I deeply dislike the concept of “mom guilt.” It’s a social construct (not an inevitability of the maternal experience), and one that causes harm on so many levels.
While guilt is a natural and sometimes healthy reaction to having caused harm, as mothers we’re conditioned to think that our constantly feeling guilty is normal and simply another less-than-awesome aspect of motherhood. I don’t buy it.
Here’s what feels truer to me:
So basically, “mom guilt,” presented to us as a normal, inevitable part of motherhood, is adding insult to injury for mothers everywhere. It’s a way of making it seem as if our inadequacy is the source of our struggles and not the inadequate social structures meant to be supporting us and our families. It’s a clever way to get us to agree to endless unpaid labor; labor that strengthens the very systems and structures that are harming us all.
Once we wake up to the harm “mom guilt” is causing, we can choose to work with it in healing and empowering ways. Here’s a start.
Whenever “mom guilt” begins to creep in:
Here’s how this might look, practically speaking:
When we feel guilty for not wanting to play with our kids, we might start by getting curious instead of being hard on ourselves. From this softer place, we might identify the unmet need for community support, and name neighborhood kids (or teens slightly older than our kids) as those best suited for the role. When tenderness and heartache comes up with the realization that we don’t have neighborhood kids around us, we might choose to go deeper into those feelings, have a good cry in the shower, and welcome grief’s guiding presence. Over the next couple days, we might then take some time to connect with a neighbor or two, ask our friend if her 11-year old might ever want to make a little money by playing with our kids after school, and/or talk to a trusted, empathetic friend about the injustice of our villageless lives.
Here’s another example:
If I feel guilty that I just yelled at my kid, I might first feel a sense of guilt, then get curious about my unmet needs. Once I’ve identified the need for more breaks for my nervous system (and made space for the anger I feel that I so rarely get those breaks (keeping in mind that anger is a part of grieving), I can then start brainstorming ways to get more time away, and working with any stories and “shoulds” I’ve internalized that might be contributing to my overwhelm.
It’s also essential that we begin helping our kids see the absence of the village, particularly as they get a little older. This way, they’re less likely to grow up perpetuating the narrative that their mom didn’t give them what they needed, and they’re better able to identify villagelessness as a primary source of so many people’s struggles at every stage of life. We need to help them see what is possible and understand what’s lacking so that they’re better equipped to do their part as the next generation of changemakers.
In short, “mom guilt” isn’t really about moms. It’s about broken social structures inadequately supporting mothers, children, and families, and the distorted cultural narratives being told about those structures (and our roles and responsibilities within them), which ultimately prop up and perpetuate systems of oppression.
Let your guilt be a guide. What do you value most? What do you need in order to feel better supported? What village members do you long for most tenderly? What stories are you telling yourself about what you should be able to provide for your children that reflect toxic hyper-individualism? How does the story change if you and your needs are added to the lineup of people’s needs within your family that are worthy and important? What’s one small step you can take toward community support as opposed to constant self-support?
Need a little extra motivation to do the work of examining and deconstructing your internalized mom guilt? Ask yourself, “What do the powers that be count on me doing with this guilt?” If the answer is overfunctioning and/or consuming, you can be sure that your guilt has more to do with toxic cultural narratives than anything “wrong” with you.
Deconstructing alongside you with tender fierceness,