Just because something feels bad and unpleasant, e.g. guilt, doesn’t mean it isn’t good. Is there such a thing as good guilt? It turns out the answer is yes.
According to Dr. Tracy Cassels of Evolutionary Parenting, “…’mommy guilt’ is key for parenting – you learn from it and it can make you a better parent.” If you can’t learn from your mistakes as a parent, then you’ll keep making them again and again.
Dr. Cassels cites several studies claiming that “people who are high on guilt” (me, a thousand times me!) tend to be…
- more pro-social.
- better at perspective-talking.
- more empathetic towards others.
So that feeling of black “tar” in our chests can be a good thing? Apparently so. Guilt is the inner voice telling you to shape up in one domain of your life or another. So listen.
There is a caveat though. What happens if that nagging, negative inner voice is wrong? And it can be.
There’s a difference between productive guilt and unproductive, debilitating, immobilizing guilt. If you have the latter, it could be postpartum depression or depression and/or anxiety. In these cases, you should seek medical help. No one deserves to experience negative self-talk and extreme emotions day in and day out. No wonder parents feel tired and worn out, you’ve been fighting a losing battle all day.
If you think you have a guilt problem that interferes with your life, here are five steps for alleviating it. Notice how I said alleviate and not overcome. I think it’s impossible for a human being to completely overcome guilt.
- Ask yourself if what you’ve done is really guilt-worthy. Separate what you can control (e.g. what, when, and where your child eats for dinner) with what you can’t (e.g. whether your child eats for dinner and how much). If your friend came to you with a similar problem, would you think her guilt is justified?
- Let some things go. Prioritize what matters the most. Choose your battles. Would my child be harmed if I didn’t do this task, e.g. clean the dishes, right away? If the answer is, “no”, let it go.
- The grass is greener on the other side. Parenting isn’t a competitive sport. Stay-at-home moms and working moms shouldn’t be competing with one another. A working mom may feel guilty she isn’t spending more time with her kids, whereas a stay-at-home mom may feel guilty she’s isn’t bringing home a paycheck. We’re all feeling guilty about something (and think we could be doing better), which means the “perfect parent” doesn’t exist.
- Wait before you react. A study has shown yelling or snapping at our kids makes parents feel the most guilty. Avoid these guilt-worthy situations by pausing first before we speak or act.
- Find practical solutions to the big things that make you feel the most guilty. For instance, if you feel you aren’t spending enough quality time with your children, set aside an hour to focus 100 percent on them and what they’d like to do.
A Final Thought – From the Pillow
If you hear a guilty voice whispering (or maybe screaming) in your head, listen.
If, however, that voice doesn’t respond to reason or doesn’t quiet after you’ve changed your thoughts or actions, then shove it aside and say shut the f*ck up!
So first try the five steps above for feeling a little less guilty. But if that doesn’t work and the guilt is just too overwhelming, please don’t be afraid to get professional help.
How do you lesson your mommy guilt or “talk back” to guilt when she’s being a mouthy little bitch?