As we roll towards the one day a year set aside to celebrate the immense job of being a mom, I find myself thinking about how, despite all we do as mothers, we often have this ever present feeling that we’re falling short of the expectations of the job.
I have not met one woman who just feels like she’s doing a great job as a mom. I’ve met developers who feel like they’re at the top of their game, I’ve met sales people who know they’re some of the best in their field, but when it comes to the job of motherhood, few of us feel like we’re crushing it.
I get it, raising a whole person is a bit different than writing code or closing a deal but I can’t help but believe that we unfairly assess our performance based on the pressures we place on ourselves and ones placed on us via our culture, our peers, our families, and everyone else who has an opinion on how mothers should be mothering (and EVERY ONE has an opinion).
That pressure typically translates into Mom Guilt. Mom Guilt is a real affliction. It’s chronic. Always underlying, just below the surface and flares up most often in moments when we want to or decide to do anything that appears to benefit only ourselves. It could be something as small as hiding in the closet eating a candy bar so the kids don’t ask us to share to something as big as taking a solo trip to get away from those bundles of joy for just a bit.
We are constantly given messages from the moment we find out we’re having children that our lives are not our own anymore and we’re all but forced to don this Martyr Mantle where “everything we do is for our children”.
One of my best friends, who gave up what would have been a very lucrative career as a tax attorney to be a stay at home mom, confided in me one day that she needed new clothes but she felt guilty about buying clothes for herself and not her kids. I’m not at all judging her for giving up her career, but after sacrificing that, she didn’t even feel like she deserved to buy herself clothes without buying some for her children?
Another best friend really wanted to go away to celebrate her 40th birthday. The last time she had done anything big for her birthday was when she turned 21 and it had been close to a decade since she had the chance to hang out with her closest friends. But one of her four kids had a basketball game that weekend and she felt guilty about missing it. This kid will play hundreds of games over the next 6 years (she’s in middle school), and you feel guilty about missing just one of those games which happens to land on a milestone birthday for you?
Fuck all of that.
let’s define motherhood for ourselves
I honestly believe that most mom guilt comes from weighing ourselves, our actions, and our inactions to our interpretation of someone else’s definitions of motherhood. As I said earlier, everyone has an opinion of how moms should be mothering. We get sucked into it and we come up short. We always will fall short because someone else’s expectations of how you should handle your specific situation as a mother will NEVER fit you.
Try taking stock of what YOU think makes a good mother. What do you truly value as a person and as a mom. Are you instilling those values in your children? Are you living those values in front of your children?
One thing I’d encourage adding to the values you’re intentionally teaching our children is how to care for themselves. Defining their “titles” for themselves, bucking tradition and stereotypes, pursuing their dreams, investing in their happiness and well being are also invaluable lessons for your children, lessons they’ll learn by your example.
what to give away and what to keep
I remember one day asking one of my friends from high school to join a fitness challenge I was doing. She had been complaining about her weight for a while and I figured this would be a great way to help her. This fitness challenge was a virtual online support and accountability group. We would work out on our own schedules, but check in regularly and encourage one another. She declined because she felt she needed to devote too much time to her two kids to make time for this.
Now, I don’t know enough about anyone’s life to judge what they choose to do with their time but taking this solely from the surface, it saddened me. It made me sad that this woman who was unhappy in her body and unhealthy (by her own admission) didn’t feel like she could carve out time for herself and needed to give it all to her children.
Your time is yours, you don’t have to give it all away. Not to your job, not to your spouse, not to your friends, and not to your kids. Not all of it.
So I’m going to give you permission right now:
- Take a trip without your kids because you actually want to relax on vacay
- Go to Target and only buy something for yourself, because you never do
- Miss a soccer match just because you don’t feel like going
- Ask to skip out on Mother’s Day brunch and have an entire day alone instead for once
You NEED to keep some of your time for yourself. Simply because you are more than your job title, more than a spouse, more than a friend, more than a mom. You are also <insert your name> and <insert your name> needs you just as much as your job, your spouse, your family, your friends, and your children needs you.
your kids are assholes
You either laughed or frowned at that statement…or likely both. Either way, I stand behind it, because it’s true.
Children inherently mostly care about themselves. It’s not until we grow into adults and develop a sense of connectedness, empathy, and social norms do we really [hopefully] become individuals willing to sacrifice for others. But as children, we get to be blatant in our selfishness and it’s forgiven, and even more, catered to.
Don’t believe me? Think back to the last time you were really sick? Sure your toddler may have said “aww mommy’s sick, I’m going to hug you and make it better” in her adorable toddler voice, but she still wanted you to make her cereal in her favorite bowl. What did you do? You took the hug which was sweet but did nothing for your fever and aches, you got your sick self up, and you made that toddler her cereal in her fave bowl because that adorable little asshole wanted you to.
Kids have this self-preservation thing down. They ask for the things that will make them happy. They are often firm about those desires. They make it known what will make them happy and they pursue it with vigor (in this case vigor means tears, tantrums, talking back, and any other tactics babies, toddlers, adolescents, and teens use to get what they want). We should take a page out of their books and every once in a while, be the asshole and put ourselves first.
Think about the instructions on an airline “if the cabin loses air pressure, oxygen masks will drop from the ceiling, apply your own oxygen mask before assisting others”. Sounds like an asshole thing to do – save yourself first. That’s not what the heros in our favorite movies do, they sacrifice themselves for others and that’s what moms are trained (read: brainwashed) to do in almost every aspect of our lives as moms.
Here’s the thing, there absolutely are cases where we have to and should make sacrifices for our children. My point is that we don’t always need to do so. Sometimes, we NEED to apply our own masks first in both big and small ways.
I always say “happy women make great moms”. Sometimes, your happiness needs to come first. Ever notice how much more patient and attentive you are with your kids when you’re happy? I know when I’m happy with myself, I’m so much better with my daughter. That said, your happiness is just as important for your kids as it is for you.
The kids are fine, just ask them
When my daughter was about 3 morning drop offs at daycare were PAINFUL. I would take her into her classroom and set her down, look her in the face to say goodbye and she’d look at me with tears welling in her eyes with this look that said “how could you just abandon me like this!?!?” I would start to leave and she would start WAILING and grabbing my leg.
For every mom who has experienced this (and we pretty much all have, right?), the thoughts swirling in our heads are a combination of “damn this kid is strong” and “aww my baby loves me so much” and “what THE HELL are they doing to my kid here, should I be worried!?!” and inevitably “gosh, I’m a bad person for leaving my baby here like this”. But we do it because we have to. We walk away feeling like horrible people and reminding ourselves that we don’t have much choice.
One morning after the standard abandonment routine, I got to my car and remembered I forgot to give something to my daughter’s teacher. I turned back to go to the room, a bit scared I’d have to perform this whole routine all over again. Before I walked back into the classroom, I caught a glimpse of my daughter who, despite being an emotional wreck just minutes earlier, was laughing and playing with two other children. She looked so happy. This child who not 3 minutes ago was clinging onto me for dear life, begging me not to leave her. I stood and watched her for a few minutes, it was like none of the events from that morning had even happened. She wasn’t even thinking about me.
I share this story to say, your kid will be fine.
Ever asked your child what they think of you as a mom? What they think makes you a good mom? I’d bet $20 today that they won’t say you’re a great mom because:
- You never abandoned me at daycare
- You never buy anything for yourself but always buy things for me
- You never go on trips without me
- You show up at 100% of my games, events, recitals, etc.
- You don’t ever take time for yourself or do things for yourself
Do me a favor, go ask your kid what makes you a great mom. If I’m wrong and they do say one of the things above, come back and let me know in the comments and I’ll mail your $20 to you!
It’s likely that thing you want to do for yourself that has you feeling guilty is not something your kid will hold against you. They love you for all the things you are doing for them and the intangible ways you show them every day that you love them.
Don’t forget that you are on a quest to be the very best version of YOU, not just you as a mother, but you as <insert your name>. Your efforts in this quest will absolutely trickle down to your children and everyone will win.
Now say it with me – FUCK MOM GUILT.