When my oldest was born, I had these intense episodes of anxiety. I was worried to be alone with him and quite frankly didn't even want him. I thought of all the ways I could give him up or give him away but would be quickly brought back to reality with his cries and coos for attention.
Don't get me wrong, I loved him and wanted him to be healthy and happy and respected -- and that’s where my doubt stepped in. Doubt that I could even be a great mother to him. All these preconceived notions of what made up a great mother overwhelmed me. I didn't think I had it in me, the pressure to be perfect was astronomical and exhausting. I didn't eat, I didn't sleep, therefore I didn't produce enough milk so breastfeeding was a complete nightmare. And while all this was happening, I didn't even see that my husband was also stressed about raising a child and running his new startup. And to top it off, I still had my own agency with clients and employees to manage. Like f*ck.
Fortunately, we had a very healthy baby and I was experiencing a very normal reaction. But of course, I didn't think I was reacting appropriately. Again, not a perfect motherly instinct to want to give your child away at only 5-days old.
So, yeah this guilt thing rocked me. It totally took over my head, my body, and my relationships. I was short, seemingly always pissed off, and in pain (mastitis, cramps, blah blah blah).
It wasn’t soon after that I was diagnosed with postpartum depression. Ah yes, finally something I can use as an excuse for this guilt. But it wasn’t serving me either. The guilt took over my life.
I felt as though I wasn’t good enough, fast enough, motherly enough, the best cook enough, the best boss enough -- enough was enough! I needed this all to STOP. And it finally did, when I realized that...
Guilt is a choice.
You choose how you react to the situations given to you.
You ate that extra piece of cheesecake and now you feel guilty? Well, silly, that’s your fault and there is no turning back. You can’t change that fact that the sweetness of the chocolate syrup hit your lips at just the right time and temperature and now you’ve consumed the whole piece.
You feel guilty because you know you shouldn’t have eaten one more bite, but you did. And now your diet will be off, and maybe you went over your caloric intake for the day ...and and and.
SO WHAT?! You slipped up. Boo hoo. In this moment you can take action and squash the guilt. Who cares what people think/say -- you’re NOT going to do that again.
Just like running a business and parenting, you’re going to do things that make you feel guilty, only because YOU LET YOURSELF feel that way as though demonstrating this emotion validates the thing you chose to do over what is expected of you. Most of the things that are expected of you have either been established by your culture, society or family values OR have been self-imposed. If you tell yourself a good mother means you breastfeed your kid until he walks himself to college and gives up all her fun non-motherly activities, then you’re doomed, my dear. I can tell you what I think a good mother is, but it could be gravely different than what you think a good mother is - and that wherein lies the disparity. So here is the thing: DON’T LISTEN TO OTHERS. Others have this insatiable need to tell you how to do parenting and running a business their way. Or according to how their parents did it, or according to the successful family down the road, or according to Gwenyth Paltrow.
Let’s dive in a little bit deeper. What are the main reasons for mom guilt?
We worry we are going to screw up our kids
We often parent from a place we were parented and not necessarily what's right for our own unique family
We are always seeking validation from our family and friends
We want to make sure we are doing enough
We fall to societal norms
We fear not meeting our own unreasonable expectations as a parent
Social media/Media has painted an ideal image of the perfect mother and if we don’t fit the cookie cutter stereotype we feel like we are failing
Our overloaded schedules (thanks to the pressure to have your kids signed up for everything), gives us little time to do anything right
While I personally don’t think we can completely rid ourselves of this mom guilt, but I believe we can suppress it and even work with it. So, here are five ways to overcome mom guilt.
1 - Trust Your Intuition
Over the holidays this year, my youngest son caught a cold which led to a lung infection. He was coughing so much that it would make him get sick. While this was happening, he was also suffering from achy joints especially his knee’s and left leg and wasn’t eating well. Naturally, I began to get concerned so booked an appointment with our family doctor who had us go for bloodwork and chest x-rays, with the results being sent to a pediatrician.
The chest x-ray showed a little lung infection and something else peculiar; an enlarged heart. The pediatrician had us do an ECG, more chest x-rays and an echo (I am thankful for great healthcare.) While we were waiting for our results, which took a few days, I wasn’t concerned. My momtuition was strong that my child was healthy. I went with my gut, didn’t let it bother me or show concern for my son, and went about our days.
On Tuesday, 6-days later, I got the call from the doctor: “Noah is OK. There is nothing wrong with his heart.” I wanted to reply “I told you so”, but who am I to tell a doctor I knew best? ;)
The point of this story is this, trust your gut. Don’t worry about the things you have no control over. The pressure from friends, family, colleagues, society, in general, can drive you insane. Sure, it’s easier to say “don't fall for the pressure”, but here is the thing: Your life is YOUR call. Not your moms, or your Dula's, or your business partners. You run your own damn show. So grow a pair (of ovaries) and GO WITH YOUR GUT.
2 - Set Boundaries and Expectations
I am not talking about putting up a wall. That’s a job for some other unrealistic authoritarian.
I am talking about setting strict parameters around your work and your family life. If you set the expectation that you will work every Wednesday night and that your Friday nights are alone time, stick to it! Don’t let your child's overloaded extracurricular activity or a husbands plea for help rain on your parade.
Speaking of overloaded schedules, just stop it already! When I was a kid, my parents had my sister and I signed up for tons of stuff … but not at the same time. We did ONE sport per season, soccer, or volleyball, or dance, just never at the same time. Which meant we had family dinners together at least 5-days each week and tons of 1-1 time. It worked for us.
Set the boundaries:
“Healthy boundaries are those boundaries that are set to make sure mentally and emotionally you are stable.” (Prism Health North Texas).
Define the space you need between all your roles (mom, wife, boss). The purpose of setting such a boundary is to protect and care for yourself. If you are 100% mom and nothing else (and you are not ok with this), then your boundary has been crossed.
Set healthy boundaries to help you avoid burnout so that you can stay in the game longer. And we all want to stay in the game!
Say NO and mean it. No explanation, just say it, stick to it and do what you had already intended on doing. Our rule with birthday parties, for example, is simple: if we don’t know the child, have never met the child, have never heard our kids talking about their friend, then it’s a simple “Sorry we can’t make it but please wish John a happy birthday from us!” Sure my kid might be upset by it but in saying NO to things that aren’t aligned (or convenient for us), it gives us space for the things that matter.
Establish the consequence if the line is crossed. For example, if you need some time after work to decompress before jumping into mom-duty, set the boundary and the consequence of what could happen if your kids don’t give you some space. Maybe you’ll be crankier, or too tired to help with homework. Don’t threaten, just establish the consequence and stick to it. If you have younger kids, maybe the burden will be on your partner to take over for a bit. But remember to be firm (and don't feel guilty about it!)
“Make each day count by setting specific goals to succeed, then putting forth every effort to exceed your own expectations.” Les Brown
Be explicit with your partner and your kids what you need from them like help around the house. Teach them at an early age that they don't have ‘chores’, rather they have ‘responsibilities’. This not only lifts the load off your shoulders, it teaches them valuable life skills.
Explain how you may not be able to make it to every soccer game, but have a sincere heartfelt conversation about this. If your work is so important to you, they’ll understand why you can’t always be there. You can make up for it another day with extra ice cream or staying up 20-minutes later one night to catch up over a board game.
Communication is key here. What do you need and want from your family? How can you shift things so that everyone’s expectations are met? If you feel guilty for working on your business every night and are only half tuned into your kids, what can they do for you to help? How can your team take over some tasks (helloooo delegation) so that you gain more quality time back with your family? Set the expectation.
3 - Schedule It!
The worst part about being a mom and an entrepreneur is that your guilt goes both ways; as a mother, you want to be a better nurturer and supporter. As an entrepreneur, you want to have a better grasp of your business and team. When I asked over 100 entrepreneur parents why they felt so guilty one of the main reasons was because they wanted to work on their business during family time but felt pressure to be with their kids/partner.
I don’t see anything wrong with this. It means you have a passion for something other than raising a family. Bravo to you sister! Not only are you setting a great example for your kids, you are also intrusting your partner to help raise the coup too. It’s not all up to you.
Schedule the things that matter: date nights, alone time, Sunday afternoons for reading. Put it all down on paper, sit with your family and discuss why you want this and how everyone can work together to create an epic family routine. If your kids have hockey and dance lessons and your husband plays in a softball league, then HELLO! What’s your gig? Put it on the calendar and make it a non-negotiable.
4 - Get Some Help!
Not science here, but if your dishes are stacking up and your laundry is still sitting there, after 2-weeks, think about the relief you would get in hiring someone to manage this for you. “But it costs money!” Yeah no sh*t, but if you’re chronically stressed, that’s super unhealthy for you physically and emotionally and the worst part is that your negative energy gets absorbed by your little ones (and partner!) then all of a sudden everyone is on edge and pissed off. Yeah, you don’t want that and if you ever reached that point in your life you would have regretted not forking out $75 every week to have someone do that work for you.
Listen, you won't lose your supermom status because you hired a cleaning lady or house manager. Matter of fact, you likely haven’t even earned your supermom status to begin with because you spent too much of your damn time scrubbing floors rather than being ON YOUR FLOORS WITH YOUR KIDS. I am yelling because I need to get the point across here. GET HELP!
Write out a list of exactly what you need done on a weekly basis, then do the whole circuit yourself. Set up the systems, find out how long it takes, and write it all out. Then hire a local cleaning lady for $25/hr and get her onboarded. Manage your house team like your business team and you will gain more quality time back.
5 - Ignore the Trolls
The worst thing you can do as a parent is to get your panties in a bunch by feeding the trolls. DONT FEED THE TROLLS! [Yelling again.] If some low level, ignorant mom wants to shame you because you didn't breastfeed long enough according to her standards, then let her rant about it, but do not respond [This even applies to your family, like your mom and sister]. If you need to have that tough conversation with a friend or family member about the way you want to parent, then set it up and tell them exactly how you feel. It goes a little something like this “I am really enjoying this parenting thing and running my own business and, to date, I've appreciated your input, however, while this may have not been intentional, I am feeling a little pressure from you to do things your way. Listen, I love you and want you to be around my family as much as possible, but please know, we are going to do things our own way and you may not agree with that, but that’s ok. I don't want this to get between us, but rather to see this as an opportunity to show and respect each other's parenting styles.”
If they take it personally, then give them some space. In most cases, when another parent takes this as an insult it’s likely because you are doing something better than them (HELLO! … running a business and raising a family) and they may resent you for it, or feel jealousy, or inadequate. It’s not your responsibility to solve that for them but encourage them.
Getting rid of guilt once and for all … a conclusion.
Guilt is something that will follow us around everywhere. It’s inevitable that we will feel it at some point and especially when it comes to running a business and managing a family. It’s up to us to identify, decipher and diminish what makes us feel guilty.
Identify: who, what, when, and how does something or someone make you feel guilty?
Decipher: why did that person's opinion matter to me? Typically it’s one of two things: 1) You want to live up to that person’s expectations - make them proud. Oftentimes it’s the guilt that arises when we parent in a way that goes against the way you were raised or the opinion from someone you respect/admire. 2) You already feel inadequate as a parent & entrepreneur and you compare yourself to others.
Diminish: Once you’ve pinpointed your triggers, take some time to work through them either with a therapist or by yourself. Journaling can help here, so can listening to some incredible podcasts, like Mom is In Control, Startup Pregnant, Zenfounder, and Lifestyle Builders.
Ultimately, you shouldn't feel guilty for wanting to pursue your career, your business, or whatever makes you shine. Sure, your family means everything to you but it shouldn’t stop you from leaning into your passion. In order to best serve your family, your team, and your customers/clients, you have to take care of yourself first, both physically and mentally. You can’t go anywhere on an empty tank, so if you want to go to that conference which would take you away from your kids for a week, or you want to launch a new product which means you will be working late for about 6-months, then DO IT! Step into your superpowers, raise your frequency and do the damn thing! Your family will thank you (believe me). If momma is shining her brightest, then everyone will be happy.