In Support of Mothers | Motherhood and Guilt
As counselors and therapists at GroundWork Counseling in Orlando, the subject of mothering comes up regularly and because we work with both stay-at-home moms and working moms, we often hear of the struggles with guilt that both types of mothers face.
Maternal guilt seems to affect most of the mothers we see. Although mothers try to get everything right, they still manage to feel guilty about everything and often mothers are convinced that they are failing their children in some crucial way. They often believe as mothers, they are not enough. Mothers feel that they are under pressure to get everything “right”, which causes them to feel guilty. There is guilt about not breastfeeding, guilt about what you’re drinking and eating when you are breastfeeding; there’s guilt about what you’re feeding your kids; guilt about childcare, guilt about working and guilt about not doing the absolute best for your child in every moment. It’s implied that if your child is not gifted or athletic or incredibly secure, the mother must have failed the child in some tragic way.
Constant and often conflicting advice doled out in parenting books, by bloggers and the culture at large has contributed to the fact that most mothers now experience an agonizing sense of doubt in their instinctive ability to mother, which often leads to anxiety. Yes, today’s women seem to be a particularly anxious generation of mothers. Today’s women typically have smaller families, much later in life and all of their attention is focused on trying to do what’s right for their children. Everyday, mothers are barraged with warnings about dangers that lurk everywhere: blankets are unsafe, babysitters are dangerous, supermarket carts are filled with germs and parks are completely treacherous. It’s no wonder mothers are anxious and feel guilty because they aren’t getting it all perfectly right.
Feelings of guilt only increase when it comes to the decision the women have made to work or stay at home. The working mothers feel guilty about leaving their children in daycare or with the nanny and the stay-at-home mothers feel guilty about not working. To make matters worse, it seems that every few months a new survey or report comes out that insists, yes, absolutely, children do better when their mother stays at home and within a few months a new report contradicts this report and states emphatically that children fare better if their mother works. Add to this the criticisms that stay-at-home moms unleash on working moms and the disdain working women heap on stay-at-home moms. Mothers feel that they are constantly being judged. If they stay at home with their children they are afraid of judgement by working moms for being lazy, unsatisfied, and chained to the house. Mothers who work are judged by stay-at-home moms for choosing work over children and accused of not actually liking being a mother. The truth is that there are probably very few stay-at-home moms who don’t feel bored and unfulfilled at times and there are probably very few working mothers who don’t feel guilty sometimes about leaving their children.
The fact of the matter is: there is no perfect mother. All mothers make mistakes; often they make many, many mistakes. Yet they carry on, day after day, somehow doing the best that they can. As cognitive behavioral (CBT) counselors and therapists that specialize in children, families and women’s issues, we encourage mothers to stop listening to the inner critic, that voice in their head that constantly tells them that they should do this and must not do that and accept that they are probably doing a perfectly fine job most of the time. By refusing to give into “should” thinking, they can instead focus on doing the best they can and find their own level of comfort and what is “enough”. And this is different for every woman, every day. Accepting this can help alleviate guilt, decrease anxiety and increase happiness almost immediately.