When all you feel is mom guilt

Guilt stands out as one of my most lasting memories from my first few hours of motherhood. That’s right… the first few hours of motherhood. I vividly remember feeling inadequate in the first moments holding my daughter, who is nearly 8-years-old now.  

As it turned out, guilt permeated my new role as mother. The night we brought her home, I remember thinking, “What do I do now?” I was not sure where to even begin with raising this tiny bundle. Everything that I thought I would be as a mom, I wasn’t. Instead, I was overwhelmed, and felt like I had no control over this tiny human being whose cries, sleep, and need to breastfeed ruled my life.

During this time, I would constantly compare myself to other mothers, and I always seemed to come up short! I felt like the only person on the planet with a baby who refused to follow a schedule and was terrible at sleeping. My anxiety and worry about her irregular sleep patterns were so high, and I became exhausted from trying to get her to sleep. I was desperate for control. I worried that there was something wrong with her, but in reality there was really something wrong with me.

Perfectionistic tendencies are a risk factor for postpartum depression. 

I had no idea that my need for control could put me at a higher risk for postpartum depression. When my baby arrived, I was completely unprepared for how motherhood was going to hit me. There were so many things I didn’t have control over: when the baby wanted to eat, when she cried, when she blew out of her diaper, screaming in the car, waking up every hour at night, cluster feeding, my relationships with my spouse and my friends changing, my hormones, the guilt.

I returned to work full time when my daughter was 7-weeks old. Guilt. When I was at home, I spent all of my time with her and felt so bad leaving her that I felt as though I was ruining friendships. Guilt. I couldn’t get away with my husband very often (read: at all) because I was too nervous about leaving the baby and didn’t have extra milk. Guilt. I had a hard time leaving to visit family, because even if I did have enough motivation to push through the desire to stay home, the baby would scream in the car for the majority of the trip, and I had no ability to make her feel better in those moments. Guilt. Guilt. Guilt.    

3 ways to move past mom guilt & feel strong and confident

Fast forward to today, I am a mother of three tiny humans (8, 5, and 3). I still experience a lot of guilt every day, but I have learned so much in this journey of motherhood (also as a licensed mental health counsellor guilt is something that I commonly help new moms with in my practice). Guilt can be incredibly overinflated and irrational. It is also possible to feel guilty but not be guilty, which is something that I frequently remind myself and my clients.

1. Lower your expectations

Keep them low. Very low. Many days when I’m home with my trio, my goal is that everyone is alive and fed, and that we’ve had a few moments of connection. Anything above that is just gravy. This will look different for everyone based on your family and your own needs, but the point is to stop with the pressure. Don’t expect yourself to enjoy every moment (despite what others may tell you) because this is NOT a realistic expectation. When I’m potty-training my baby and he poops on the floor, that is not necessarily a moment I’m savouring and loving every second of!

2. Don’t compare

Comparison is inherently unfair. We all know the “Pinterest Mom” who has super creative and fun parties and get-togethers for her children. But, maybe she really enjoys doing that kind of thing and finds it to be meaningful and worthwhile. That’s great! If you don’t, that’s okay! We all have our strengths. Also, remember that social media is not real life. For every amazing photo I have of my children, I have at least a dozen where they are fighting with each other, rolling their eyes, crying, whatever. You are comparing what you know of your life (the good, bad, ugly!) to what you’re seeing and interpreting on your screen.

3. Continue moving forward – even when you feel guilty

Going to work? Staying at home? Whatever it is, if you know in the long run it’s in the best interest of your family, do it anyway. This can be incredibly difficult, but it is so important! While some guilt is completely irrational and will be there no matter how much you try to rationalize with it, you must try to move forward. The more you’re able to push through that, the more you’re able to see that it’s actually okay for you to do the thing you’re feeling guilty about.

The reality is, sometimes motherhood is really hard and we need to cut ourselves (and each other) some slack. You are not alone, and so many mothers struggle with these feelings! If you think you are struggling with postpartum depression, make sure that you seek professional help as well! Mama, you can LOVE motherhood, and you can overcome these feelings of guilt. You’ve got this. 

About the Author:

Shannon Wilson, LMHC

Shannon is a licensed Mental Health Counselor in the state of Iowa. She holds a Bachelors degree in Social Work and a Masters Degree in Counseling, Rehabilitation and Student Development.

Shannon has expertise in maternal mental health and has continued her education with a variety of trainings through the Postpartum Stress Center as well as with the Postpartum Support International. She enjoys working with pregnant women and mothers who may be experiencing difficulties with role changes and identity shift as a result of pregnancy and motherhood, as well as mothers who are experiencing postpartum depression or anxiety issues. Shannon is currently a member of the American Mental Health Counselors Association, Iowa Mental Health Counselors Association and Postpartum Support International.