How to Manage Your Mom Guilt

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Ask a group of 10 moms to define or describe mom guilt and you will likely get 10 different responses. We all associate feelings of guilt with different parenting situations that are as unique as we are. It ranges from feeling guilty about snapping at your children or feeding them sugary snacks to dropping them at daycare every morning or leaving for an overnight work trip.

We feel guilt for big and small things, for things we did and didn’t do, and everything in between.

It’s a big topic and one that repeatedly comes up in almost all of my coaching calls. It’s not always labeled as mom guilt, but the more we talk about overwhelm, about what we’re focusing on or spending our time on, or about why we haven’t had a date night or a girls’ night out in months, it usually circles back to guilt. We don’t do things because we want to avoid the guilt. We don’t think we’re strong enough to experience it and move past it. Or...we don’t realize that we are the ones creating our own guilty reality. 

Guilt, when not addressed, can be quite a consuming feeling. It can become a bad habit, one that grows over time until soon you second-guess everything that you do for fear of feeling guilty afterward. 

While I could certainly share my own experiences with guilt, I know they may not encompass the wide spectrum of mom guilt. So I asked some of my friends, colleagues, and neighbors to help me share stories of mom guilt, and boy was I surprised at some of the answers. Examples I never would have thought about, but I’m so glad to know about. 

When Have You Experienced Mom Guilt?

Blending Work and Life

“I have a job that has a lot of flexibility so I am around a lot more than other full time jobs but a lot of the time I never feel like I am fully present. I am always taking phone calls and worrying about clients. It’s hard to push that out of mind and focus fully on the kids.”

Taking It Out on Your Kids

"I lose my sh*t with my daughter all the time, and it's usually because I'm tired. When I don't parent with grace and instead react out of anger or frustration, I feel terrible, especially because it probably could have been prevented if I had gone to bed earlier the night before."

Traveling for Work

"Two weeks ago I was out of town for a work conference and found out our one year old had fallen down the stairs the night before and was taken to the hospital via ambulance. He was completely fine (just had an ear infection), but I felt guilty that I wasn't there. I kept thinking if I had been there I would have been an extra pair of hands and my husband wouldn't have been so stressed trying to get everyone ready for bed. I felt guilty that my husband had to go through that terrifying experience alone. I felt guilty that I couldn't be there for several more days to hold my baby and have physical proof he was okay."

Breastfeeding...or Not

"I was unable to exclusively breastfeed my babies past four months. My milk supply couldn't keep up, and truthfully, I wasn't willing to be attached to my pump and eat all kinds of supplements to try to increase my milk. So we just started using formula. With my first born, I cried over this many times. I was disappointed and felt guilty that I wasn't giving her breast milk. But eventually I came to appreciate the conveniences of formula, and my guilt subsided.

I was surprised when my son was born and we made the switch to formula again that [the guilt] crept back up. I remember bottle-feeding my newborn and feeling like I had to tell everyone in the room that the bottle was breast milk. Why is that?! Why do we need to slip it into conversation that we're giving our kid breast milk or justify why we're not? When I stopped producing enough, that was disappointing but to be honest, I didn't love breastfeeding and felt a little relieved that it was over, and that made me feel guilty too. Why didn't I love something I was literally designed to do? Did I give up too easily? And would I have loved it if I had had a normal supply? I wrestled with these questions a lot." 

Working Too Much

"Luckily, I do not have to do morning drop off (that's my husband's realm). Avoiding the daycare drop off has been huge in terms of avoiding mom guilt on a regular basis. I typically do not feel guilty while I'm at work because I get a fair amount of fulfillment from my work, which I think makes me a better mom at the end of the day. However, I feel very guilty when my work bleeds into what should be time with my family (evenings and weekends). This happened a lot last school year (new school districts & new preps = 55-60 hour work weeks). I felt very guilty having to tell my son I couldn't play or couldn't go to the zoo with him and his dad on a Sunday because I had to work."

How Do You Move Past the Guilt?

It happens to the best of us, and it happens pretty frequently. Feeling guilty over certain circumstances, behavior, and decisions is a part of parenting. So how do you move past those feelings of mom guilt? What can you think or do instead? 

These were some of my favorite tips:

Be Grateful

Instead of feeling bad about yourself for something you can't control, try to be grateful. For example, be grateful that you can afford formula and that formula even exists.

Talk About It, Normalize It

Talk about your experience when it comes up in conversation to normalize it - for yourself and for any other moms who might be listening. If someone says something offensive or insensitive, give them the benefit of the doubt.

Keep Busy

Keeping busy at work or during work travel is the best way to distract yourself and keep your mind off of feeling guilty.

Forgive

Accidents will happen whether you are there all the time or not, no matter how careful you are. The same thing could have happened even if you hadn't been away and both parents had been looking out for the kids' safety. It's okay to let yourself off the hook.

If you lose your patience with your little one and resort to harsh words or actions, make a point to apologize and ask for forgiveness as soon as possible. Talk about why you both got upset, and after you hug it out, your guilt will probably have melted away.

Set Boundaries

Try setting stronger work boundaries so you can be more present at home. Especially if you don't work a tradition 9-5 job, that flexibility can lead to never being fully present. Find the boundaries that work for you so you can focus on family or work and not both all of the time.

Ask Yourself Some Questions

If you feel overcome with mom guilt, try asking yourself some questions -

  • Is your child thriving and happy? (yes)
  • Does he know he has a mom who loves him? (yes)
  • Is he learning new lessons/skills at daycare that you maybe wouldn't have even thought to teach him? (yes)

Then, what a lucky kid! Why are you even feeling guilty?

You Are Not Alone

If I can teach you one thing about guilt, it’s that whether you feel guilty or not, is completely up to you. You may say, “she made me feel so guilty when she said…” or “hearing her talk about the privilege she has in staying home with her kids made me feel so guilty.”

But it’s not true. She didn’t make you feel guilty. You thought that what she does or how she mothers was better, and that thought created the guilty feeling. Or you thought, I am doing a disservice to my child, or my child will never forgive me for leaving, or my kid would be better off if I did this or that, and those thoughts (most of them not true!) created your own feelings of guilt.

Knowing that, being aware of that, is so powerful.

I hope, by reading these honest stories from other moms who are doing the best that they can, helps you realize that we all feel it. We all experience mom guilt.

Share your stories, talk about it, normalize it, or challenge yourself with some of those amazing questions about whether your kid is happy, healthy and knows he is loved.

I bet you can talk yourself down off that ledge or pick yourself up out of those feelings of guilt. We all get through them and we get better and stronger every time that we do. Don’t avoid the situations that “make you feel guilty”. Walk head-on into them knowing you’re not alone and knowing you have the tools to get past it.


Many thanks to these amazing women who were willing to share their stories, thoughts and tips on mom guilt:

  • Brooke Lehenbauer - Stay-at-home mom & part-time family photographer, Mom to a girl and a boy (3 yo and 7 months)
  • Jackie - Sales/Account Management, Mom to 3 kiddos (5, 3 and 1)
  • Lauren Karas - High school teacher, Mom to 3 yo boy and one on the way! 
  • MC - Realtor, Mom to 2 boys (4 1/2 and 2 yo)

Be An Example of What's Possible as a Working Mom

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Maybe you saw this quote circulating social media, I know it stopped me in my tracks when I first came upon it and I’ve been mulling it over ever since. 


GAZETTE: You are a mother of two. In 10 years you have produced three novels and two short-story collections. Can you talk about your process and how you manage work and family?

GROFF: I understand that this is a question of vital importance to many people, particularly to other mothers who are artists trying to get their work done, and know that I feel for everyone in the struggle. But until I see a male writer asked this question, I’m going to respectfully decline to answer it.


Thought provoking, isn’t it?

On the one hand, I want to raise my fist and shout YES in support of such a bold statement! As a working professional and a mom, I wholeheartedly agree that women are often asked these types of questions, yet we rarely, if ever, see a male professional asked the same thing. I guess it’s just assumed that the man has a wife or a partner or hired help who is taking care of kids and home so that he can prioritize his career. Whereas a woman kicking ass in the workplace, how does she do it?

On the other hand, as someone who knows intimately what it’s like to be “in the struggle” as Groff says, I am really curious about how she has managed to produce so much work while raising two kids. What do her days look like? What kind of help and support does she have? What does she outsource or let go of in order to create at the volume that she has? 

Balancing Equality and Reality

I look up to so many career women and I am always so curious to know the details of their days. I know that there is always something more to learn - a new trick that I haven’t tried before, a resource or service that is just waiting to make my life easier, a way of managing my calendar and being even more productive so I can make the most of my working hours. 

How do we balance standing up for equality in the workplace with the reality of the juggle that we face every day? 

How do we not dwell on the circumstances that sometimes create more challenges for working moms than working dads while still continuing to make that reality easier and our environments more supportive? 

In thinking about and searching for that balance, I've created the following parameters that look something like this:

Be Open and Honest in Supportive Communities

In the communities where you know the audience is made up of mostly career women and mothers, freely and openly share ideas, tips, and resources. Be open about the challenges that you are facing with the hope that others will be able to relate, feel supported and learn from what you have learned.

Whether those communities are your immediate circle of friends or colleagues, affiliate groups say at the gym or at a professional event, or whether they are virtual communities like Facebook groups geared for moms, these are places where honest conversations only make us better. 

And I love the honest conversations that are shaping up around what it’s like to work and be a mom and I don’t want to put a stop to those. These are important conversations. These are important topics. The only way to improve our current circumstances is to continue to learn and make changes.

Moderate Complaints

On the flip side of that open idea-sharing, I try to be mindful of and limit the complaining that I do in broader circles or especially in professional environments. Sure, I have challenges in juggling the many priorities that I have, but I don’t want to contribute to the stereotypes of frantic, stressed and overwhelmed moms who can’t get it together. I own up to the mistakes that I make, the meetings that I’m late to, or the last-minute schedule shuffling when there is a sick kid, but I always remain professional and set realistic expectations with colleagues and clients. 

Being An Example

It’s a balance and a dance. I certainly feel conflicted at times about how I want to show up. But I think often about Brooke Castillo’s mission that she repeats so frequently, which is “I want to be an example of what is possible.”

As a career woman and a devoted mom, I want to be an example for other working moms of what is possible. Of what it looks like to have my own challenges, but to not let those consume me. To do my best at balancing work and family and self-care and to appreciate that those priorities ebb and flow and shift and change. 

And I always want to be an example to those who are not working moms of what is possible. To the young woman who is questioning whether she will be able to continue her career after she becomes a mom one day. To the hiring manager who is hesitant to hire a mom returning to the workforce. To the individual contributors who have their own stereotypes of working moms as frazzled, stressed and chaotic women hanging on by a thread. I want to challenge them to think and see working moms differently. I want to show them what is possible.

I certainly want to change the conversation when it comes to equality in the workplace. But I also want to know what your day looks like. I still want to ask you how you manage your calendar, your to-do lists, your childcare, your self-care, your relationship with your partner. I know you have something to teach me. And I bet I have something to teach you too. 

How to Avoid Vacation Stress

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For working parents, in particular, vacations are precious. They use precious time from our PTO balances. They are a commitment of precious resources i.e. money. They are precious trips where we get to spend day after day with our kids and create memories that we’ll always remember. That last one right there is what got me into trouble at the start of our summer vacation. I could sum up my downfall in one word...expectations.

Because I used 5 days of PTO, budgeted carefully for our expenses, and knew that I wouldn’t get another chance to spend 8 consecutive days with my kids until the holidays, I had high expectations. Expectations of how much fun we would have, expectations of how everyone would behave, and expectations of myself in terms of how relaxed and carefree I would be. So when my youngest spiked a fever on the first day of our road trip, and continued to be cranky, clingy and not sleep for the first two days at the vacation house, I responded by being cranky, frustrated and generally negative about the outlook for the rest of our trip. 

My expectations had been squashed. I was angry at my daughter for getting sick, I was angry that my ability to relax and have fun had been ruined, and I was angry that I was so darn tired. The most frustrating part was, I knew I was being a Debbie Downer. And I knew it was in my control, and my control only, to snap out of it. But I just couldn’t.

Doing the Work

Coincidentally, that second afternoon while my daughter was taking a much-needed nap, I pulled out my self-coaching work for the week and the first exercise was one about my past. Not my childhood past or my adolescent past, but my past as in yesterday. I had to write all of the great things about yesterday. And as I put pen to paper, I was surprised by how much I had to write. After all, I was off work, disconnected for the most part, and with my family in a beautiful place with a beautiful view of the water (which in my opinion has the power to heal so much). 

The second part of the exercise was to write down the not-so-great things about yesterday. That was easy. My daughter was sick, I was grumpy, and I had made sure everyone knew how tired I was.

As I tried to see my yesterday as something that couldn’t be changed (only my thoughts about it can change), I tried to reframe it a bit. I realized how lucky I was to be able to be with my daughter while she wasn’t feeling well instead of having to leave her with the nanny and go to work. I realized how fortunate I was to be able to take it easy and even sneak a quick day-time nap because I was on vacation and with family who could help. And lastly, I realized that even a bad day isn’t such a bad day when you’re in a beautiful setting. 

That exercise was exactly what I needed. With 5 more days remaining on our vacation, I decided to drop expectations. To be present. To help my kids have a good time, while also finding minutes here and there for myself (like this one). To let go of what I thought I should be doing and forcing myself to see that week as truly a vacation. Vacation from to-lists, from schedules and routines, from perfection, and from expectations. 

I know some people are great at vacation. They thrive on the change in routine, the spontaneity. They don’t over-plan or over-pack or over-prepare; they just go and trust that they will figure it out. And they truly can detach from reality and know that the world won’t stop because they are gone for a week or two. 

But I wonder if some of you, like me, have to work a bit harder to enjoy vacation. And maybe for you, there is a happy medium somewhere where you can…

1. Lower your expectations.

  • Have a loose plan or guidelines for the week, but then leave plenty of room in the schedule for doing what fits with the day and your mood. 
  • Hope for good behavior, good weather, etc. but know that it’s no guarantee. And know that how much fun you have or how “great” your vacation is, doesn’t depend on either of those things.

2. Make vacation be about your kids AND about you

  • Plan some special surprises or outings that you know will excite your kids, but also know that you don’t have to go overboard. Being in a new place and a new environment is plenty exciting.
  • Make sure that there are some special things for you to look forward to also. After all, this vacation is just as much for you as it is for them.

3. Lose the routines, within reason

  • Give yourself permission to slack a bit on your routines with working out, journaling, eating healthy, or whatever other self-improvement plans you have going on. Or keep them up if they fit into your schedule while away. Whichever way you go, it’s exactly as it should be. Don’t dwell on either scenario and know that you’ll get back to it once you’re back home. Isn’t that partly what vacation is about? To help you come back to reality refreshed and re-energized to commit to the work that you are doing?

4. Stop feeling behind

  • Speaking of returning to reality, know that there is no such thing as feeling behind. Only you can make yourself feel behind.
  • Try taking one thing at a time, one day at a time and do what needs to be done and only that. You’ll be amazed at how quickly you fall back into your routines and how soon you feel “back to normal”.

5. Everything is in your control

  • Well, everything except the weather and the logistical pieces of vacation. I should say, the important things are within your control. How you feel is within your control. If you need to jot things down to put it into perspective, take the time to do that.
  • Whether you’re planning, packing or stressing about getting everything “ready” or you’re actually on your vacation having your expectations severely challenged, like me, you have the power to reset your thoughts. To remind yourself of how many great things you have going for you. To see things as an adventure, as an opportunity. To smile, shrug, be curious and be relaxed. 

Maybe you are that person who is good at vacationing. You just haven’t stopped long enough to think of yourself that way.

Remember, no one else has any expectations of how your vacation should be. You don’t have to prove anything to anyone. Make it yours. Make it what you want.
 

Why Every Working Mom Needs a Life Coach

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As a life coach myself, you might already be thinking, “of course you would think every working mom needs a life coach. That’s who you work with.” It’s true. I am a life coach for new working moms. But before I was a life coach, I was a new working mom myself googling all sorts of coaching questions, searching for someone who would know what I was going through and who could help me get my life together. 

But even today as a life coach myself, I still have a life coach. We all have our own challenges and areas in which we want to grow. While I have the tools and could certainly coach myself through a lot of this, it’s so much faster and more effective to get help. To have someone who can look into my life from the outside, share a fresh perspective, and hold me accountable to the change I want to create. So yes, I work with a life coach now and I have worked with life coaches in the past, even before I became one myself. I like to think I bring the best of both perspectives to this bold statement.

If I had my way, every working mom would have a life coach, ESPECIALLY new working moms. We are even starting to see some progressive employers offer these services as a benefit to new working moms (amazing, right?). Do you know why? Because life coaching impacts every aspect of your life, including your work. It’s effective and it works. And the best part is, all you have to do is show up willing to share, be open to new ideas, and take action. 

That last one is huge. One of the biggest differences between coaching and counseling, in my opinion, and personal experience, is that coaching is about taking action. Sure, you talk and share, but at the end of the day, coaching is about figuring out what you want, what needs to change and then creating a plan for action so you can start making progress. If you have a good life coach, those next steps and that action plan will be doable for you, not something that is overwhelming.

So why do you need a life coach? Why can’t you just read self-help books, listen to podcasts, or vent to your friends or partner? Here’s why:
 

When You Pay, You Pay Attention

It’s true for most of us. When you have money on the line, you are more likely to follow through. It’s why goal tracking apps like SticK or 21habit work. You’re out money if you don’t follow through. It’s why paying for a gym membership or a class pass works to get you to consistently work out or why buying a book as opposed to checking it out from the library might make you more likely to finish it. You pay attention when you pay.

I have found the same thing to be true of coaching. When you try to DIY a life change by reading books or listening to podcasts or researching the topic online, you quickly lose momentum. First of all, it takes longer to find the right solution for you. Second, you never fully make a commitment. You'll “figure it out” when you have time or when it’s convenient and 3, 6, 9 months go by and you're in the same scenario as when you started thinking about making a change.

But when you commit to paying for life coaching, it’s a different scenario entirely. You schedule the calls in advance and rarely break them. You make sure that you have a clear schedule and childcare if needed. It’s no different than keeping a doctor’s appointment or a hair appointment. It’s your time. And because the recommendations, resources and action plans are specific to you, you get to where you want to be much faster. You don’t have to go searching for information, you can get your questions answered immediately, and you have a clear plan. You know what to do next. And the best part? You have accountability. In all of my coaching relationships, I have always had a follow-up with my coach to check-in on my progress. And no one wants to show up to those meetings having done nothing. So you always take at least a few steps toward your goal or you share any roadblocks you're facing so you can work through them...together.

Friends Are Great, But,,,

I have some pretty amazing, badass friends in my life. Career women, moms, working moms at all stages, and they have some truly amazing insight and ideas. They’re who I go to when I need a recommendation for a new car seat, or when I’m struggling with a new-to-me sleep regression or behavior issue with my toddler, and they are who I go to when I’m having a tough week, an argument with my husband or feel like I’m losing my shit. They listen, they commiserate and they offer advice. But they’re not necessarily who I go to when I feel like I can do more with my life. That there is a happier version of me out there that I want to find. 

It’s not that I’m embarrassed to share that or that they couldn’t relate. They probably could. But I need something more than commiserating. I need ideas, I need a challenge, I need someone who knows how to bring out the best in me. And when it comes to accountability, my friends have busy lives of their own. Many of them are chasing their own dreams, their own kids and feeling just as tired and overwhelmed as I am. 

A life coach isn’t trying to be your best friend. A life coach wants to see you succeed more than anything else. And if that means providing some tough love, some big goals, and a customized plan for how to get there, then that’s what they do. And then when you're ready to celebrate the amazing progress you’ve made, you can go to your friends because no one else will be as excited for you.
 

Take Self-Care To A Whole New Level

You've likely felt the push to prioritize self-care. To do something for you each day so that you have the energy to take care of everyone else. You’re told that self-care doesn’t have to be anything huge, it can be taking a walk, reading a book or drinking a glass of water. But you also know that it’s harder to prioritize those little things than it is to keep a big commitment like getting a massage, for example (remember that thing I said about paying?). 

So if you’re going to take the time for something like a massage, while that is an amazing way to take care of yourself, don’t get me wrong, the effects only last so long. And for the same amount of time in many cases, you could work on your life, your mental health, your spirit. You could make changes that will impact your work, your relationships, your overall happiness. 

That’s what life coaching has done for me. When my mind and my outlook are in great shape, everything else improves as a byproduct. When I work with a life coach, I feel in control of my life and I feel like I am making progress on creating a life that I love every day. That, to me, is self-care to the nth degree.

Is It Frivolous?

Maybe you think that having a life coach is frivolous or extravagant. But I bet you know more people than you think who have a life coach. It's exciting to see this shift toward seeking help, prioritizing our mental well-being and taking ownership of how we feel about our lives. Isn't that more important than a lot of other "frivolous" things on which we spend our money?

If I could gift one thing to all new working moms, it would without a doubt be the gift of a life coach. Figuring out how to manage schedules, find energy, be productive at work and at home, and enjoy your life as much as, if not more than you manage it, those are big tasks. Wouldn't it be amazing to share those challenges with someone who can help you take action and make progress? From personal experience, it is pretty amazing.

If you'd like to learn more about coaching with me, click here or email me at katelyn@themothernurture.com.

Inspiration for Working Moms

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If you follow me on Instagram, you know that I love to share quotes, mantras and ideas that inspire and encourage working moms. I also like to post things that challenge you to think about some deep-rooted habits or thought patterns that you might have. 

I actually use some of my favorite and most popular posts in other areas of my coaching practice as well. For example, on the back of every single business card that I hand out, is a quote or mantra about working motherhood and the topics that I coach on. 

Additionally, for many of my clients, we select a mantra or a new thought pattern to implement in their daily lives that will help to slowly change or eliminate an old thought pattern. Sometimes these are phrases that my client comes up with, or that we collaboratively create, but sometimes we use a great mantra that’s already out there that resonates with the work we are doing. 

Regardless of how you come up with the phrase, I’m a big believer in keeping that thought front and center in your daily life. So if it’s a new thought pattern that you are wanting to make a habit, you need to constantly be reminded of it. I encourage all of my clients to write it in obvious places - places like on a family calendar, on a post-it note that lives on your mirror or on your laptop, on a card that sits in your wallet, or my favorite, as a computer or phone wallpaper image. 

If you’re looking for inspiration, a reminder, or a gentle nudge that it’s time to change that thought that isn’t serving you, I hope that one of these will resonate. Over the years, these quotes and mantras have stayed at the top of the list in terms of the favorites of the Mother Nurture community:
 

The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.
— Stephen Covey
Worry is like a rocking chair, it will give you something to do, but it won’t get you anywhere.
— Vance Havner
It’s okay to grow slow.
— @laracasey
I want to be an example of what is possible because of motherhood, not in spite of it.
— Katelyn Denning
The habits you created to survive will no longer serve you when it’s time to thrive. Get out of survival mode. New habits, new life.
— @exalt_her
Spend your free time the way you like, not the way you think you’re supposed to.
— Susan Cain
Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.
— Thich Nhat Hanh
Gratitude and attitude are not challenges; they are choices.
— Robert Braathe
In the end, I am the only one who can give my children a happy mother who loves life.
— unknown
Give yourself permission to feel the messy and conflicting thoughts that come with being away from your baby.
— Katelyn Denning

I would encourage you to choose one of these, or create your own new thought that will help move you closer to the way you want to feel every day, and post it somewhere where you can be constantly reminded of the change you are seeking. 

And if you come up with something that is working well for you, please share it either by emailing me at katelyn@themothernurture.com or tagging @lovemothernurture in your post on IG. If it's helping you, it could surely help someone else too.