Moms

Mom guilt: 94 percent of us have it. Can we ditch it for a week?

March 10, 2011 at 1:38 PM ET

Do you ever feel guilty? Let's put it another way: Are you a mom? Because the two tend to go together. BabyCenter declared last week "Guilt-Free Parenting Week," and, well, we were going to post this response a week ago, but then things got really hectic, and it sort of slipped through the cracks... and now we have another thing to feel guilty about.

By Sue Kidd, TODAY Moms contributor

The guilt storm came in a flurry. An incomplete homework assignment he had procrastinated all week meant he was staying inside on a sunny Saturday. My son sat at that table with that look. You know, the one that makes you feel like the Worst Mother Ever.

And then the insta-guilt hit. What kind of mother was I to deny my child riding his bike to the neighborhood park? Kids need fresh air and exercise, all the fitness experts say so! I’m encouraging obesity by making him sit inside and finish his homework! What a mean mom!

Then I talked myself down off the Ledge O’ Guilt, that fun place all moms seem to reside. Homework is a responsibility, playing outside is a reward. I couldn’t let guilt override that.

That moment was one of a million of my guilty mom moments. I experience them all the time, sometimes in pairs or triples. It’s always an undercurrent.

I’d like to learn to let it go just a little bit better. And moms everywhere would agree: guilt is bunk. It’s even the source of a campaign at Baby Center, which reports that 94 percent of moms surveyed feel parenting-related guilt. The challenge: live your life for a week with guilt-free parenting.

What the heck, is that even possible?

Maybe.

I turned to parenting expert and author of “Addicted to Stress,” Debbie Mandel, for advice. Here’s what she had to say: “We learned from our mothers and grandmothers that we were somehow responsible for everyone’s happiness. By the same token we were taught to feel guilty when we expressed our individuality at school or a house of worship. ‘Don’t show off,’ ‘Don’t brag,’ when we owned our unique ability. This kind of guilt stifles identity and spontaneity.”

Well, amen. Every mother reading that had some sort of internal twinge of recognition.

She continues, “And when we feel guilty, we try to make amends by engaging in self-denial and overworking. This makes most mothers a low priority on the daily to-do list, as they feel selfish if they do something for the self which does not involve the family.”

Her advice? Leave the good-girl zone and get some healthy balance in your life. Ditch the feelings of guilt. Feel that nagging tug when you engage in a hobby that doesn’t involve your children? Ignore it! Bike, knit, scrapbook, roller derby or start a fight club -- just squash that guilt, moms.

 Healthy moms, she said, “advocate for themselves, delegate, and do not dwell on mistakes,” she said.

So back to the kitchen table, my son, and my Mean Mom Moment. He settled into his homework after I laid out my own special brand of guilt about how he’ll never get into a good college if he doesn’t decode fractions. (See, guilt can work the other way, too!) He completed half of the math worksheet; I let him off the hook to go play. Yes, the obesity experts will be happy to learn, he rode his scooter to our neighborhood park. It’s a challenge to forgive yourself the guilt, but sometimes you just have to get over it and move on with your life. 

Sue Kidd is a full-time journalist, overzealous Mama Bear and sometimes freelance writer from Tacoma, WA. Email her at suekidd@yahoo.com

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