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Do You Still Experience Mom Guilt?

By Cindy Boatman May 24, 2022 Family

A recent visit to my daughter’s home and the celebration of Mother’s Day struck a nerve in me. I felt sad (as I have at times before) and wished I had been a better mom to my two daughters. Especially now, as I observe my first-born parenting her young children so well.

I’ve also developed an awareness of my reactions when my daughters jokingly tell a story about something questionable I did (or didn’t do) when they were children. I experience an immediate discomfort that feels out of the range of what I’d call a normal reaction. My youngest daughter says I have a “mom complex,” but I call it “mom guilt.”

Their stories, which I believe are mostly in fun, can trigger feelings of embarrassment, hurt, guilt, shame, sadness, defensiveness, and even anger in me. I’ve also noticed they can impact my behavior and prompt me to withdraw or strike out defensively in the moment. Sometimes the feelings linger and impact future interactions.

It’s Not That I Believe I Was a Horrible Mom, Nor Do My Children Think That

It’s hard for me to accept the fact that I wasn’t a perfect mother. So, I set out to better understand where these feelings come from. Turns out there are many sources, such as the impossible standards mothers are sometimes held to by family, society, culture, religion and such.

Perfectionism is also still a valued trait to many. And, if you suffer from anxiety, you may be more prone to experience these types of feelings. Generally speaking, and especially in our role as mothers, we have a tendency to be hard on ourselves.

Mothers, no matter the age, may also suffer from and pass along wounds from their own upbringing. Those wounds can range from mere scratches and scrapes to more serious mental injuries that require professional help to overcome. All of these among other reasons can provide fertile ground for “mom guilt” to thrive.

What Are Some Signs of Lingering Mom Guilt?

  1. If you feel overly hurt, defensive, sensitive, sad or highly reactive during some or many of your interactions with your adult children that relate to your mothering skills, it could be more about your unresolved feelings than the current situation.
  2. Do you give lavish gifts to your children or grandchildren in an attempt to compensate for your real or perceived inadequacies as a mother?
  3. Are you actively engaged in a “do over” by continuing to mother your adult children?

If so, you may want to consider examining, processing, and trying to let go of these emotions.

I can think of two very good reasons to do so. The first being your mental health and the second being the mental health of your adult children! Freeing up the real estate inhabited by these emotions may create space for a happier and healthier you. It may also improve your relationship with your adult children.

Personally, I’m motivated by the desire to be the best mom I can be to my adult children in the years that remain. I also desire to be the best grandmother I can be. I believe cleaning out the cobwebs can help to achieve those goals.

How Can We Begin the Process?

If you still suffer with feelings of having been a “less than stellar” mom, here are some things I’m working on that may benefit you as well:

  1. Begin by journaling your thoughts and emotions associated with your relationship with your mother (or maternal impactor), especially those that felt hurtful to you and created painful emotions that you have not dealt with. Don’t hold back, this is about unearthing and venting those feelings, not judgment.
  2. Next, journal your thoughts and emotions about your real or perceived failures as a mother. Notice if there are any patterns or overlapping emotions from the previous exercise. We are strongly influenced by the positive, negative or lack of mothering we received.
  3. Now, examine and challenge each of your real or perceived failures. Ask yourself, is this really true? If you can honestly answer yes, then consider any extenuating circumstances that may have affected your behavior. What was your age and maturity level at the time? Was there a divorce? Were you a single parent? Did you have a support system? Did employment limit your time? Were there money issues? Were you suffering from a physical or mental health issue?
  4. Finally, make a list of all the positive things you remember doing as a mother. Re-visit the good memories you made with your children. If you need a little help, ask your children about the good times they remember. You may want to repeat this with regard to your own mom.

It’s so important to put things into perspective since we all have a negativity bias. One thing that really stood out for me was the fact that I became a mother in my early 20s. My oldest daughter became a mother in her mid-30s, as will my youngest daughter. That’s a huge difference in maturity levels!

Next Possible Steps

Hopefully these exercises will help you see that you were not such a bad mom and perhaps you were a better mom than you give yourself credit for. If you find you are still struggling after doing the exercises above, or perhaps as an addition to them, consider writing a letter to your children expressing your regrets. Just be honest and sincere, and let them know you love them.

It’s your choice whether or not to share the letter with your child or children. If you do, don’t expect a particular response. They may or may not be receptive. Either way it’s ok. Ultimately, you will need to forgive yourself and learn to let go of these feelings.

Remember, we all do the best we can at the time, and that’s all anyone can do!

Please join in the conversation. Do you have regrets as a mom? Do you have unfinished business with your own mom? How have you handled these feelings?

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The Author

Cindy Boatman is passionate about personal development and maintaining quality of life in the aging process. She loves sharing her research and insights with others. Cindy has successfully completed a 200-hour yoga teacher training certification program, and loves nature, hiking, traveling and spending time with family and friends. Writing is her creative outlet.

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