Is It Possible to Go Through Motherhood Without Guilt?
Guilt and motherhood are two concepts that always seem to go hand in hand. It’s like summer and the beach, macaroni and cheese, or Christmas and presents. Now, how true is it that the feeling of guilt is inevitable once we become mothers? Is there a way to reduce this uncomfortable feeling? In the following article, we’ll offer you some tips on how to go through motherhood without guilt.
What is guilt and what is its mechanism?
Guilt is an emotion that arises from the belief or feeling of having transgressed a moral, personal, or social code. Of course, the causes of its appearance vary from one person to another, but it always arises from a negative self-evaluation in regard to one’s own behavior. Like any emotion, it has its adaptive function, which is to teach us to learn from our mistakes.
“Guilt has the function of regulating undesirable social behavior and promoting self-control, as well as motivating the person to repair the damage caused to other people”.
– Enrique Echeburúa –
Guilt is functional when it’s proportional to the factor that triggers it and when it drives us to repair the action we perceive as inadequate. How do we repair it? It could be by apologizing or trying not to make the same mistake next time. Think of it this way: You’ve brutally yelled at your child during a tantrum. A sense of guilt has welled up in you because what you’ve done isn’t in line with your values and parenting standards. For this reason, you’ve apologized and have been more attentive so as not to yell at your child again. This way, you try to avoid future damage. In this case, guilt has fulfilled its function.
When responsibility becomes a heavy burden
However, this emotion often takes dysfunctional forms in motherhood, as it appears in excess and produces an enormous psychological wear and tear. Therefore, it tends to torture and paralyze us. Undoubtedly, occupying the role of mother bears a great responsibility. Although the social representation of this concept has changed over the last few years, in the mind of society, being a good mother still implies a set of criteria that are more rigid than flexible.
As we live with very high demands, it’s to be expected that guilt is often present. You can’t figure out why your baby’s crying the first time, you feel guilty. Your little one doesn’t latch on well, guilt. You leave the house to go to work, guilt. You take a little time for yourself, guilt. The prominence of this emotion is based on the need to get as close as possible to what the culture determines as the perfect mother. You want to be one because you experience indescribable love.
Accept yourself as less than perfect
Donald Winnicot, British psychoanalyst and pediatrician, discusses the idea of the perfect mother and proposes a more than relieving concept: The good enough mother. In simple words, what he’s trying to convey is that while the maternal function is indispensable for the healthy emotional development of the baby, there’s no need for mothers to excel at everything. We shouldn’t expect that, as it’s an impossibility.
Strategies for coping with guilt
Working to exercise motherhood with less guilt seems to be a very good idea. It’s not a matter of eliminating it completely, but of preventing it from appearing too much. Here are some coping strategies to reduce this emotion:
- Identify and question your beliefs: As we can see, guilt in motherhood is inherently related to beliefs about the concept of motherhood as a social construct. It’s important that you recognize how you think a mother should be and reflect on your criteria. Are they too rigid? Can you make them more flexible?
- Express yourself through words: Talk to a person you trust about what’s happening to you. What makes you feel guilty? Do you think you could repair it in some way? In this regard, expressing yourself with other mothers may be relieving, as they’ll be able to empathize.
- Avoid comparing yourself too much: The mothers of your child’s classmates aren’t perfect mothers. You’re not a lousy mother. Nor vice versa. Everyone does the best they can and goes their own way. Excessive comparison tends to be highly harmful. A famous saying states that “the grass is always greener on the other side”. Try not to idealize other mothers.
- Reduce your self-demands: Working on perfectionism and being hyper-demanding is a valuable alternative to mitigate the feeling of guilt, among other issues. If you feel you can’t do it alone, don’t hesitate to consult a mental health professional to help you allow yourself to be imperfect.
- Avoid polarized thinking: We call polarized thinking the cognitive distortion of interpreting reality in terms of black or white, without taking into account the midpoints or grays. These thoughts are easily identified, as they usually include some determining word such as: Never, always, nothing, everything. For example, “everything goes wrong for me” or “I’ll never be a good mother”.
It’s possible to enjoy motherhood without guilt
In conclusion, going through motherhood with less guilt is possible. This isn’t solved by being less of a person and more of a mother, but quite the opposite. This negative feeling will reduce the balance between responsibility and the ability to be imperfect. With a more flexible self-criticism and a kind internal dialogue, motherhood will be an experience that you can enjoy.
All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.
- Echeburúa, E., De corral, P. & Amor, P. J. (2001). Estrategias de afrontamiento ante los sentimientos de culpa. Análisis y Modificación de Conducta, 27(116).
- Gonzalez, T.,C. (2021). Culpa y maternidad, una pareja soluble: variables psicológicas que influyen en el afrontamiento de la culpa. Facultad de Psicología y Logopedia. Universidad de La Laguna.
- Levy, N. (2010) La sabiduría de las emociones. Cómo interpretar el miedo, la culpa, la envidia, la vergüenza. Debolsillo.