Written and edited by Abby Khou
The COVID-19 outbreak and subsequent lockdown orders were unexpected for most of us. All of a sudden, we were thrown into this topsy-turvy world where most business are closed, we can’t take our children to the parks or beaches, Friday nights consisted solely of delivery or rushing off to the grocery store, and school, the layer of security that we depend on for our special needs children, is closed. Our kids’ special needs are intensified in a quarantine like this. Kids are not able to get the outlet and release from outdoor recreation, moms and dads are now forced to homeschool on top of working from home, and to top it all, there is the anxiety and worry for our health that COVID-19 causes.
Being active in a few special needs social media forums, I have noticed one emerging emotion from special needs moms right now. Mom guilt. Feeling like we’re not doing a good job homeschooling or we’re not doing enough. Looking at other moms’ photos of doing arts and crafts with kids and other creatively fun activities and thinking, “why can’t I do that?” Social media intensifies the feeling that “I should be doing that,” or “I’m the only one who doesn’t have this all together.” Feeling that we’re not making the healthiest choices when it comes to feeding our children and giving them way too much screen time. In the make-believe world of social media, everybody is in control and everybody has it together. Yet sometimes we forget because the content is so compelling and we have emotional reactions.
In this blog, with the help of Samantha Morey, LMFT, and Ingrid Hicks, LMFT, we will explore the phenomenon of mom guilt. What is it? Why do we experience this? How do we cope with it? It is our hope that through the words of these wise women, we may get some relief from the completely undeserved mom guilt that we sometimes experience and learn some strategies in managing or alleviating it altogether.
Q. Can you describe the phenomenon of mom guilt?
Ingrid: I think all moms struggle with mom guilt during different seasons of raising their children. We always want to give our children all the best of ourselves, and either repeat our positive memories we had as children or try to heal our wounds by doing better for our own children. We place a lot of expectations on our own shoulders.
Samantha: Often mothers who feel often and intense mom guilt already possess a "I am not enough" narrative way before motherhood. This is about understanding the origin of that decision (that they or someone else put on them) and tending to that, choosing a different narrative for themselves.
Q. What causes mothers to feel inadequate and that they are not doing enough for their children?
Ingrid: We have so much internal and external pressure to provide our children with a safe, loving upbringing, and feel so responsible for their happiness. We compare our mothering with an external image of a “good enough mother,” that we take on standards that don’t fit who we really are. The most important task of being a good mother, is finding an approach that embraces who we are as a unique person, with all our strengths and weaknesses. When we find our voice from deep down inside that comes from self-love, we can find our true voice as a mother, and we will unlock the key to freedom!
Q. What are ways that mothers can cope with mom guilt?
Ingrid: Our children absorb how we feel, so the best thing we can do for our children is to help ourselves feel comfortable in our own skin, especially when we feel inadequate. Our children’s memories will be influenced more by how they felt with us, than any lessons we teach them. If only we can practice a mantra, “I’m a good mother, even when I’m imperfect, because I have the best intention in my heart.” Then maybe we can model self-compassion and acceptance before our children, which will give them the best advantage in life. If we can handle our own perceived mistakes with grace, gentleness, and compassion, we create an environment of kindness for ourselves and our kids.
Q. How can we replace this self-defeating state of mind with more positive, self-affirming emotions?
Ingrid: Let’s redefine our job description as a mom. We are a source of happiness to our children, just by being present, in all our raw emotions. They need us, in our vulnerable, real, human state. When we accept ourselves completely, we give our children permission to feel everything, and not judge themselves. Let’s practice being non-judgmental, of ourselves, and each other.
Samantha: It's about deciding who you ARE and who you AREN'T as a mother... not what SHE is, but who YOU are. You have been specifically chosen to be YOUR KID'S MOM, no one else, period. Find the qualities you possess and make them bloom... not the qualities you don't.
Q. How can being in quarantine contribute to feelings of mom guilt?
Ingrid: First of all, we were completely unprepared. Secondly, none of us have chosen this life we are living right now. Lastly, we don’t know when things will go back to “normal”. So we are learning to accept circumstances we haven’t chosen, with so many worries, other than just our children’s education. We have so many reasons to be anxious, uncertain, and lonely. This is trauma on so many levels, we need to walk gently, and practice speaking to ourselves with a calm soothing voice.
Q. Can you leave some words of wisdom to mothers right now who might be feeling that they are not homeschooling the right way, that other mothers are doing way more than them, unable to regulate their children’s behavior or feel undeserving when they take time out for self-care while in quarantine? Thank you so much for your help and participation.
Ingrid: We must start with self-compassion. Take a journal out and write down all your worries. Make a list of them, don’t hold back. Then take a moment of quiet, place your hands on your heart, and say out loud, “my feelings make sense,” and “it is perfectly understandable I would feel all these feelings.” We need to recognize we are operating with half a tank, with fear and panic all around us, and we are working so hard to protect our home as a safe haven for our family. Your heart also must be protected. You must be kind to your own heart so that those around you feel safe. Change your vision of what a successful day looks like. Put your own joy and comfort as top priority for the day. Plan to do what brings you joy. Don’t worry so much about your usual rules, or routine. It’s okay if the kids are getting more screen time than usual, just so you can get some time out for yourself. It’s okay if dinner is not as well rounded as usual. It’s okay because your own well-being is your tool. Your own balance is what you can control during this uncertain time and will allow you to handle this very challenging task with grace, and gentleness. You being okay is the most important factor in how your children will experience this quarantine. Take care of you, be gentle with yourself, and your kids will feel safe.
Samantha: This quarantine experience is going to be bumpy. Your kids will not remember the fancy Pinterest craft you laid out for them... but they WILL remember the laughter, the mealtimes, the general tone of calm and trust that YOU created for them during this time of uncertainty. They will more than survive with a school semester full of holes, unfinished assignments, awkward art projects and questionable Living Room PE classes, ridiculous amounts of TV and electronic devices, but they won't survive well without your choosing to just do your best and be a "good enough" mom.