Feeling guilty in motherhood
All moms feel some kind of guilt – it’s a right of passage in a way. Mothers often feel they aren’t doing enough for their children, their spouses, and even themselves. But when does it become too much? And what can moms do to make positive changes?
“When my son was first diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, I felt guilty,” says Susie Smith of Mount Prospect. “I felt guilty for having fillings in my teeth, for eating too much tuna or painting while I was pregnant... for using lawn chemicals... for having placenta previa. I felt guilty for being a grad student while he was little... for working nights and letting the TV babysit him so I could sleep now and then. Now, I feel guilty for not knowing sooner that he had a problem.”
No one knows for sure why Smith’s son has Asperger Syndrome. But it is just as likely that it was something out of her control as it is that it was something she did. Smith knows this but guilt still weighs her down. Why are moms so hard on themselves?
Adults often identify themselves by what they do, their profession. I am a doctor, a lawyer, a teacher. They also identify themselves by who they are as in relation to others. I am a sister, a daughter, a mother. The two “identities” describe the same person but are separate and usually co-exist without much conflict. You can be a less than stellar doctor but a great sister, a ruthless lawyer but kind daughter, and so on. Unlike any other profession, being a mother encompasses not only what you do but also who you are.
Dr. Daniel Moran, of MidAmerican Psychological Institute in Joliet, says that when women become mothers, they often take on the role in totality. One reason they do this is because of the total dependence the child will have on them during the long gestation period (usually 38 weeks) followed by the dependence they will have through infancy and early childhood.
“Society sees the mother as the caretaker,” says Moran. “It is an intense process to rear a child and even though the message may not be necessary right, the one being sent is that the mother is responsible for everything.” Moran says it is easy for a mom to fool herself into believing that once she becomes a mother that is her very existence. And, she will deem herself accountable for everything in her child’s world. What she cannot control in that world, she will either fear or feel guilty about.
Perfection is not born out of motherhood, but perfectionists are.
Moms believe that they must be perfect for their children to thrive. They are willing to forgive their children’s mistakes – but not their own. Their mistakes are held up, dissected, analyzed and scrutinized. Will this ruin my child’s – psyche, future, self-image, life?
Moran says, unless you are doing something drastic like neglecting or beating your children, you are probably not ruining them. “Children are resilient enough to survive most their parent’s mistakes,” says Moran. “In fact, data suggest that a person’s achievement, income level and quality of life have more to do with socialization during adolescence than childhood.”
Not all guilt is bad.
Some guilt is part of a check and balance system and a vital part of responsible parenting. If used properly, it can be the catalyst for change. The trick is in sorting that which you are truly guilty of from that which is beyond your control.
Next time you are feeling guilty, don’t run from it or throw yourself a pity party. Face it head on. Ask yourself if what you are feeling guilty about something really within your control? Is your “failure” due to unrealistic expectations put on you by society, your husband, your children, you?
Do the decisions you make cause you to live according to your values or contradict them? Moran says that those who know and live by their values tend not to second guess or feel guilty about their decisions (even the hard ones). If they feel guilty they just review their values and if the decision fits, they know they made the right one and let the guilt go. The key is in clarifying, prioritizing and living by what you believe is most important. If you do that, everything else will fall into place.
Chicagoland moms were asked – what makes you feel guilty?
Here is what they had to say...
● Not having the same time and energy for my youngest as I did for my oldest
● Not enough family time or energy after work
● Having to work instead of volunteering for classroom parties
● Not being able to successfully juggle roles - mom, wife, sister, daughter, employee and friend
● When my child misbehaves or fails
● I don’t prevent my child from getting hurt
● Being mad at my kids
● Not giving my kids everything their friends have
● Not immediately bonding with a child
By Jean Dunning