Mom guilt. I think it’s fair to say that most women have heard this term.
But what is it and why does it happen?
Research shows that mom guilt tends to happen most when a mother has aligned herself closely to the Perfect Mother Myth.
Briefly, the perfect mother myth is the patriarchal construct motherhood, that has been generationally handed down. It is a set of rule that is now firmly embedded in our culture and appears as ‘the norm’.
A big part of the perfect mother myth calls to all mothers to put the needs of her children and others ahead of their own. No matter what.
Over the years, as someone watching on and listening to mothers carrying these heavy feelings of guilt, I used to be so baffled.
They were doing such an amazing job, they were keeping their children alive and thriving! I didn’t understand why they would feel guilty about wanting time away with their girls, or having an evening to themselves to nourish and replenish. It seemed unrealistic to me to maintain these intense and long years of self-sacrificing that was going on.
But who was I to say anything? I had two cats. And that is not the same thing.
The perfect mother myth states that if you don’t put other’s needs ahead of your own, then you my friend are a ‘bad mom’.
And there it is. The guilt of being a ‘bad mom’. Doing it wrong. Not being good enough. All rolled up into one woman who has internalised the message from society that keeping her own cup full ahead of anyone else’s, is not okay. We must also recognise here that guilt is a form of social control. Hash tag, just saying.
I also think it’s helpful to give context around the fact that we live mostly in a binary society.
We need things to be one, or we need them to be the other. For some reason we tend to resist the possibility of experiencing both things, at the very same time. So, for example, you’re either a good mom, or a bad mom. You’re either right, or you’re wrong.
So how do we combat mom guilt?
Let me first introduce you to the word ‘ambivalence.’
Dr. Sophie Brock, an Australian Sociologist in Motherhood states that ‘ambivalence is the antidote to guilt.’
Ambivalence is a term often thought to mean apathy or lack of interest. But here in motherhood, it holds a different meaning.
It means to be pulled in two opposite directions by equally strong forces and values. So for example, on one hand you could be absolutely head over heels in love your baby but at the exact same time need a break and time away.
Ambivalence meaning broken down. Ambi = both and valence = strength and worth.
Rosika Parker a British Psychotherapist and matricentric feminist, states, ‘when a mother integrates maternal ambivalence, she herself is able to grow.’
Researchers found that a mothers who embraces her ambivalence as an expected and normal part of mothering means that she’ll feel less guilt.
Feeling less guilty will leave space for empowerment, action and growth as both a mother and as an individual. With the capacity to mother from a guilt-free space, means we are are less likely to be resentful when we are making decisions and parenting from a place of choice rather than sacrificial obligation.
So next time you are feeling guilty as yourself this question – what am I measuring myself, or my parenting practice against right now, that is causing me to feel guilty? If it’s against the perfect mother myth, you can push back on that and choose a new narrative and values by which you want to live.
If this article resonated with you, check out a podcast with Dr. Sophie Brock from The Good Enough Mother – Maternal Ambivalence.