“Mommy guilt” is something far more serious and harmful than guilt; let’s stop calling it that.
Mommy guilt is real and it’s everywhere. From what we feed our kids to how we diaper them to how much TV they watch to how much time we spend with them; there are a lot of ways to feel like we’re failing.
Just one problem: “mommy guilt” isn’t really guilt at all, but rather shame. And shame, unlike guilt, which is a useful and sometimes appropriate emotion, is just harmful. Guilt is, “I made a bad choice”, while shame is, “I am bad”. Guilt is something that helps us to notice when we’ve made an error that we need to correct. Shame makes us feel as though there is nothing we can do to make it better other than change who we are. Of course, changing behaviors is one thing; changing who you are as a person is another (impossible) thing entirely.
And yet, the message that women get from their peers, from too many online “support” forums, from advertisers, from the media, and from themselves is: “You’re doing it wrong! You’re a terrible mother if you don’t do/buy/use [insert activity, product here]”. And then let’s say we do buy or use or do the thing we’re being told is the key to being a good mother. Guess what? They’ll be something else that we need to acquire or commit to in order to maintain our status as “good mothers”. Essentially, we’re never good enough.
The shaming of women is not new, but perhaps in this age of miraculous technological interconnectedness there are simply more ways to shame them. And motherhood is something that is so vulnerable, so gut-wrenching, that it is very easy to manipulate, and cast doubt, and to create shame in order to force a desired behavior.
Of course, anybody who has had a child knows that shaming children into doing something may produce a compliant child, but it won’t produce a happy child. Shaming mothers while using the more palatable “guilt” to describe the behavior may also alter the behaviors of mothers to suit the desires of family members, corporations, and society at large, but it won’t make happy mothers. Instead it creates mothers who are lacking confidence, living awash in self-doubt, and fundamentally unhappy and unfulfilled.
So, here’s what I propose. The next time you start to feel guilt, ask yourself: Do I feel like I’ve done something wrong or that I am a bad mother? If the answer is that you feel like a bad mother, know that you are experiencing shame and not guilt. And guess what? Chances are, you are not a bad mother. Most mothers are good mothers and even the best of mothers make mistakes. Even you.
And let’s start calling “mommy guilt” what it is: mommy shame. And even better, let’s stop giving into it, let’s stop joining in, and let’s stop allowing it to manipulate us. If we all make one mistake every single day that we raise our children, I’d say that’s good news; we’re human and, seriously, only one mistake a day? Considering I’m on about a 5-a-day average I’d say that’s pretty great!
About V.K. Harber
V.K. Harber is a yogi, writer and mother of one. She is the co-founder and former managing director of Samdhana-Karana Yoga: A Healing Arts Center in Tacoma, WA, a non-profit yoga studio.She currently resides in Seoul, South Korea where she works as a yoga teacher and post-partum doula. (www.vkharber.com) She is also a contributing writer at World Moms Blog and can be found on twitter @VKHarberRYT.