Burdening yourself with guilt doesn’t help you or your kids. Learn how to overcome mom guilt and stop blaming yourself for everything.
I knew I should’ve put a jacket on him, I thought.
My son had caught a cold, leaving him miserable for a few days. But while the causes of his cold were many—from sick kids at school to not washing his hands well—I still focused on how I could’ve been the one to blame.
Even if the reason he’d caught a cold was not washing his hands well, you bet I still would’ve felt guilty. (I should’ve had him wash his hands for 20 seconds.)
We’ve all felt it, even as early as when we were still pregnant. We worried about all the things that could go wrong, then beat ourselves up when they do. A loop of “I should’ve”s replay over and over in our minds.
In a way, we even feel “safe” with feelings of guilt. If we criticize ourselves first, we buffer the potential backlash from others (whether said outright or imagined in our heads).
But as we all know, this negative self-talk is enough to bring feelings of shame and even depression.
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How to stop feeling “mom guilt”
With a simple shift in how we address our emotions, we can lift the burden and become better attuned to our kids. We can learn to be more pleasant and carefree, setting an example of how to handle obstacles (like not blaming ourselves).
If you feel compelled to fault yourself for everything, you’re not alone, mama. And thankfully, you’re not stuck pointing the finger at yourself each time something goes wrong, or feel like a bad mom forever. Take a look at these seven reasons to release that mom guilt. As one mom said:
“I love this article. We should enjoy every moment, especially motherhood. And children really are the most forgiving people. I can’t help feeling ‘I could have done better for my kids’ every now and then. I should change my mindset and works toward the ways discussed here.” -Angela
1. It’s probably not as bad as you think
We tend to inflate things when they go wrong, don’t you think? You feel horrible that your child fell and got a nasty cut on her knee, but in hindsight… it’s just a cut.
Because here’s the funny thing about our problems: the world continues to move regardless of them. Remind yourself that you’re doing all right, and will continue to move forward regardless of what happens.
Ask yourself whether your far-flung predictions will actually come true. This reminds you that your imagination can be way off track and blown out of proportion. Instead, look at what has happened in the past and realize that things have always worked out somehow.
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2. You did what you thought was best at that point
Rarely do we think, “I’m going to leave my son’s jacket at home so that he gets sick.” We usually think, “It seems warm enough,” or we just forgot to bring the darn thing.
You have your child’s best intentions, but may not have the foresight (or the ability to predict the future!) to see how your decisions affect her until later. You did what you thought was best at that time with the right intentions in mind. Hindsight is always clearer, regardless of the result.
3. We all make mistakes
All the guilt won’t erase one crucial fact: We’ve made mistakes and will continue to do so. There’s no such thing as a perfect mom (despite what social media says!), yet we blame ourselves as if we should be one.
The good thing about mistakes is that they build resilience and become our best teachers. That day you yelled at your child was painful for both of you, but it was also when you learned to spot your triggers so you can change your behavior moving forward.
When things go wrong and you feel the pull to condemn yourself, learn your lesson instead.
Analyze the situation and think about ways you could prevent it next time, or what you would do differently. Find a support group to help you see things from a different perspective or help you with your sadness or anxiety.
4. You don’t give yourself enough credit
We’re so quick to point out all the ways we’re failing that we forget the many more ways we’re doing well. And not only well, but above and beyond.
Change your perspective. Look through the last few days and you’ll see all the good you’ve done, both big and small.
Waking up early so your child has breakfast on the table, or holding him tight as he cried even though you had a million things to do. Working full-time, doing laundry, and calming your toddler’s tantrum, all in a day
These are your wins, the successes that don’t always get the credit they deserve. Don’t let blame—one out of many wins—take that away from you.
5. You can’t change the past
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My family members and I were riding the train when it lurched to a stop, flinging my son straight into the handle bar in front of him. His tooth bled and, later, began to turn a light shade of gray. While he felt no pain besides the initial impact, his tooth was dead, all in a split-second.
I initially thought, I should’ve held him on my lap, or made sure he sat all the way back.
But I also realized that I couldn’t do anything about it after the fact. Worry becomes unhealthy when we can’t change the circumstances but continue to mull about it as if we can.
Unfortunate events happen, and sometimes for no good reason other than they do. Don’t find blame where there isn’t any, or replay “If only I had done this” or “I should’ve done that” in your mind. Use your mistakes as a way to be a better mom.
In fact, embrace the joy of being wrong. As psychologist Adam Grant writes in Think Again:
“When you find out you’ve made a mistake, take it as a sign that you’ve just discovered something new. Don’t be afraid to laugh at yourself. It helps you focus less on proving yourself—and more on improving yourself.”
6. Action, not blame
As you’ve seen by now, blaming ourselves is hardly productive and can lead to burnout and feelings of inadequacy. We feel worse about ourselves and are paralyzed into inaction because we keep replaying the event over and over. You can imagine how detrimental this can be for our mental health.
The better course? Do something proactive.
What can you do to change the circumstances from this moment? Don’t mope—instead, make a list of what you can do and get started. You can’t undo having lost your temper with your child, but you can apologize and be more present when spending time with her.
7. Your child doesn’t love you any less
Much is said about a parent’s unconditional love, and I would say the same is true about a child’s love for her parents.
Kids can be some of the most forgiving people. We make mistakes, but they continue to love us with no hesitation. Your child isn’t sitting in her room right now blaming you for everything. Even if she were upset, I guarantee she doesn’t love you any less.
As I say in my book, You Are Enough:
“The next time you find yourself losing sleep and blaming yourself, stop. It’s not the end of the world—and more important, your kids won’t love you any less.”
No need for mommy guilt or judgment, friend. Blaming yourself prevents you from enjoying motherhood and sets unrealistic expectations. It’s not exactly what you’d want to model, especially when dads don’t feel nearly as guilty as we do.
Thankfully, you can stop feeling this way all the time and practice self-compassion instead. Ask yourself if what happened was really that bad. Remind yourself that you had acted in the way you thought was best at that point, and that we all make mistakes and will continue to do so.
Then, give yourself more grace and credit than you currently do, and remember that you can’t change the past. Replace mom guilt with action, and reassure yourself that your child doesn’t love you any less.
We’ll still make mistakes, no doubt. But what matters most is to acknowledge what happened, take action, and learn our lesson—like bringing your child’s jacket even when you didn’t think he needed it.
Get more tips:
- Be Kind to Yourself
- The Working Mom Pep Talk: What Do You Tell Yourself to Keep Going?
- These Are the Things Your Kids Will Remember About You
- How to Be a Good Mom (Even When You Feel Discouraged)
- Anger Management for Moms: 7 Patterns That Keep You Feeling Angry
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