What's Up With The Mama Self-Guilt? Here's Why We Do It.
“If you feel like I do in any of these situations, the reason why you’re feeling guilty and stressed out is because you care, mama.”

I’ve come to the conclusion that I have no idea how to do this whole mom thing without feeling guilt about some aspect of my life, whether it’s my parenting, my work, my relationships, or my self-care. (Or lack thereof.)

I’ve also (more recently) come to the conclusion that this is perfectly okay.

From the time I became a mom, I have wrestled with guilt over the biggest and littlest of situations, and I’m willing to bet I’m not alone. Any of these thoughts sound familiar?

Parenting

Breastfeeding didn’t work out the way I had planned.

I had convinced myself that I would be just like this super mom I read about on a blog somewhere who nursed and pumped like crazy, stocking her freezer full of milk. I was gonna do the same thing. Except breastfeeding totally didn’t work out for us like that.

I felt awful because I had these high expectations for myself (because I had been comparing myself to someone else), and at the same time, I was kind of relieved to have the pressure off.

I held on to those baby snuggles for the longest time, preferring to hold my little one until he dozed off for his nap. That was all well and good until I started attempting to work more. As excited I was to be writing again, I felt bad while my little boy and I tried to figure out the whole napping on his own situation.

He eventually figured it out, though.

When our little man started play-school once a week at age 15 months, he started off okay. I think I had a harder time than the kid did because I had to listen to a quiet house for three hours while he was off playing with other kids. However, it wasn’t long before we wandered into separation anxiety territory.

The teacher told us pretty early on that the best thing to do was just say goodbye and head out, without lingering in the classroom or dragging the farewell out. It seemed a little harsh to look at my kiddo’s tearstained face and just say “adios!” but after a few drop-offs, he was fine. He goes twice a week (and to another church social group) now and I have been doing the same thing ever since.

Now he’s the one who’s like, “Deuces!” I’m lucky if he glances over his shoulder at me, let alone getting a wave or a kiss goodbye.

Career

I struggled with the whole going-back-to-work thing for a while.

I was a teacher for almost 15 years, but when my son came along, the thought of leaving him to spend all day with other people’s kids stressed me out in a way that I had never expected. And daycare? The thought of paying someone a crazy amount of money so I could go back to work? Ugh.

My husband urged me to follow my heart, leave the classroom, and take up writing, which I have always loved.

So I started freelance writing. I’ve had work appear on parenting blogs and websites and newspapers. I wrote my fourth and fifth novels. I started school again and am going after my master’s degree in creative writing.

Am I making bank freelance writing? No, and I feel really bad that I’m not contributing more financially. But am I really happy? Holy moly, yes. I love what I’m doing.

And I know that little by little, every article I post and every story I write is helping to add to my growing body of work.

Social Life

I struggle to leave the house sometimes. If I have time alone, I usually want to be… alone.

I’m not even super introverted or anything. There are just times when it’s nice to not have anybody to respond to or interact with or clean up after. And yeah, our social calendar is a little limited now that we have a kid. We aren’t exactly going to concerts three times a week or hitting up waterfront happy hours like we used to.

I’ll admit, I have some FOMO.

I get bummed on occasion when I see that friends have gone to some fabulous new restaurant or are on a fun road trip together. I’ve been better about trying to hang out with friends more often, but I find myself in two places at once. I’ll be out at dinner with a friend, but I’m listening for my phone to buzz in case there’s a problem at home.

I feel guilty for being away from home, and I feel guilty for not being fully present when I’m spending time with a friend.

Spouse

Speaking of not being present, for Valentine’s Day, I showed my husband a meme that said: “There is no one else I would rather sit in bed with and stare at my phone at than you.”

We laughed about it. It’s funny because it’s true. But it stinks.

My husband and I are amazing partners. He gets home from work, and we tag team all over the place: he hangs with the kid, I cook dinner, he cleans up, I start the kid’s bath, he does bath time and shaves while I hop in the shower, then we switch, we do bedtime stories and tuck the kid in together, and then…

I’m exhausted.

Not all, but most, nights, I fall into bed with my phone or schoolwork or Netflix, and, I hate to say it, but sometimes we just sit there and do our own thing. And I feel terrible. I actually hate it. We’re right there next to each other, but we hardly talk because we’re so busy scrambling to do whatever we need to do before we have to go to bed.

And I’ll say it. I’m not the crazy, frisky, wild girl I once was. I’m the anxious, chunky, tired mom now.

Self-Care

At my husband’s suggestion, I have tried more than once to do the haircut, massage, mani-pedi thing as a means of relaxation and “me time” but… it’s just not ME.

I love having someone wash and style my hair, but what happens when I get home? It goes in a ponytail. I enjoy a massage, but most of the time I lie there thinking about everything I should be doing besides getting a massage – not very relaxing. I love getting my nails done, but two days later? They’re chipped and messed up.

I have tried to be more kind to myself and take more low-key downtime.

I will ignore my alarm and stay in bed for another half hour if I don’t want to get up. I will soak in the tub for an hour and watch some Netflix. I will drop the kid off at playschool and walk around Target for an hour, just for the hell of it.

They may not be grand gestures of self-care, but at least I’m giving myself permission to chill the f*** out for a little bit without feeling bad about it.

So… All of this guilt? Why do we do this to ourselves? And why have I come to accept it? Why do I think it’s okay?

Because it means we care.

If you feel like I do in any of the above situations, the reason why you’re feeling guilty and stressed out is because you care, mama. You are trying to make everybody happy and put everybody’s needs ahead of your own, that’s all. You’re looking out for everyone – your friends, your family, your kids. That’s nothing to feel guilty about!

However, you need to remember one thing: you do need to take care of yourself. “You can’t pour from an empty cup. Take care of yourself first.”


Jessica Goodwin lives near Washington, DC with her husband, son, and their two cats. She’s written four novels and her work has appeared on Scary Mommy, Baby Gaga, Chocolate & Chaos, Tribe Magazine, Mamalode, and in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Sleep when the baby sleeps? Nope, she’s writing. Follow her on TwitterInstagram and Facebook.

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