was going through something similar. He shared with me that it really hurts some days when he has to leave the boys and go to work. Because I shared my feelings of guilt with my husband we are now able to work together and help one another through this. 5. Schedule ‘Me’ Time. To be honest, I am terrible at scheduling time for myself but I kill it when it comes to my sons’ schedules and making time for their every need and want. When it comes to making time for myself I just fall short. Moreover, the first time I had a little ‘Me’ time, I felt guilty! But it’s gotten better. I have grown to understand that in order for my boys to be happy and healthy, I need to be happy and healthy and that requires me taking care of myself. So now I schedule time for my self. It doesn’t have to be a day at the spa. It might be as simple as a short walk or a coffee date with a friend. Even a small amount of ‘Me’ time counts because I’ve noticed that when I come home I feel refreshed and have more energy. And, over time, the feelings of guilt about ‘Me’ time have eased.
I have learned to accept that these feelings of guilt are not going anywhere. But I have learned that I do have power over these feelings and I can choose how they affect me, and my children. I have also learned to follow my heart. When I am longing for that new baby smell and I need to snuggle with Quincy, I give Richie an independent activity and go pick up my baby and bask in his sweetness. And when I want to play a game of tickles with my toddler and hear his infectious laughter, I put the baby down and really live in the moment and have fun with my big boy. Mom guilt is not easy to cope with but the best strategy I have found is to remind myself how lucky I am to have this problem because despite the guilt, I get to be their mom.