Are You A Bad Mom? Probably Not, So What's With The Mom Guilt?

I was out for dinner with some friends a few months ago when I realized for the millionth time, that I might be a bad mom. 

The three of us have toddlers the same age and try to get together for a child-free meal once every few months so we can talk, inevitably, about our children. The subject of sugar came up, and I avoided making eye contact with my friend who described how her young boys rarely eat sweets, and consider raisins a treat.

I, too, set out to be a sugar-free home, but somehow along the way, a taste of first birthday cake turned to an ice cream addiction, which morphed to a daily cookies (plural) habit, which all eventually proliferated into the icing-smeared, “pupcake” (cupcake)-obsessed, chocolate-devouring, constantly sticky little sugar fiend who recently told me all he wants for his third birthday is “three cakes.”

I turned casually to my other friend, trying not to reveal my shame. “So,” I asked, ” Does Chloe eat sugar?”

“Oh yes, totally,” she said, while I exhaled and muttered “Thank god” under my breath.

“Chloe is hooked on yogurt.”

Cool, cool.

Now, imagine my eyes glazing over as I pictured all the ways I have failed my child in his short life, sugar being but just one of my many offences. 

Our parenting video series, “Life After Birth,” seeks to bring conversations about the harder parts of mom life out into the open. We’ve given you the brutally honest truth about postpartum hair loss, postpartum sex, the gross things no one warns you about, sleep (or lack thereof), and resenting your partner.

For our season finale, we saved one of the hardest topics for last: the all-encompassing, all-consuming, brain-numbing guilt that has you constantly questioning whether you’re a bad mom.

Spoiler: you’re not.

Got guilt? If you’re a parent, the answer is yes

A recent study found that parents feel 23 pangs of guilt over their parenting decisions every single week. And moms tend to bear the brunt of it, with one study finding that a whopping 87 per cent of moms feel guilty at some point, and 21 per cent feel guilty all or most of the time.

“Guilt is so pervasive that many mothers, particularly those who are depressed, presume it is a natural part of mothering, one that is inescapable in this day and age,” licensed clinical social worker Karen Kleiman previously wrote in Psychology Today.

You name it, moms feel guilty about it: food, screen time, quality time, discipline, lack of discipline, yelling, tantrums (theirs and ours), working, not working … a study just last month found that 40 per cent of parents feel guilty for taking any time for self-care, including naps.

So, basically, we feel guilty about everything. And that’s a lot of wasted energy, since guilt can actually negatively impact your parenting (great, something else to feel guilty about).

To alleviate feelings of guilt, experts recommend establishing firm parenting boundaries and rules instead of always questioning your choices; forgiving yourself, avoiding comparing yourself to others, and remembering that there are no “good” or “bad” moms — just moms trying their best.

That’s easier said than done

While this new video focuses on just three of my most pervasive mom guilts (food, screen time, and tantrums), the rap-list of “crimes” that tug at my heart on the daily started before my son was even born.

For instance, during my pregnancy when pretty much every single food made me dry heave, I craved bacon. Delicious, nitrate-filled bacon. By the end I was eating BLTs daily, as they were one of the only meals I could stomach. I figured it was probably better to eat something bad than nothing at all. But did I ruin my son? Probably.

I’m also still convinced the reason I went into labour nearly a month early was from working too damn hard at my last job (oh god, or was it the bacon?), just a preview of the working-mom guilt that will likely follow me to my grave no matter how often I tell myself it’s good for kids to see their mothers thriving at work.

Nearly three years later, that same guilt is what drove me to pause production on our tight filming schedule for this very episode so I could get my son’s dinner in the slow cooker.

As the video producers looked over their shot lists and crammed snacks in their mouths, I sprinkled cheese over chopped-up broccoli and chicken, telling myself that a nutritious home-made meal would keep his little world in balance even as I had to work late.

Turns out, my boy didn’t give a shit that I had to work during our family time. Or about his mostly-untouched dinner. But he was pretty stoked about the chocolate “pupcakes” I used to bribe him to sit still so Mommy could get the damn shot.

Did I feel guilty? Sure. But am I a bad mom?

Ask me again after my mom’s three-cake birthday.

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