In the beautiful journey of parenthood, it's not uncommon to be overwhelmed by feelings of guilt and shame. We often hear the term "mom guilt" tossed around, but today, let's talk about it in a warmer way—-without the stigmas we might normally associate with it. As a conscious parent, you deserve to let this one go.
Understanding "Mom Guilt”
"Mom guilt" is a phrase that resonates with many parents I've worked with, both in my private practice and within our supportive online community. It's that nagging feeling that you're somehow falling short, that you're not doing enough, or that your kids deserve a better parent. If you're experiencing this, know that you’re not alone.
But here's the thing – the term "guilt" doesn't do justice to what parents are feeling. It's more about a sense of inadequacy, a feeling that you're not living up to perceived standards set by others, be it your friends, your family, or even yourself.
It’s time we redefine it.
Guilt is the Wrong Word
Consider this: one mom may feel "guilty" for working outside the home, while another feels the same way for not doing so. One mom may feel "guilty" for not cooking elaborate meals, while another feels it for sticking to familiar recipes. In all these scenarios, "guilt" is simply the wrong word. Guilt is typically the result of doing something wrong, but parenting choices are deeply personal; very rarely is there a wrong involved. And chances are, especially to your kiddos, you’re doing a great job even when you think you’re not.
Imagine sitting down with some of these guilt-trippin’ moms over coffee – would you tell them they're doing something wrong? Of course not! Each family's dynamics and needs are unique, and what works best for one might not for another.
It’s important to remember that there's no universal right or wrong here.
As a conscious parent, you're on a journey filled with love, learning, and self-discovery. We’re not here to learn how to be perfect, we’re here to learn how to grow. Both within ourselves and in our relationship with our kids. The truth is, parenting is a profound experience and it's perfectly normal to have moments of self-doubt in your own beliefs. (It just took me twenty minutes to decide on what color lunch box to order for my youngest son. I mean…)
It’s time to give yourself some grace and warm up to the idea that your feelings of guilt and shame are not the right companions on your journey of parenthood.
The Impact of Guilt on Parents
So, let’s talk about what guilt really is. Guilt isn't just an emotion; it's a biological stress response. When you feel guilty, your body releases stress hormones, like adrenaline, triggering your "fight-or-flight" mode. If you’re constantly feeling triggered, your stress response can lead to: chronic disease and mental health concerns such as: anxiety, depression, and elevated blood pressure and heart rate. We don't want that for you. You don’t want that for you.
Guilt vs. Shame in Conscious Parenting
Another word that gets thrown around is “shame”.'
“I define shame as the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging—something we've experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection. I don't believe shame is helpful or productive." – Brené Brown.
In parenting, we see shame emerge when your child shows strong emotions. It can rear its head when your child has a meltdown in the grocery store or refuses to play during a playdate. In those moments, you might feel frustrated and have that sinking feeling of disappointment in yourself. You might start to feel like you're not doing enough or could/should be doing more or better.
Who knew a child's behavior could influence the feelings of shame and guilt that we loom over ourselves...they definitely don't teach you that when you're getting ready to bring a small person into the world, do they?
Now let me tell you, Mama, there is no room for shame in conscious parenting. So next time it bubbles up in your own emotions, here are some new tools you can try:
- Check in with yourself and consider what’s really going on inside you. A lot of times, we need to tap into our own emotional regulation to unravel what's going on.
- Notice how your body feels and where your body is feeling the shame. What does that bigger picture look like?
- Then, allow your brain to answer this question: What is shame trying to teach me right now?
If shame’s message to you is aggressive or angry, that’s not shame speaking - that’s you speaking on behalf of shame. Usually, shame is scared and believes that it’s bad. If you douse shame with a high dose of empathy and compassion, shame will dissolve.
The more you build this conscious relationship with shame, the less it will overtake you in moments of weakness and vulnerability.
Navigating Guilt the Conscious Way
First, it starts with a choice. Begin by making the conscious decision today to stop using the word "guilt" because you are not guilty. You just have really high expectations of yourself and you’re struggling to live up to them, because honestly…they’re probably unreasonable. This first step is where you’ll learn to tap into your inner needs and become a more conscious parent.
The next time you’re questioning or doubting yourself, pause, take a deep breath, and look inward: “I am a good mom. Even good moms make mistakes and act in ways they later regret. I do not need to prove to myself that I am good. I am good because I just am.”
This is self-compassion inner work, and it is vital for encountering and releasing guilt, shame, and any stuck emotion.
What is Conscious Parenting?
A conscious parent is someone who makes mindful, emotionally intelligent decisions in raising their child. Based on the best-selling parenting book The Conscious Parent: Transforming Ourselves, Empowering Our Children, by Dr. Shefali Tsabary, parents are encouraged to first manage their own behavior, thoughts, and feelings before parenting their child. Conscious parenting means making mindful, emotionally intelligent choices in raising your child on a daily basis. Even when they’re hard, and even if you didn’t have anyone make conscious choices for you as a kid.
You can think of it like putting on your airplane oxygen mask before helping others – healing yourself first is crucial, here. In other words, you must meet your own needs before you can tackle your child's needs.
As a conscious parent, you see your child as a unique individual with whom you want to build trust. You're curious about their experiences, honest about your triggers, and are looking to be deeply connected with your child. In short– you’re focused on the big picture of their lifelong well-being, not just the snapshot of this moment.
When practicing conscious parenting, a conscious parent:
- Sees their child as a whole person that you need to pay attention to to learn their distinct needs and preferences.
- Sees parenting as a relationship that requires trust to be built, communication lines to be open, and fostering of love between the parent and child.
- Sees the big picture beyond the individual situations with your child. You’re essentially parenting not in the moment but for the long haul.
- Is curious and honest about their own triggers because this knowledge will help you remain calm and cool when your kids inevitably get under your skin.
It’s important to understand that conscious parenting doesn’t mean permissive parenting. It’s a way forward that focuses on awareness, connectedness, and mindfulness. You’re in tune with your child because you listen to them thoroughly. You not only hear what they say to you, but you observe them – in how they play, how they eat, and how they interact with the others in your home.
I recently shared an example of “listening” to a child in a therapy session when she didn’t say a word the entire time. Watch the live here. You may be able to “read” your child better after hearing what I share.
Join Our Conscious Mommy Community
I know how hard it is to untangle the complicated emotions of wanting to be a great parent and feeling like there’s a huge gap between where you are and where you want to be. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or struggling with "mom guilt" (remember, it’s not guilt!) and shame, you're not alone. In the Conscious Mommy Community you’ll find a safe space for open, supportive conversations. Together, we grow, learn, and support one another on this incredible journey.
Let's nurture growth in each other, free from judgment, guilt, and all that goes with it. Join the conversation today.