Mom Guilt

Mom Guilt

Before I had a baby, I’d hear my mom friends talk about their “mom guilt” all the time. I would nod my head and try to empathize, but really had no idea. Sure, I felt guilty for leaving the dog at home alone for too long a few times, but that’s about it.

I couldn’t, for the life of me, fathom why it was so hard to let a babysitter put down their babies for one night or why they felt bad about leaving the kids with their dad for a day.

But now I get it.

Mom guilt can be paralyzing and all-encompassing. I’ve never met a mom who didn’t have it to some degree and it’s a point of conversation quite often among all of my friends with kids.

Before I get into my thoughts and stories on the subject, I want to note that obviously I’m coming at this from a heterosexual “traditional” family situation, so I can only speak to that. I’m not sure what it’s like for same-sex couples or couples where the dad is the primary caretaker. I’d love to know if it’s different in any way if you’re in either of those situations and have some insight.

I had a hard time writing this post because I have so many thoughts going through my head and they’re not very organized so sorry if this is a bit of a ramble!

What is mom guilt?

For anyone who has kids, you can skip to this section because you already know. You know how it gives you anxiety to treat yourself to a manicure or even just a coffee break when you’re baby is at home with someone else. You know how it pains you to miss bedtime, even once. You know how it feels when they’re sick but you have to work and can’t be by their side.

A good example of extreme mom guilt was something that happened over the weekend. Anel and I spent the day in the city and left Amalia with Madison, our close friend and her favorite babysitter. Madison has been taking care of A for months and I trust her more than anyone besides myself or Anel with the baby. We left at 10am and came back at 10pm so it was by far our longest day away from her together ever. Throughout the day, whenever I’d get a picture or Snapchat, I felt a twinge of guilt for not being home with her on our day off, but tried to forget it and enjoy myself. I was able to do that for the most part, but a few hours after we got home, she woke up with croup, which is pretty scary if you’ve never experienced it before.

Obviously her croup would have come whether or not we had been with her, but for some reason I felt like it was my fault, like I could have prevented it somehow if I had been the one caring for her in the hours leading up to it. Logically I know that’s not true, but that’s where my head goes. That’s #momguilt for you!

Then I started spiraling into self-doubt about weaning her so early. Has she been sick so often lately because she’s not getting the antibodies she needs from breast milk? If I think about that with logic, I know that I have many friends who have breastfed their babies for over a year and the kids still got sick constantly from day care.

Then of course I started doubting our decision to put her in day care at all because where would she pick up croup if she hadn’t been there? The layers of guilt are seemingly never ending. You get the idea.

Do dads get it too?

In my experience, no! And according to my friends, their husbands don’t feel it either. Not only does Anel not get the guilt, but he doesn’t always understand why I have it. He’s more logical when it comes to Amalia and I lead more with emotion. When I feel bad about going on a date night and leaving her with a sitter, he is able to relax and fully enjoy the night. His (correct) logic is that we choose only sitters that we fully trust and if anything bad happened, they would call us. I also know that if our marriage stays strong, we’ll be better parents, so I’m really trying to make sure we go out alone at least once or twice a month.

Another example is our nightly bedtime routine. Most nights, Anel works late and I give Amalia her bath and put her down on my own. Even though I only have one kid, it’s a hectic hour with many moving pieces. When Anel is home and goes to put her down, we split the bedtime duties in half because I feel guilty letting him do it all. Even worse is if I go out with friends (which happens once a month if that) and have Anel put her down on his own. The whole time I’m out, I feel bad that he has to do it by himself and have to force myself to not check in with him. Mind you, if he goes out, he doesn’t think twice about it.

That’s not a dig at him or at any husband who feels that way! I’m actually jealous that they can let it go so easily and am striving to be more like that myself. I think it’s a much healthier approach to parenting as opposed to being an overly crazy helicopter mom which is so not how I thought I would be.

I’m more than just a mama.

I’m trying to learn from Anel and the dads of the world that it’s ok to be more than just a mom. While it is and always will be the most important job of my entire life, it’s not the only one. I’m a friend, a sister, a blogger, and I wear a lot of hats both at home and in our two businesses.

Realistically, I don’t think I’ll ever be completely free of the guilt the comes with being a mommy, but I want my daughter to grow up knowing that moms and dads need alone time sometimes and that her parents have a life and work outside of her.

I also want her to know that she will forever be my number one priority, so it’s a delicate balance that I’m sure will continue evolving as she grows up.

So mamas, tell me about your mom guilt and what you’re doing to combat it!

Photo by Lindsay Madden Photography.

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  1. leah cillo said:

    If you figure out how to get rid or help the mom guilt please tell me how!!! It is so hard! I will only leave my son on the weekend or weeknight if I had a long weekend with him. I work in the corporate world so he is with a babysitter four days a week and my sister every Friday. My husband and I have only gone on one lunch date in over four months! He is the same way and has no guilt and I feel it all the time! I’m hoping we can start to balance more by having alone time and I can have some more me time soon. I’ve only gone out alone a handful of times besides work and I always feel so rushed and guilty it’s not even enjoyable!

    3.4.18 · Reply
  2. Barbara said:

    My first bout of Mom guilt happened just a few days after my first was born. He was in the NICU and then we got the news that he had to go to Boston to have heart surgery, with a defect we could only found out about after I gave birth. I was hysterical after getting the news, and I could not bring myself to ride in the ambulance with him and the team up to the hospital. I actually went to therapy to deal with the PTSD, and changing the story around that was really helpful in general as a mom. He was cared for, he wasn’t alone. There are always people that can step up to the plate to help, and we aren’t meant to do this completely alone.

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  3. Brittanylil said:

    My daughter is only 13 months old, but the mom guilt has definitely gotten less and less as she gets older and I realize how good it is for her to have time away from me. I sometimes have the opposite type of mom guilt as you in that I wonder if I’m doing my daughter a disservice by having her home with me all day and not putting her in some sort of part time day care to socialize and have time away from me. I also sometimes feel guilty that I don’t have mom guilt for leaving her if I’m traveling for work/pleasure. Of course I miss her like crazy, but but being a stay/work at home mom is a 24/7 job so I jump at the chance to have me time

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  4. Silvia said:

    Sounds like you have mom guilt for having mom guilt on top of it 🙁 Can it just be that you care a hell of a lot, and that is probably true?

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  5. Amanda said:

    Mom guilt is very real and I’ve experienced it many times now in different circumstances. My baby is 19 months now but when she was born she spent several weeks in the NICU. She was IUGR and since then has experienced other health problems.

    With the IUGR I wondered and still do…did I drink too much caffeine pregnant? Did I fly too much? Should I have ate healthier and worked out more? When she arrived I felt guilty getting a full night’s sleep while she stayed in the NICU and had nurses tending to her. Now that she’s older she has mobility issues and is in PT, and I wonder…did we not do enough tummy time? Should I not have let her sit on the boppy lounger as much? Did I let her sleep in the rock and play for too long?

    Due to the insufficient placenta, I also had a very low milk supply, I never pumped enough for a full bottle and stopped 4 weeks in…I also have guilt about that. We are coming to terms with the fact that she most likely has a genetic syndrome which caused the IUGR…but the Mom guilt never fully goes away.

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  6. Jennifer said:

    My son just turned 8 and it does get easier and also harder. He is vocal about how much time I am away from him. I had a big job until he was five and missed a lot of bedtimes and was never able to take him to school in the morning. The guilt was constant along with daily heartbreak. I left that job almost three years ago to spend more time with him. It has been amazing, but I sometimes now feel guilty that he is not watching me be successful in a “big job”. I am a blogger now, so he watches me work and that balance is different than when I was away from him all day.

    The croup thing is scary and you are right, it would have happened either way. My son has had it 8 times so bad that required a trip to the ER late at night. It almost always comes out of nowhere before any signs of a cold. Whenever I had to travel overnight I would prep my husband or my parents (if my husband and I were both away that has only happened a few times). But I still worried that only my mom ears would hear the signs early on (as was usually the case). My husband is very hands on and adept at bedtime (more efficient than me actually. I enjoy it too much after years if missing it a few times a week), but he sleeps through more. They just do. I think along with having less guilt they are less hyper aware. My grandmother used to talk about mom ears and how she could sleep through anything except the subtly cry or whimper of her baby.

    You are doing the right thing developing balance on this early. I remember a friend (who’s kids are older) saying that kids need to feel confident that they can be taken care of my more people than just their parents while still knowing that they are our number one priority. That balance is tough and important for their sense of security and confidence.

    3.4.18 · Reply
  7. Jenn said:

    Love the blog and the different topics you focus on here! I just want to mention that I thought it was interesting that you phrased a lot of your thoughts with the word “you”. “YOU know how it feels to miss bedtime” or “it gives YOU anxiety to get a coffee”.

    I am a mom to a 6 month old son and I actually don’t feel this way very often. Yes, sometimes I miss him when I’m at work or with friends or with his dad, but I do enjoy the time away from him and feel that it makes me a more present and happier parent when I’m with him if I’ve had an hour break to work out or grab a coffee with a friend. I think this might stem from the fact that my son was a really tough newborn and during his early days my husband and I counted on taking turns taking breaks to help u s get through the day/night. Sometimes we joke that having him was like being a shift worker, haha. Anyway, I don’t have any groundbreaking tips or advice, but I know you’re doing a wonderful job as a momma (as we all are) and that Amalia is lucky you two have each other!

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  8. Sarah said:

    I am not a mother, so please keep this in mind! I completely respect your experience and opinions here — absolutely no judgment from me! I think it is so inspiring to see how much you care for your family.

    Something that came to mind for me is this: I have had a number of health issues in my life, especially as a child. I (and I know this is just MY experience, and I am NOT speaking for anyone else) absolutely do not blame my mom for any of my health experiences. She was just doing the best she could with two other kids along with me. I know she and my parents love me and just want the best for me, and looking back I wouldn’t want her to feel guilty or bad for any kind of health issue I had (which is just a part of being a human!). I think that your daughter feels your love, and at the end of the day, that is what matters most: you love your family and are doing whatever is best for your family. It isn’t fair to yourself, because you are already doing such an amazing job — do not forget that!! Amalia will know that you are doing whatever is best for her.

    Again, I am only speaking from my perspective, and just want to make sure that you and other mamas know that I think you are doing such an awesome job. Your love that you all show for your kids I think is so inspiring and needed right now.

    3.4.18 · Reply
  9. Amy said:

    Mom guilt is real and so complicated! Maybe I have a slightly different perspective because my oldest is now eight and the years go so quickly, but I no longer “strive to let go” as easily as my husband is able to (or has to because he works/travels). I actually don’t try to refer to it as mom guilt (because doesn’t that just “feel” negative) but instead as “motherly instincts.” I have an amazing relationship with my daughters – they cry and laugh with me and are able to open up to me in a way they don’t with my husband because our bond is so different and I can’t help but believe that that is in part due to all the same emotions that also trigger “mom guilt.” That being said, I do believe it’s important that children see their parents choosing each other and putting in the ti me it takes to make you and your relationship whole.

    I don’t know if you follow the blogger Sydney Liann, but she said something recently I think it too good not to share here:
    “When you look at your child, you can easily see the multi-dimensional, dynamic, talented, wonderous human they are. You can see how many different directions their lives could go. You can see them light up with their passions and interests. Observing these things gives you life. And that’s because it IS life, and it is crucial for them to witness it in you. Because YOU are the foundation that they are building their sense of self on. Teach you child to honor their multi-faceted nature by exploring yours. Teach your child to respect their individuality by respecting your own. Teach them that th ey are important by showing them you are important. Teach them to create big things for themselves by creating big things for yourself. This is the most life-sustaining, life-perpetuating work you can do. Guilt does not and cannot live in that place.”

    So good, right?!

    3.4.18 · Reply
    • Adare Kiely said:

      Love this! <3

      3.4.18 · Reply
  10. Elisabeth Rigo said:

    I just finished reading the article and I was wondering if I was being a bad mom by not having mom guilt. I appreciate Jenn’s response because I feel the same way with my daughter (5months old). I miss her but I don’t feel guilty about not being there all the time. In fact, I fully enjoy my time away from her as I know she is in good hands with my husband. I see it as their time to bond and get quality time. I think that taking time for myself allows me to be a better mother and partner. Maybe the fact that I had to go back to work and have a long commute has forced me to accept the fact that I can’t be with my daughter at all times. For example our daycare lady called to say she had a cold and there was nothing I could do. I had to trust my husband in picking her up and taki ng care of her.
    I also think that we all deal with things differently and there is no wrong or right. Being a mom is something unique to each of us and we are all doing an awesome job! You have the right to want sometime for yourself. Your daughter will only thank you for it down the road or when she is a mom herself one day.

    3.4.18 · Reply
  11. Kellie | The Book Hive Blog said:

    I’ve enjoyed reading everyone’s responses. I’ve definitely felt mom guilt but not enough that it’s stopped me from going on a girls’ trip or dinner out. I just feel a twinge of guilt doing it!

    It was worse after my first was born, for sure. It eased up as she got older and after we had our second – I think you get a better picture that long term you need these breaks and it doesn’t seem as monumental after awhile.

    My husband is awesome and has never made me feel guilty or anything, it’s all been in my head. But he does get annoyed when people see him with the kids and makes comments like “oh giving mom a break” or refers to it as “baby-sitting”. I think there is still this picture in American society of the mom being the main caretaker and there’s extra pressure that we put on ourselves with this role, regardless of how involved the father is.

    3.4.18 · Reply
    • Emilie said:

      This happens to my husband, too! People – especially older women –
      will say to him, “Oh, are you babysitting today?” and he will respond, “No, I am parenting.” He is the primary caretaker of our son several days a week. They probably think he’s being rude, but he’s just so sick of it.

      3.4.18 · Reply
  12. JRB said:

    My baby is only 5 weeks old and I’m already experiencing this! I’ve had to supplement with formula because my supply just can’t keep up with her and I feel like a horrible mother. Before she was born I thought it would be no big deal if I had to use formula, but there’s just something about being in it that changes things. I also feel guilty every time I ask my husband for help – I know that’s stupid because she is his baby too, but again, it’s unexplainable. This mom thing is crazy. I can already tell how much fun it will be when the nanny starts and I go back to work (gulp).

    3.4.18 · Reply
    • Jennifer said:

      Hang in there! Don’t ever feel guilty about doing what is best and what works for you and your family! Not everyone can breastfeed exclusively and formula is sooo advanced now, your baby will be just fine! Your body has limitations….that doesn’t define what kind of mother you are!

      Just keep this in mind….if you are having thoughts of “maybe I’m not doing this right…” it means you are thinking about it and are most likely doing a pretty terrific job!

      3.4.18 · Reply
  13. Jen Kessler said:

    I have two kids (6 and 2) and it took me until you shared the post on emotional labor to decide that when I come home after being out I won’t even ask my husband how it was with the kids or how the kids were. I realized it’s not like he asks me that ever (of course I willingly complain to him about how hard it was anyway ;). They’re his kids too and I wanted to relieve myself of the emotional labor. When I’m off duty, then I’m off duty and since I’m lucky to have such a great husband/dad partner, I really don’t need to think about it. But it took my almost 6 years to get here haha!

    3.4.18 · Reply
  14. Christine Matusek said:

    OHMYGOD I’m so glad you wrote this because the #momguilt is so real! I find myself spiraling like that all the time. My husband thinks I’m completely insane and doesn’t understand where I’m coming from. I wish I could compartmentalize my life like that (I used to be really good at it!). Honestly, I haven’t even been able to bring myself to look for a job since we moved from CA to PA because I feel so guilty not taking every minute I can with my little peanut. Yesterday, we had poop explosions from both the dog and the baby which ended up with me crying on the phone to my mom on my second trip to Wegmans!
    I’ve really found the best way to combat it is to vent to other moms. I wrote a blog post a couple weeks ago that inspired a chat group with some girls from high school. It’s been the best saving grace! We have 2 nurses, some SAHMs, and some working moms. Multiple kids, first babies, step-kids… all sorts. It’s been so great to have such a wonderful sounding board. My peanut and I started doing Stroller Strides as well, and it’s been such a great bonding experience while also doing some self-care! I get to talk to other moms and compare notes, but I also get to work on that postpartum fitness.

    3.4.18 · Reply
  15. Daisy said:

    I am not a Mom, but i love your stories. how was it the first time one of my girlfriends went out for drinks w her friends her daughter woke up with croupe?? Kids are like, let’s give the Mom’s the scare of their life the second they think it’s okay to step out!!! No wonder the mom guilt is such a hard thing. 😉 Keep up the great attitude + thanks for sharing.

    3.4.18 · Reply
  16. Alyssa Loring said:

    Mom guilt is definitely real, and I’ve actually made changes to my work life because of it, but I don’t worry about my little one when my husband is with her. Yes, I love being with her, but he’s her dad and so if she’s with him, I feel like she’s perfectly fine. The mom guilt really comes in when I think about sending her to daycare so I can do more work – I would just prefer to keep her with me, I guess!

    3.4.18 · Reply
  17. Ariel said:

    I am here to weigh in on the mom guilt for a working mom and stay at home dad. Until a few months ago my husband and I both worked and I felt no mom guilt: he picked her up from nanny share certain days of the week, I covered the other days. The days he picked her up I would work late but I would also use those nights to meet up with friends, work out, do things for myself. Our nanny was great and while my daughter was happy when I picked her up, she rarely cried when I left. Since we were both working we also had plenty of resources for babysitters (though we would only go out after bedtime).

    The past few months my husband has been staying at home with my daughter and the mom guilt is sky high. A lot of this is related to the fact that my daughter is older (2.5) so she can communicate that she misses me but she can’t really understand why Mommy works and Daddy is able to hang out with her all day. We will be thick as thieves on the weekend and vacations but on Mondays she gets mad at me and when I get home she says “No mommy. Go away mommy. Bad mommy. Mommy go to work.” Of course I know she is in great hands with my husband but I feel so guilty that she feels I am not spending enough time with her. As a result I almost never miss bedtime except when I need to work late; I never meet up with friends, get my hair done, go to group workout classes, etc. I wake up early to work out in my building before she is up. It’s tough. Because my husband is not working I also feel guilty about spending money on dinner out with friends, babysitter , etc.

    3.4.18 · Reply
  18. Carrie said:

    Great Post! I hope your mom guilt gets easier and I know it will! I have to say I’m propbably in the minority and don’t really experience a lot of Mom guilt. My husband and I both work, and I work weekend nights so we’ve always had a “shift work” mentality since our son was born 2 years ago. I think everyone is different and I just know he’s in such good hands with me husband and in-laws that it doesn’t bother me so much when I’m not with him. On my days off I’m with him all the time so it evens out!

    3.4.18 · Reply
    • Emilie said:

      My experience is similar. My husband and I work different hours (He is on a PM/weekend shift, and I work 9-5) and do the the majority of our baby’s care, with help two days a week from grandparents. I thought I would feel more guilty returning to work than I do! Maybe it’s because I’ve seen how much more bonded my husband is with our son now that they’re spending so much one-on-one time together. The crazy thing is that now I sometimes experience mom guilt for not feeling guilty enough! A lot of the other working moms I know are torn apart being away from their babies and really wish they could stay home. Although I miss my son, having time to myself, using my talents, has given me a lot more energy and excitement during the time I am with him instead of an overwhelmed, worn-o ut feeling. Now I sometimes wonder if that makes me selfish or less caring than the other moms. So there is no winning!

      3.4.18 · Reply
  19. Jennifer said:

    Do you see how wonderful you are? Look at the positive, encouraging discussions you start!

    I realize that telling you not to worry so much because you are doing a great job is futile. I just hope you can stay grounded, feel the guilt, let it pass through you and move forward.

    I am a mom to two wonderful girls, almost 21 and 18.

    I spent the last 20 years working from home and homeschooling my kids. I have had very little time away from them. (Actually, I encourage Mom’s to take time whenever they can get it!)

    I loved it and would hardly change anything about it. However, I can tell you I feel quite certain that you could spend 24 hours a day with your child(ren) for the next 18 years and you will still look back and think, “where did the time go? I should have done more.”

    It’s an such awesome time and I spent wasaaaay too much of it second guessing myself and my parenting decisions.

    I just want to grab and hug you and every one commenting!

    If I could wave a magic wand and make every mother understand just one thing it would be this:

    You are do ing a great job! If you question your parenting choices, it means you are a thinking, conscientious, mindful parent. Do what feels right for you and your family, try not to worry too much, or feel too guilty and everything will be just fine.

    (Also, letting Anel put her down alone is a great gift. Think of how special it is when you get to do it. You’re depriving him if he never gets that chance. I’m sure he loves every minute of it!)

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  20. Lynn said:

    I was just away from my four year old daughter for five nights on a vacation in Key West, FL. I had horrible anxiety Monday and Tuesday for being away from her. I’m not sure the guilt will ever go away. I actually decided that it was too long to be away from her and will probably never plan a trip that long again.

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  21. Anna said:

    As a mom of 3, it can get quite overwhelming with mom guilt and what other people think about you and how you’re raising your kids. My friend always has some sort of “advice” about how to raise my kids but it’s annoying and not asked for. I just read this article, and it was helpful. I have finally come to the age age where I just don’t care what people think or say. I know I am raising my kids to be good people and that’s all that matters to me.

    2.7.21 · Reply