Mommy guilt: what is it?

“Hey hon, can you rub out my chest tar?” I beg my husband.

The request is made on a monthly basis. His healing “Punjab (Annie 1983) hands”, as I refer to them, magically massage my chest and all my worries away. Maybe Touch is a love language of mine after all. (Side note:  A childhood without a Punjab is a childhood without joy. Punjab, Daddy Warbucks’s righthand man in the film Annie, heals Warbucks’s wounded leg with his hands.)

And what is chest tar, you ask? I’m not a smoker, but I am a stress case. I’ve named my stress, more specifically my “mommy guilt”, “tar”. I got the idea from a vivid scene in the occult movie Constantine (2005) starring Keanu Reeves. Lucifer, saves Constantine’s life, by removing his lung cancer – what looks like black tar – from Constantine’s diseased lungs. It’s black, heavy, and sticky. I imagine my guilt looks like that too.

adult black and white darkness face
Photo by Juan Pablo Arenas on

There’s guilt as a noun in the dictionary. Yep, I know these definitions by heart.

  1. the fact of having committed a breach of conduct especially violating law and involving a penalty
  2. the state of one who has committed an offense especially consciously
    1. feelings of deserving blame especially for imagined offenses or from a sense of inadequacy 
  3. a feeling of deserving blame for offenses

As a stay-at-home mom, I experience chest pangs, guilt of the No. 2 variety “feelings of deserving blame especially for imagined offenses or from a sense of inadequacy”.

And there’s guilt as a verb:  guilt, guilting, guilted. Oh yes, I’m also very familiar with this naughty verb.

  1. to cause (someone) to feel guilty.
  2. to persuade (someone) to do something by causing feelings of guilty

While reviewing the above entries for Merriam-Webster Dictionary, I wasn’t surprised to see many of the sample sentences involved moms.

“Don’t listen to Mommy. She’s trying to guilt you.”

“[Mom is]… guilting her to eat her own green beans because ‘there are starving children in Africa’.”

Mommy and daddy guilt: live with it or kick it to the curb?!

In thinking about guilt, I wonder…

What is mommy guilt? Is it different from regular old guilt?

Are moms just hardwired to feel guilty? Is it in our nature? Yes, I think so. But what do you all think?

Do dads feel guilty too? Of course, they do. But in general I don’t think men ruminate about things as much as women. Is mommy guilt, really just a mommy problem then? Another post, another day.

Why do we get it? Our own decisions or our own state of mind cause us to experience guilt. Really anything that negatively affects our kids affects us.

Here’s my theory. I think many of us (definitely talking about myself here) hold ourselves to a higher standard when it comes to parenting. We’ve had a lifetime to observe all kinds of parents, including our own, parent and have formed a list of what to do and what not to do. But guess what, due to factors outside our control and getting torn in different directions, we’ll fall short of our “perfect parent” ideal, which only makes us feel guilty again and again.

We’re not the only ones guilty of making ourselves feel guilty. Other people contribute to our guilty mindset as well. I think other people, the ones we perceive to be judge-y or the ones who are actually judge-y, can contribute to our guilty state of mind. You know the people I’m talking about. The ones who give you dirty looks when your kids are crying in church or glued to an iPad in a restaurant.

What can we do about it? I think it’s important to separate unproductive and productive feelings of guilt. The former, as defined in Merriam-Webster Dictionary, isn’t good for us. But the latter can be helpful if we use the guilt to grow. Yes, I do believe healthy doses of guilt can improve your parenting.

Can we – should we – overcome our guilt? Yes and no. Not all guilt is bad. Feeling guilty can motivate you to do what’s best for your kids. It’s a sign you truly care.

A Final Thought – From the Pillow

Don’t let that mommy guilt live in your heart and head rent free.

So kick that guilt to the curb! Refer back to the second definition of guilt (n.):  “feelings of deserving blame especially for imagined offenses…”. Your offenses are most likely imagined. You didn’t do anything wrong, Mama! Some things are beyond your control or not a big deal in the grand scheme of things. But if your parenting offense isn’t imagined, use that guilt to improve as a mom or dad.

Are you guilt-ridden? Can we – should we – overcome our “mommy guilt”? How do we do that?

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