You may recall from the last post that the purpose of building well-being is not to perfect your parenting or become some idyllic Zen mama who’s always calm, cool, and collected. The real purpose is to nurture and strengthen your capacity to be the mom you already are.
Inevitably, some situations make it hard to embody your full potential as a mama. For example, when your child refuses to eat, frustration or worry may hijack you, making it hard to respond in a helpful, kind way.
This brings me to the topic of today’s post: how to skillfully recover from mistakes, aka deal with guilt.
By definition, guilt is an uncomfortable feeling of remorse for something you did wrong. Even though the experience of mom-guilt is universal, we may feel guilty about different things based on our own morals or values.
Why are mamas so prone to guilt, you wonder?
- We have high (okay, sometimes perfect!) standards.
- We’re bound to make mistakes.
- We’re responsible for another human life that we really care about.
- We take things personally because, well, parenting is very personal.
- We’re caught in a maelstrom of societal / familial messages about how we should be. Working moms should be home more. Stay-at-home moms should get out more. It can be hard to decipher our own values in the midst.
Alright, alright, so how to manage guilt? Here are 10 practices:
- Be mindful of guilt. Mamas commonly move so fast through life that guilt operates below the surface of our awareness. The key to finding freedom from guilt, however, is to see it for what it is. You might literally say, “I see/feel you guilt,” and then gently notice where it manifests in the body.
- Don’t pour salt on the wound. Guilt, like all other emotions, is normal and healthy. If you fight or judge yourself for feeling guilty (Ergh, why do I always feel guilty!?), it can get stronger and lead to behavior that makes you feel even worse. Simply put, emotions are designed to get our attention. Once you give them your kind attention, they typically subside.
- Take time to understand if you really did something harmful. In my experience, there are two types of guilt: Real and imagined. Real in the sense that if you watched yourself through a video camera, you’d see a behavior, such as yelling, that conflicts with one of your values. Imagined guilt, on the other hand, is fueled by a story or script that isn’t necessarily true. For example, you might repeatedly tell yourself that you don’t do enough for your children, but if you looked closer + got some feedback from people who love you, you’d discover a fuller picture of what’s really going on.
- Practice self-compassion and forgiveness. It’s easy to beat yourself up when you make a mistake, but in the end, it’s not helpful. Instead, think about what you’d say to a dear mama friend who’s in the same pickle. What would it be like offer yourself that same understanding and care? Forgiving yourself for being imperfect is not the same as overlooking the mistake.
- Make a plan. When you bring a wise perspective to guilt, you may discover that there’s something you’d like to do differently. For example, if you feel guilty about yelling, consider what you really want to do in the moments you yell and what will help you.
- Detect patterns. Notice under what circumstances you tend to feel guilty. For example, if you typically feel guilty about taking time for yourself, it’s helpful to inquire a little deeper. Do you believe that your needs aren’t important or that you should always be available for your children? Do you believe that others can’t or shouldn’t take care of your children? See if there’s a story or script that perpetuates remorse.
- Watch out for over-personalizing. This one’s particularly relevant if you tend to beat yourself up about your child behaving a certain way, such as picky eating. While it’s true that we can influence our child’s behavior, we can’t control it. Remember that children are growing beings with developing brains, and there’s a lot more driving their behavior than you.
- If guilt, like stress, is a given, why not accept it? There’s only so much mamas can do to turn down the volume on guilt. Knowing that guilt is a universal experience for mamas the-world-around can help you stop trying to rid yourself of guilt and soften into what is.
- Talk to a close pal or loved one. It’s over-rated to go at this mama thing alone. Open up to someone you trust about what you’re feeling and get a little perspective.
- Finally, give yourself the benefit of the doubt. I have to remember when I mess-up that I didn’t do it on purpose. Truth be told, I did the best I could at that moment. Otherwise, I’d have done better!
Would love to hear what helps you deal with guilt skillfully!