Is 'mommy guilt' productive?


Fact Box

  • Mommy, or mom guilt, is labeled as the feelings of guilt that mothers experience relative to their children. It stems from the perception that perfection is attainable as a parent. 
  • Psychology Today defines guilt as the natural emotional response of causing harm. It serves the purpose of “encouraging the repair of valuable relationships and discouraging acts that could damage them.”
  • A 2019 Pew Research Center poll found that 77% of Americans believe women face “a lot of pressure to be an involved parent” with 49% believing the same for men. 
  • Mothers with children under the age of 18 made up 71.2% of the workforce (working or actively job hunting) in 2021, which is less than the 72.3 percentage in 2019, as stated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Maha (Yes)

So-called 'mommy guilt' has been given a bad name because it's simply misunderstood. 

Contrary to the negativity surrounding it, guilt can actually be good. In fact, one study deems it a social phenomenon with relationship-enhancing functions such as motivating people to treat others well and redistributing emotional distress. 

Unfortunately, guilt can sometimes be confused with shame. Shame is when individuals view themselves as less than worthy, typically due to a social incident. On the other hand, guilt is a feeling of regret following wrongdoing. 

Similarly, feeling immobilized and useless isn't guilt. Instead, it may be postpartum depression or 'everyday' depression. In such cases, mothers should seek medical help immediately. 

By better understanding mommy guilt, mothers can welcome it and reap its benefits. 

First off, mommy guilt reminds us that motherhood isn't about perfection, which, in turn, allows mothers to be gentler on themselves and prevents them from developing shame. It also enables moms to teach children that people are imperfect and model how to make amends after hurting others. 

Moreover, mommy guilt is an indicator that mothers care, proving that they want what's best for their children. It further motivates them to become better parents and make their children a priority. This, in turn, prevents mothers from becoming emotionally unavailable later on. 

Finally, mommy guilt results in better parenting by inviting self-reflection, which helps mothers understand their present and future better. It can also make way for self-forgiveness. 

Therefore, instead of looking for ways to escape mommy guilt, mothers should embrace it fully--for their sake and that of their children. 

Elisa (No)

There is more pressure than ever for moms to be perfect, with many viral Facebook videos highlighting the modern challenges of motherhood. In one video, a woman explains, 'You can't do it all,' as she talks about her trashed house and her kids constantly on their screens. Despite this sentiment, millions of moms feel a sense of 'mommy guilt,' which is the pervasive feeling that they just can never be good enough.

Unfortunately, this sort of guilt is not helpful, and experts argue that it is a 'sham,' not benefitting mothers at all. Further, many agree that guilt is usually a useless emotion akin to worry that ultimately doesn't change anything.  

Still, the rise of social media has made many moms feel inadequate, with 'mom shaming' and constant parental critiquing. The pandemic also compounded this phenomenon, with many mothers facing new and difficult challenges. This type of shaming can have detrimental effects on mothers, with experts agreeing it simply doesn't work. 

Instead of guilt, moms should focus on self-reflection, which is a healthier part of learning and growing. It is more productive to forgo worrying about not 'living up' to some unattainable standard as a mom and instead move on. Ultimately, modeling this type of introspection is one of the best things you can do for your children. It is also important to remember that a parent's mental health impacts their children, so a mother's unnecessary guilt could harm them if it dramatically affects everyday interactions. The best gift a mom can give herself is letting go of mommy guilt.

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