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Do Mothers and Grandmothers Ever Stop Feeling Guilty?

By Sherry Bronson August 02, 2022 Family

We do our imperfect best. From the moment we push them naked and helpless from our bodies, they’re ours to nurture, protect, and love. They come without instructions and each one is so uniquely different that a single guidebook would never suffice.

We agonize over every nuance of development: breast milk or formula or both. A strictly enforced regimen or a relaxed approach. We check two hundred times those first nights to make certain they’re still breathing and wake them up if there’s any doubt.

As the cranky weeks of teething drag on we begin to wonder if there’s a God. Through it all is a nagging feeling that we’re not doing enough, that we’re unwittingly wreaking irreparable damage on this helpless tiny being. Mother guilt.

Does It Ever End? The Short Answer Is No

I was talking to a neighbor with an eight-year-old. Sometimes she’s so adult, and then, no warning, she’s a hot mess screaming at me that I don’t love her and sobbing. I feel so guilty! A conversation a few days later with my friend whose 50-year old son still blames her when anything goes wrong has decided she can’t be sorry any more. Yes, I made mistakes, but how many times do I have to apologize?

I have three daughters who are the joy of my life. They’re well-adjusted, successful women and I couldn’t be more proud. But even now when I least suspect it, a pang of guilt can knife through my happiness. I should live closer, I should be helping, I should, I should, I should. They aren’t the ones guilting me, I’m doing it to myself. But why?

Guilt is healthy when it functions as a moral compass and motivates us to right a wrong. Mother Guilt, on the other hand, is like a low-grade fever, an ever-present condition that tells us we’re not measuring up. But measuring up to what, and to whose standards?

Recently, in the throes of a self-imposed guilt-journey, I took a closer look at where those feelings were coming from. Why was I doing this to myself? What I discovered shocked me. It took me back to deep-seated core beliefs that I thought I’d dealt with. But there they were striking where I was most vulnerable: my mother-heart.

I Discovered That Guilt Wasn’t About My Children. It Was About Me

I had struggled with issues of self-worth in the past, feeling unlovable and unworthy. The fact that I’m living a life of extraordinary happiness on the opposite side of the world from family triggered guilt. The unspoken belief was: Perhaps I don’t deserve this. But it manifested in the thought that I should be closer to my children. That was the self-sacrificial, martyr mentality that would ensure my unhappiness.

Another story I believed for years was that I needed help. I wasn’t old enough, strong enough, smart enough, rich enough to do it alone. How could I have possibly thought that was true? It boggles my mind. In the past years I’ve manifested things that others only dream of and I’ve done it as a single woman. But the old fear slipped out sideways and I projected it on my girls. They must need my help, I should be helping.

The overarching proclamation, I’m a terrible mother! is code for the core belief: I’m not good enough. This damaging self-concept drives most perfectionists. A woman with this belief often sets impossibly high standards for herself and reaps more guilt and shame when she doesn’t achieve them. It has nothing at all to do with mothering skills and everything to do with inner programming.

I Never Cease to Be Amazed at Our Emotional and Psychological Complexities

So much of what drives us isn’t what we think it is. The best thing we can do for ourselves is to discover what’s really running the show. Now when Mother Guilt, or guilt of any kind hovers in my mental space I know that some fear of my own has been triggered.

I take a closer look at the story I’m telling myself and ask why? Why am I feeling guilty about this? What’s really going on here? Almost always, when guilt is called on the carpet it magically disappears. And if you really want to know what’s behind it, the questions can lead to the most startling awareness.

Have you experienced Mother Guilt, or Grandmother Guilt? After reading this article, can you identify what fears might be triggering your guilty feelings? Please join the conversation and share your experiences of Mother Guilt.

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I recently was worried about my daughter going through a tough time and felt guilty about not being closer to her geographically to help.
On talking to my daughter about being able to do something she said Mum I’m a grown woman I don’t need you to DO anything just knowing you’re there to listen and support me is all I need! So to all you Mums and Grandma’s just being a wise source of counsel and a loving shoulder is enough.

Carol A.

Cathy, you are so correct. I remember being jealous of kids that came to school complaining that their parents made them do too many chores. I was a nerd and the kids that came complaining to school always seemed to be the cool kids. They were tougher.


I felt the mom guilt when I was raising my kids even though they had a wonderful life in a loving family. When they hurt, I seemed to take it upon myself and hurt too. My daughter, at 19, stupidly married a guy she barely knew…he turned out to be an abusive Cocaine addict. I did everything possible to make up for his shortcomings and her hurts. She eventually divorced him, moved on, and met her 2nd husband. Theirs was a great marriage which gave me my 3 delightful grandchildren. I was there for their every need (and perceived need). That marriage lasted 10 good years and 10 bad years. It turned out her husband was bi-sexual and suddenly had more interest in a boyfriend than a wife…and he had been raised to believe homosexuality was the ultimate awful. Therefore, he hated himself which lead to blaming his wife for his unhappiness. She stayed with him, went to counseling and did everything to be “the perfect” wife. Finally, she discovered he was abusing their daughters and she ended the marriage. There she was…all vulnerable, deeply hurt, broke, and “nowhere to go”. So, enter Super-Mom…lent her money, helped out with the kids, did everything to make her life easier. After about 3 years, she and her across-the-street neighbor fell in love and moved in together. THEY are very happy together and have been for neary 15 years…they finally found their Mr. and Ms. Right. BUT, my oldest grandaughter was 16, had been abused by her father, and simply would not have another man in her mother’s life. Super-Grandma and Grandpa let her move in with us, making life easier for my daughter and other grandkids and for the 16 year old. Six years later, she got married and moved in with her husband…but we’re helping them out financially after job loss due to COVID. Granddaughter #2 met and married a GI about 2 years ago, and they moved out of state to his duty assignment. Phone calls told of a wonderful life and great happiness…THEN, the $hit hit the fan. It turns out, he was very controlling and physically abusive. I really liked the guy before I heard that! There she is 1500 miles away with a soon-to-be-ex husband threatening all manner of harm to her. She decided very quickly that she was NOT going to live like that and filed for divorce which will be complete in about 2 months. I did a lot of soul searching…and thought “I’m too old to take this on AGAIN!” The saying “Not my circus; not my monkeys” came to me one day. I talked to both girls and told them their issues were NOT MY CIRCUS, but that they WERE my Monkeys. I would be there for them as a grandmother…not a checkbook, not a punching bag, not someone to be dishonest with, and not their savior! Overnight, the GUILT I have felt since my first child was born just dissipated! I no longer feel responsible for rescuing them…I suddenly realized that they’re grown adults and it’s time THEY did their own rescuing. Mother/Grandmother guilt CAN haunt you forever and make you miserable…BUT, for some reason, I have been the given the gift of having that guilt GONE! It’s interesting to discover that they’re all doing just fine without my “help”. Their circuses are their own, but they will always be my beloved monkeys!


My children(teens) were caught in their parents divorcing. It was traumatizing with him leaving-no contact-no child support; me finding employment(I did)..But due to he was out of picture for decades; it all fell on my shoulders and I was not a happy person, or good mother at helping children financially. Barely held on myself. Then my mother came to live with me in her last years. Now 40 yrs later, they are all doing very well and yet I am still reminded of this time. I am 80 and do not know how to resolve their issues. We have in past years discussed all of this. Anyone else endured this? ….


At the time, I did the best that I could with what I had. When I knew better and could afford better, I did. I have apologized for any mistakes I may have made……they were made with love and the thought that I was doing my best. No regrets here. Do what I can for my grands…….life is good.

The Author

Sherry Bronson is a writer and traveler. After downsizing, she searched for a new place to live, one that resonated with her passions, lifestyle and style. She found all this and more in beautiful Bali. But then her feet got itching again, and these days she is exploring Mexico. On her blog Sherry reminds her readers that life must be lived and encourages them not to waste time.

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