Parents

What Moms Really Feel Guilty About (And Don't) Might Surprise You

Not all moms feel 'mom guilt.'

Mom guilt” is a loaded term, even though most moms report feelings of guilt.

It implies that guilt is a natural, inescapable part of motherhood — that we should feel guilty for letting our kids go to daycare, for bribing them with (Gasp!) screens so we can sit down, for feeling relieved when they finally go to bed and we can have a hot moment to ourselves.

And that’s BS. We’re all just doing our best, right?

“Guilt implies that you’ve made some sort of wrong decision; that there’s some other, better, less guilty working mom out there that you should aspire to be like. But erase that idea, because every single mother out there will admit to feeling guilt in one way or another,” Lauren Smith Brody, author of The Fifth Trimester, said in a 2019 interview on Big Think.

“So if it is just a lowest common denominator, let’s just erase it, and treat for whatever feeling we actually have. If you feel regretful, if you feel conflicted, if you feel overwhelmed, if you feel unsupported, let’s solve that problem instead of writing something off universally as mom guilt.”

Many of the moms who spoke to HuffPost Canada take issue with the term 'mom guilt.'
Many of the moms who spoke to HuffPost Canada take issue with the term 'mom guilt.'

Amen to that, but that’s easier said than done when guilt is so often intertwined with motherhood.

To try to understand “mom guilt” more (and how to get past it) we asked Canadian moms what they feel guilty about — or don’t feel guilty about, for that matter— and their answers surprising and refreshing. These moms aren’t so concerned with sugar and screen time, and many don’t feel guilty at all.

Some moms chose to remain anonymous to protect their children’s privacy.

I feel guilty about: the climate crisis

“I experience crushing guilt and anxiety over simply have kids due to the current climate crisis. I’m fearful for what my kids lives will look like as adults. Major. Major. Guilt. Unfortunately, I can’t fix this alone.

— Anonymous, Vancouver

What kind of world are we leaving our kids?
What kind of world are we leaving our kids?

“The climate crisis and our inaction and the hell of a world we are leaving for our children weighs heavily ... I feel guilty for bringing privileged kids into a world where they will hoard resources, just like I do, at the expense and on the backs of third-world people and marginalized people. I feel guilty for taking advantage of my privilege and using it to maintain systems that keep us advantaged. Screen-time, diet, etc? Oh man. I wish I had enough energy left at the end of the day to feel guilty about something so easily fixable.”

— Alexandra Lee, Calgary

I feel guilty about: my kid’s special needs

“I get flooded with irrational thoughts of guilt about my kid’s ADHD diagnosis and because he has to take meds to manage it. I think, ‘Did I eat too much tuna when I pregnant?’ ‘Did I not have the right nap schedule when he was an infant?’ There’s no known cause and there’s no travelling back in time, anyway. I wonder if other parents catch themselves feeling guilty irrationally.”

— Anonymous, Burnaby, B.C.

Some parents feel guilty about their kid's diagnosis, or what they are unable to provide.
Some parents feel guilty about their kid's diagnosis, or what they are unable to provide.

“I have a child who has special needs, ones not recognized by any sort of government funding and we struggle to provide the necessary private supports that he needs in order to function and feel successful.

We can’t provide: Special private school programs. Enrichment programs. Counselling. Better tutors. More OT. So much guilt over that. This was something I didn’t even consider when deciding to have a child. I work a second job to provide what I can ... my weeks total 60 hours to pay for basic tutor, one OT session a month and his $300 worth of meds.”

— Anonymous, Vancouver

I used to feel guilty, but I lowered my expectations

“I encountered a lot of guilt (both self-imposed and from others) right out of the gate as a new parent around breastfeeding issues, and since then ... my coping strategy across the board has been a commitment to being “good enough” and lowering my expectations as a parent but also as a partner, colleague, academic, friend, sister, daughter, family member, and community member.”

— Marika Warren, Halifax

I feel guilty, but I don’t feel shame

“I do not attach shame to my guilt. But I do have guilt, and I think it’s minimizing to say we should just stop feeling it because it’s gendered and manufactured. We are the products of our raising and society and media and social circles, and regardless of whether or not it’s reasonable to feel guilt, many of us do. Telling us to stop puts even more burden on women to manage their and others’ emotional needs. Absolutely, have a wider social conversation and begin to change the narrative so we can stop others from absorbing that need to feel guilty. But not by saying that the real feelings we have are invalid.”

— Alexandra Lee, Calgary

Feelings of guilt are still valid.
Feelings of guilt are still valid.

I don’t feel guilty, period.

“I don’t have what I describe as ‘guilt.’ Guilt by definition implies that I have done something wrong — and I don’t really take that perspective. I’m not a perfect parent. But I know that perfect is not possible. So I try my best— some days my best is better than other days. But I keep moving forward. I do my best to not regret, but to learn, self-reflect and try differently next time. The idea that guilt is a requirement of being a parent is not one I believe. Parenting is hard, and the emotions associated with it are difficult to navigate — but guilt isn’t one that I include!

— Jaime Jenkins, Clementsvale, N.S.

“I don’t feel ‘mom guilt.’ I also somewhat resent the term since it’s so gendered. I’m not a perfect parent and I know some parents feel guilty and I’m not dismissing that. But ‘mom guilt’ is promoted and valorized as this inevitable right of passage and it’s just not.

— Anonymous, Vancouver

"TODAY I AM FUN MOM!"
"TODAY I AM FUN MOM!"

“I used to feel guilty when I was younger, now I just shrug it off as what works for us now. There’s usually a reason my kids are eating more sugar (summer treats, and I’m feeling like ‘fun mom’), more screen time (I have things to do, or I’m needing to keep them entertained, or I want ‘me time’), buying them cheap dollar store toys (that’s all we can afford and I’m feeling like ‘fun mom’). My boys are 13, 10 and five. I dropped feeling guilty about five to six years ago. We just do as we do.

I should also mention that, just because I don’t feel guilty doesn’t mean I think I do things perfectly. I’ve just lowered my expectations of myself, so we often have ‘good days’, since my standard isn’t as high as it used to be. We ate food: check, some if it was healthy: check, we were active: check, we went outside: check, we did something together that was fun: check (usually a board game or dancing to music).

— Dawn Campbell, Vancouver