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Many parents have felt that they aren’t doing a good job raising their kids, leading to “mom guilt.” While the term refers to mothers, dads and other caregivers can experience parental guilt, too.

While some guilt is OK, it can become a problem. Guilt can:

  • diminish your self-confidence and life satisfaction
  • interfere with your relationships with family and friends

Parenting comes with plenty of ups and downs, and you don’t have to add guilt to the experience. If you think guilt interferes with your life, you can find ways to alleviate the negative feelings.

“Mom guilt” or “mommy guilt” is the name given to the feelings of guilt women experience regarding their kids. It can happen to all parents and caregivers.

Licensed clinical psychologist Ellen Kolomeyer in Plantation, Florida, explains, “Ultimately, it stems from worries about all the ‘should’s’ parents are bombarded with and anxiety about making all the best parenting choices.”

She adds that “we’re constantly being given messages about what we ‘should’ be doing or what choices we ‘should’ be making” from:

  • social comparisons
  • other parents
  • nonstop external input from parenting blogs and podcasts
  • parenting experts
  • social media

These feelings occur when parents feel like they aren’t meeting their child’s needs or fulfilling their role as a “good mom.” Learning to manage parenting guilt can help you live a meaningful life.

Dads also experience feelings of guilt about not living up to expectations. They might feel torn about the need to provide and the desire to spend quality time with their kids.

Parents feel guilty in many situations, including:

Comparing yourself to others

You might feel guilt creep in when you see other parents doing crafts or activities while your kids are engaged in screen time. It can also happen if you feel like you aren’t living up to the type of parent you want to be.

Differing parenting styles

Having a different parenting style than those closest to you might also make you feel guilty as a parent. Everyone parents differently, and that doesn’t make any parenting style superior.

Feeling bored

You might experience guilt if you feel bored and want time away from your kids.

Lacking adult conversations or engagement in your favorite activities can make you feel like you need more out of life. This feeling is OK, as having a life other than parenting is essential.

Perceived criticism from family members and pediatrician

In a 2020 study of parents with children who are overweight, mothers described the things that caused the most mom guilt.

Mothers in the study said family members commonly make negative or judgmental comments and criticize their parenting. These mothers sometimes feel isolated from others because their child is overweight.

Many mothers also said that their child’s doctor contributes to guilt. They might feel judged and invalidated during appointments.

Work hours

Some parents might feel guilty for taking their children to preschool or day care because they naturally want to be with their littles all day.

Other working parents might feel guilty for wanting to drop their child off so they can work, telling themselves that they shouldn’t want that.

Either way, parents often feel badly for their choices if they don’t center around the child.

They can also feel guilty about a few aspects of child care, including the cost, quality, and logistics.

Parents who work from home also experience guilt and feel like they have to steal time for work. Their negative feelings often leave them working late into the night to try and do it all.

Striving to be a ‘perfect mom’

Constantly worrying about getting everything right can trigger feelings of:

An unrealistic idea of a “perfect mom” contributes to feeling like you aren’t living up to expectations.

Taking the time to engage in a healthy lifestyle

Research from 2020 shows that parents who take the time or think about engaging in healthy behaviors experience guilt.

Some parents believe that taking care of themselves takes away from their children. Prioritizing the following healthy choices can bring feelings of mild guilt:

  • physical activity, even if that means exercising without the stroller or little in tow
  • eating healthy for your body’s needs, even if it means preparing a different meal than your kids
  • getting enough sleep, even if that means weaning off co-sleeping with kids

Breastfeeding or formula-feeding

Parents often experience guilt about how they feed their babies.

Studies indicate that 67% of formula-feeding parents felt guilty about not chestfeeding. Parents who supplement with formula also felt the need to explain themselves.

However, parents who exclusively breastfeed also experience guilt. Their feelings involve not meeting other obligations because of their demanding nursing schedule.

Too much screen time

Parents often feel guilty if they think their child spends too much time in front of screens. One 2019 study shows that screen time has minimal effects on a child’s well-being.

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While guilt is common, it can affect mental health if it goes too far. If it interferes with your day-to-day and leads to negative self-talk, or more serious symptoms, you can acknowledge it and take mindful steps to course-correct.

Many parents experience guilt, and it might help to remember that you aren’t alone in this feeling. You can recognize when it needs intervention if it overpowers all other emotions.

Perhaps you’re unsure if your guilt is problematic. You can look for the following signs:

Parenting guilt can bring many negative feelings, but you don’t have to accept them. Some of the ways to deal with guilt include:

Reflecting on your values

Reframing your idea of a “good parent” can also help ease your feelings of guilt.

Amy Webb, a parenting writer in Eerie, Colorado, with a doctorate in human development and family sciences, weighed in on this method.

She explains, “If a mom feels very strong in what her authentic values are regarding certain parenting choices, then she can make a choice with confidence and not feel so guilty.”

Regardless of how anyone else or the negative thoughts in your mind make you feel, sticking to your values can protect your mental well-being. You may not feel as guilty when you know you’re following what you believe in.

Prioritizing self-care

Taking care of yourself can alleviate negative feelings, including parenting guilt. Consider focusing on yourself for a while and leaning on others for help caregiving, if you can. Self-care can help you be present and stay patient.

Curbing comparisons

Comparing yourself to others is detrimental to your well-being and can trigger guilt. If you stop the comparisons, you can experience relief from thinking you’re not doing well as a parent.

Licensed professional counselor and parent coach Ronda Thorington, of Manchester, Connecticut, says, “There is always going to be someone that you think is doing things better and with more ease. Be gentle with yourself, trust the process, and know that you are right where you need to be.”

Remembering this mom guilt quote can help you refocus your thoughts and limit comparisons.

Asking for help

Thorington also suggests leaning on your village for help. There’s nothing wrong with asking for help, as it can help you take care of yourself. You can take a break or delegate some tasks, giving you more time to focus on other things.

Reaching out to a professional

Talking with a therapist can be a beneficial way to overcome your negative feelings. They can help you identify the triggers and find other coping strategies.

Limiting what you follow on social media

You can alleviate guilty feelings by limiting the content you follow on social media. Unfollowing seemingly perfect parents who make you feel bad about yourself is one way you can start.

Letting go of expectations

Releasing unrealistic expectations can help with guilt about how you feed your baby or other aspects of parenting. You can let go of societal expectations and personal ones.

Surround yourself with positive people who understand your parenting style

If someone in your life contributes to your guilty feelings, you can limit your time with them. Surrounding yourself with positive, nonjudgmental people can help alleviate negative emotions.

You can also join a support group with others who understand.

Mom guilt is typical for caregivers, but it doesn’t have to define who you are. If it interferes with your life and leads to constant worry, consider making changes to recalibrate.

You can let go of your guilt and focus on watching your children grow and develop. Less mom guilt improves your well-being and can contribute to you being present with your children.

If you’re unsure how to overcome your guilty feelings, consider online therapy or a support group for help. You aren’t alone in this, and you can feel better if you talk with others.