One of my first and most brilliantly clear memories of being a mom was after my first night feeding my son, I placed him back in the hospital bassinet that was surrounded by Plexiglas so I could stare at him. And in those first quiet moments of mother-son bonding, I sobbed hysterically because all I could think was he was so absolutely perfect and all I could do was screw him up. Thirteen years later, I’m happy to report that I don’t think I’ve done such a terrible job so far. I also learned pretty quickly my son was never perfect. Nor do I need him to be. Nor do I need to be.
This last month I’ve had the pleasure of spending time with a soon-to-be-mama, a newly minted mom of a 2-month-old, and a working mom juggling her 2-year-old and a busy work-travel schedule. As a working mom nearly 14 years into this deal, I found it fascinating that the common thread each woman—including myself—grappled with on almost a daily basis is our mom guilt. Our guilt comes in all sorts of shapes and sizes, but underlying it is a deep sense of anxiety. We don’t just have guilt about the things we actually might have screwed up—like yelling at our kids, spending too much time on the road, over-mothering or under-mothering—but we already have guilt about the things we think we might screw up, like making everything work when a baby arrives or traveling too much for our jobs. We put an incredible amount of pressure on our own damned selves as mothers.
Mom guilt is shorthand for all the terrible ways we beat ourselves up as moms. It’s basically socially acceptable self-flagellation. And it has to stop.
Now I’m not naïve enough to think that moms are going to stop being anxious about our parenting. It is just part of the deal of being responsible for creating and guiding a human-being. Having those thoughts is out of our control. Ignoring them won’t make them go away. Drinking doesn’t do the trick either—believe me I’ve given that a shot as well. But I do believe we can create a new framework in which our anxiety exists as a positive affirmation of what great moms we are, instead of going to the dark place.
At the heart of our mom guilt is a kernel of something really amazing. Rolled up inside that thick blanket of self-doubt is our powerful desire to be THE BEST MOM EVER! Sort of good isn’t good enough. Not for our little humans. We demand perfection of ourselves because there isn’t anything else on this planet more important to us than our children. And that, ladies, is a beautiful thing. It’s our most noble aspiration. Every other job we do, title we hold, or accomplishment we achieve pales in comparison to our roles as mothers.
So the next time your mind starts spinning with crazy thoughts and you are mom-shame spiraling straight down to guilt-town, I want you to stop. Take a deep breath and remind yourself that perfection is a lie. You are the best mom you can possibly be, and those nasty doubts are just affirmations of how important motherhood is to you, and you are, in fact, good enough.