How to Overcome Mom Guilt

Mother and daughter embracing in the kitchen.

“Mom guilt” — that feeling of parental inadequacy — can strike for many reasons. It can happen on busy days when you feel pulled in multiple directions, after you’ve lost your patience, or when you set (and don’t achieve) unrealistic expectations.

Regardless of why it happens, guilt is a very real part of motherhood. Sometimes these uncomfortable feelings can be beneficial — for instance, when they motivate you to make better choices.

But guilt that becomes overwhelming isn’t healthy. It increases stress levels and contributes to depression and anxiety, all of which may affect heart health, and causes physical side effects such as headaches or stomach pain.

Sometimes women think they can “hide” their stress, but research says otherwise. Studies have found a significant link between a mother’s stress and that of her children. Other research has found that stress affects the parent-child relationship and causes marital strain.

But there are ways to cope with mom guilt. Here are some practical changes you can put into action today:

  1. Set boundaries. Take note of when you feel mom guilt, then adapt. For instance, some women feel guilty when they scroll social media and see other, “perfect” moms. If comparing yourself with others becomes a problem, limit your screen time (yes, moms need limits, too) and remind yourself no one is perfect.
  2. Accept help. If you feel you can’t do it all, then don’t do it all. Instead, create a network with others who can help. Maybe it’s setting up a carpool with other families to free up some time. Or leaving the kids with a trusted babysitter or family so you have time to do something you enjoy.
  3. Reach out to other moms. Talking with trusted friends will remind you that you’re not alone. Parenting isn’t easy, and knowing that others have experienced similar situations can be beneficial. Also, they may have strategies for your particular challenges.
  4. Find healthy ways to cope. Know that you’re setting a good example when you make healthy choices. Let your children see you exercising and taking time for self-care. Explain to them the importance of good sleep, stress reduction and eating healthy foods. Then take the time to do those things for yourself. Even a short break to take a few deep breaths and calm down can be helpful.
  5. Show yourself some compassion. Research has found that mothers who were kinder to themselves were better able to release their guilt, felt less isolated and were less self-judgmental.
  6. Get professional support. Sometimes stress interferes with the ability to complete simple tasks or becomes too overwhelming to handle with other methods. Seek help from a mental health expert who can help you with ideas for stress management, to change behaviors that are not working and support you as you grow as a parent.