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  • Dr. Lisa Ghent, ND

The mother of all guilt

I was leaving for work last Saturday morning and my youngest came over to give me a hug and kiss goodbye and said ‘mom, when are you going to be able to stop working so much?’ Ouch. The thing is that I don’t need my daughter to say things like that to make me feel mom guilt. I’m already super good at judging my own decisions, and it’s never gotten any easier. I remember my oldest as a toddler crying for me as I left for school. I have made a lot of hard decisions in my life, but choosing to first be a mom in school, then a working mom, have been among the hardest. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy about the life choices I’ve made. I know in my head that my kids are growing up seeing a woman that is a smart, hard-working, compassionate, leader who is following her dreams, and that there is value in that. But my rational brain is no match for my emotional heart, which breaks a little every time I leave the house, and is shattered when the kids beg me to stay. The implication that we are not making the best mothering choices and that those choices are affecting our kids elicits feelings in us that are deep and erosive. This is the mother of all guilt.

But in the history of the world, show me a mother that hasn’t ever experienced guilt. I’m sure she

doesn’t exist, and yet there are many well-adjusted adults roaming the planet so we know that despite how we micro-analyze our parenting decisions, in the end most of our kids will turn out just fine. Still, what I DON’T want, is for you to live in perpetual guilt over the parenting choices you make. This robs you of precious time with your children because our brains can’t do two things at once, so if you’re always worried about whether or not you’re making the right decision, you’re not truly present with your kids.

Here are my tips for ditching the #momguilt:

1. Lose the phone. Literally, I want you to lose your phone, if only for a few hours. I’ll be writing another post on the topic, but cell phones and screen time are addictive. I’m sure you’ve noticed this in your kids even if you’re in denial about it for yourself. You don’t think you ‘need’ your phone, but you do. When you’ve not checked it in a while, tell me you’re not wondering who has

messaged you, or what your friend has posted, or if anyone has liked your last picture on IG. Phone companies and app writers aren’t stupid; they know that when you interact with their products you get a hit of dopamine, which make you feel aroused, motivated and happy. And who doesn’t want to feel more of those things, so we use our phones more and more. Here’s the problem – when we rob ourselves of the ability to generate dopamine from other sources, our very persuasive brain will continue to subconsciously push us towards the very thing that is disconnecting us not just from our kids, but from the world around us. Then the things we used to give us that ‘hit’ no longer make us feel as good because the hit from our cell phones and social media are so much more. Here in lies the problem – it’s super easy for me to say ‘put down your phone’ but it’s actually really hard to do. You have to approach this breakup like you would any addiction. Think about how hard it is for people to quit smoking; this is no easier. But, if you can figure it out you will get major rewards in return – you will be happier and experience fewer mood fluctuations, you will be more patient, have more focus, PLUS you will have time to be present with your kids more often. What if interacting with your kids became your dopamine hit? Now there’s some food for thought.

2. Let it go. If you are making decisions in the moment that are based on the information you have at the time, then there is nothing to gain from looking back and second-guessing what you did. Once something is done, it’s done. If you wish you would have done something different, catalog that for the next time (there is always a next time!). Next time you’ll have more information and will be able to make a different decision. That is learning; and it’s the very thing we want our kids to understand. Modeling this behaviour is the best way for us to teach them how to learn from their mistakes, and it’s the best way for us to let go of guilt. Now, I realize that you can’t just snap your fingers and instantly let things go if you have always held on for dear life to your feelings of shame, guilt and inadequacy. This takes time, practice and patience. If you can’t let go of your mom guilt right away, don’t feel guilty about that! Sometimes I have conversations with myself out loud if I’m not convincing myself enough silently. There’s something about saying what I really want and feel to the universe that makes it more tangible, and then the letting go is easier.

3. Take care of yourself. What? Yes, you read that right. To let go of your mom guilt about your kids, you need to take better care of yourself. How does that work, you ask? Well, when we are overwhelmed, sleep-deprived, and our self-worth is located outside our bodies (ie. On our children’s happiness), we are bound to get run down. Run down mamas are the ones that are most likely to yell when they’re patience is tested, or escape to their phone in an attempt to connect with the outside world, or put their kids in front of a tv while they take a mental break. I’m not saying there is any judgement if you are a mom that has done or does these things; we’ve all done it. What I’m saying is that these are the things I hear from mom’s all the time that they feel the most guilt over, and it’s easier for all these situations to occur when you’re run down. Will you still let Netflix babysit your kids? Sure you will, and that’s ok. But wouldn’t it be nice if it was a conscious decision rather than a way to cope? Because that’s where the guilt comes in.

What does taking care of yourself look like –

· Getting enough sleep

· Quality time by yourself, with your partner, with your friends and family

· Engaging regularly in activities you enjoy – could be a hobby, or exercise, or just sitting and reading

· Moving your body everyday

· Nourishing yourself for success – this means eating more of the foods that make your body feel good (this is different for everyone) and drinking lots of water

· Learning how to be mindful and practicing gratitude

· Forgiving yourself on a regular basis – because guess what? You’re not perfect.

Now the last thing I want you to do is read this post and then feel mom guilt about the stuff in here that you may not be doing. Or reading it, feeling super confident that you’re going to tackle some of the things I mention, then not being as successful as you’d like and THEN feeling mom guilt. That is not the point. Pick even one nugget of info out of this blog that sparks your interest and practice it. Practicing something means you’re not always going to do it right, but the more you try it, the better you’ll get. Isn’t that what we would tell our kids? ;)

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