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May 13, 2024

May 8, 2024

Breaking Away from Mom Guilt: How to Lean on Values, Validation, and Self-compassion

E:
224
with
JoAnn Crohn
CEO & Founder of No Guilt Mom

WHAT YOU’LL LEARN

  • How Intensive Mothering Ideology Fuels Mom Guilt
  • What Mom Guilt Is
  • The Importance of Understanding Our Values
  • How to Use Our Values to Release Mom Guilt
  • Reprogramming Ourselves to Overcome Mom Guilt
  • Building Self-Compassion and Breaking Away from Mom Guilt

Mom guilt is something almost every mother experiences. We feel guilty for working, guilty for staying home, guilty for hovering too much, guilty for not being “on” enough, guilty for taking time to ourselves—it can feel like we are destined to live with mom guilt no matter what choices we make. 

But where does mom guilt really come from? Why do moms experience this guilt that dads don’t seem to carry? And how can we overcome it?

Mom guilt is often fueled by intensive mothering ideology—the belief that moms should sacrifice every bit of their time, energy, and resources to their children (and find fulfillment only in motherhood), along with gender norms and social expectations. We can learn to manage mom guilt through awareness, anchoring ourselves in our values, and validating our needs and emotions. 

This week on The Momwell Podcast, I’m joined by JoAnn Crohn, founder of No Guilt Mom, to discuss how we can move past shame and guilt to enjoy the motherhood experience more. 

How Intensive Mothering Ideology Fuels Mom Guilt

When JoAnn became a mom, she felt an immediate sense that she had lost all independence. It felt to her that she wouldn’t regain freedom until her daughter turned 18. Between that feeling, sleep deprivation, postpartum depression and anxiety, and a clash between expectations and reality, her adjustment to motherhood was a difficult one. 

Once she was able to regain some sleep and address her mental health concerns, she started to think about the expectations placed on moms versus their partners, and how we are set up for this struggle. This eventually led her to found No Guilt Mom to support others having the same experience—feeling like everything was on their plate, and that even if they asked for help they were failing. 

Modern moms are mothering in a time with very different expectations and pressures than generations before. We’re expected to be “on” all the time, to dedicate all of our time and focus to our children, and essentially to become experts in child psychology, nutrition, and education—not just showing up for our kids but facilitating, coaching, teaching, and assuming responsibility for every aspect of their development. 

This ideology, known as intensive mothering, is largely what fuels the invisible load of motherhood—and it also contributes to the mom guilt epidemic. 

Intensive mothering tells us that striving for autonomy or independence is not what “good moms” do.

Intensive mothering tells us that moms are the best-suited caregivers for their children, and that they “should” take on all the related labor. It also tells us that striving for autonomy or independence is not what “good moms” do—that we should be solely fulfilled by our motherhood role. 

It’s no wonder so many of us experience that sense of loss and grief over our independence—we’re socialized to believe that there is no room for our passions, goals, careers, or desires in motherhood, and that everything we want needs to take a backseat for our children. 

What Is Mom Guilt?

Defining “mom guilt” isn’t always easy. Emotions can feel abstract and it’s often hard to put our finger on exactly what it is. 

When Libby Ward, creator of Diary of an Honest Mom, appeared on the podcast, she defined it as “a collection of negative feelings that make us feel like we’re not doing enough, and that our actions, choices, or even our thoughts are going to negatively impact our children.” 

Mom guilt leads us to take on more and blame ourselves when we don’t measure up.

She said that there is productive mom guilt—when we do something that doesn’t align with our values, like losing our cool or responding negatively to our children. This guilt can lead us to make a change or solve problems. But there is also unproductive mom guilt or shame that leads us to take on more and blame ourselves when we don’t measure up. 

When we can learn to recognize shame, or unproductive mom guilt, we can start to question it and push back. JoAnn said that one of the cues that mom guilt is surfacing is if we feel anger or resentment over a task that we are doing. This can be a sign that we are taking on more than our fair share or carrying out expectations that don’t align with what we really want. 

We often don’t set boundaries to protect our needs, largely because we are socialized to be needless, but this ends up leading to anger, and ultimately, guilt. 

For example, maybe we don’t feel that it’s fair that we are the only ones handling bedtime. That resentment might build up and result in frustration or irritability toward our children—but if we could recognize the root and create boundaries or share the labor, we might not end up in that place of anger. 

JoAnn said that we can learn to recognize when we’re doing something because of mom guilt or outside expectations, and choose not to opt into labor because of those pressures. 

The Importance of Understanding Our Values

One of the best ways we can approach mom guilt is by getting clear on our personal values—the principles that matter most to us and guide the way we want to show up, as moms, as individuals, or as a family

This can help us evaluate our feelings of guilt or shame to determine where they are coming from—and it can also help us become more intentional about creating a life that reduces the unproductive guilt or shame. 

That type of guilt often comes when we aren’t anchoring in our values—instead, we are trying to fulfill other people’s expectations or hold ourselves up to a standard that might not reflect what matters to us. 

When we’re pulled in different directions, trying to be everything and please everyone, we’re set up to fall short.

When we’re pulled in different directions, trying to be everything and please everyone, we’re set up to fall short. But if we can lead with our values instead, we can make choices that fulfill us, reduce pressure and unnecessary labor, and reflect who we are and what is important to us. 

JoAnn pointed out that sometimes you have to dig deep when thinking about your values. You might feel guilty when you have human moments or you don’t show up as the “calm, nurturing” mom you had envisioned—but “calm” isn’t a value; it’s an emotional state. 

Dig deeper and ask yourself what’s really important to you that you want to lead with. Is it that you value connection or respect? Can you fulfill that value without holding yourself up to an unrealistic standard? Can you show respect while still having a firm voice? And can you repair instead of experiencing shame if you do lose your cool? 

Getting clear on our values and curious about what truly matters to us provides clarity, problem-solving, and a way forward. 

How to Use Our Values to Release Mom Guilt

One benefit of defining our values is that it gives us permission to break away from those socialized expectations and choose what matters to us. 

For example, if you find yourself signing your children up for activities because you think you’re “supposed to,” and you feel mom guilt if you don’t, you might realize that you instead value slowness and family time. You can then choose to do things differently than those around you and stand strong in your values. 

You can also use your values to prioritize your needs and practice real self-care. Maybe you value learning but you find yourself feeling guilty over the thought of taking time to go back to school or join a book club, or even just read instead of actively playing with your kids. 

But when you are clear on your values, you can remind yourself that it isn’t selfish to do what is important to you. 

You can create a routine that allows you to fulfill your values—perhaps by setting a timer and playing with your children for ten minutes and then taking time to read a chapter of a book. Or perhaps you go back to school for a few evenings a week and focus on creating quality time and being present when you are available. 

JoAnn often talks with her children about values and uses them for collective decision-making. This can help everyone understand where the other person is coming from and contribute to creative solutions that allow everyone to feel validated and fulfilled. 

Knowing our values and what fills our cups also shows our children that they can go for what they want.

She pointed out that knowing her values and what is going to fill her cup also shows her children that they can go for what they want without guilt. 

Reprogramming Ourselves to Overcome Mom Guilt

If we let our mom guilt and outside expectations dictate the way we parent instead of using our values as our roadmap, we often find ourselves torn in different directions. JoAnn said that it’s like playing whack-a-mole, doing everything to try to feel like we’re doing a good job. She pointed out that chasing external expectations will always leave us feeling unworthy. 

But we can “reprogram” ourselves to think differently. Instead of doing what we think we “should” do and trying to chase the “perfect mom” status that isn’t based on our values, we can center what matters to us and let go of the rest. 

One of the best ways to start reprogramming is by having open conversations with your partner about gender norms, the invisible load, mom guilt, and expectations. We can then start to share the load differently and break away from the guilt around allowing our partner to step into an empowered role in the home. 

It’s also valuable to remember that our children benefit more from multiple secure attachments than from relying on us for everything. 

Our children benefit more from multiple secure attachments than from relying on us for everything.

When we remember that, we can start to look for opportunities for other caregivers in our children’s lives to step into different roles. Our partners can be nurturers, soothers, emotional coaches, or the ones who stay home when our children are sick. 

Not only does this remove pressure from us, but it also gives permission to those around us to do the same. 

JoAnn pointed out that she doesn’t want her daughter growing up thinking it’s her job to care for everyone—and she doesn’t want her son growing up thinking it’s his partner’s responsibility. Instead, she hopes that they lead with their values and carve out a path of shared labor, shared respect, and less guilt. 

Building Self-Compassion and Breaking Away from Mom Guilt

Reprogramming this social messaging takes time. We’re unlearning a lifetime of internalized beliefs and carving out a new path in unchartered territory. It isn’t always easy. 

Mom guilt isn’t going to just disappear. We have to learn to hear the inner voice that tells us what we “should” be doing, acknowledge where it’s coming from, counter it with our values, and tolerate some discomfort along the way. 

JoAnn said that we can envision this like two football players. Our mom guilt is the quarterback—big, muscular, strong, who overpowers everyone else. Our self-compassion is the benchwarmer, who has never had practice or time in the game. If we’ve led with guilt for a long time, it can easily overpower self-compassion. 

But if we can become curious, build awareness, and take ourselves off of autopilot, we can let the benchwarmer build skills, get stronger, and eventually lead the game. 

It’s important to have a lot of self-compassion, to acknowledge our feelings, to understand that it’s okay if this is a struggle or an uphill battle. Slowly, step by step, we can rewrite our brains to take pause, to notice what’s happening, and to start gaining control over our reactions. 

We can learn to break away from shame and mom guilt and instead become more intentional.

We can learn to break away from shame and mom guilt and instead become more intentional—about the labor we take on, about the way we talk to ourselves, about the standards we hold ourselves up to, and about how we truly want to show up. We can turn to our values, lean on self-compassion, and create a life that feels right to us, regardless of external messaging. 

Struggling with mom guilt and not sure where to start? Working with a mom therapist can help! Book a FREE 15 minute virtual consult today!

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Tags:

Mom guilt, Values

Stage:

Postpartum, Motherhood

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OUR GUEST

JoAnn Crohn
CEO & Founder of No Guilt Mom

JoAnn Crohn is the founder of NoGuiltMom.com where she helps moms feel less guilty about all things parenting. After spending time in both the television industry and as a teacher in the elementary school classroom, she now uses her skills from both worlds to help women feel good about themselves and keep their cool while parenting. She lives in Chandler, AZ with her husband and two kids.

Erica Djossa
Erica Djossa
PMH-C | Founder of Momwell
Erica is the founder of Momwell, providing educational resources and virtual therapy for moms. She is a mom of three boys and a registered psychotherapist. Erica’s work has been featured in the Toronto Star, Breakfast Television, Scary Mommy, Medium, Pop Sugar, and Romper. how they want it.
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