Every mom I work with has her own version of Mom Guilt, being all too aware of what we wish we did better in parenting.
The goal of this post is to help you Escape the Mom Guilt Trap, and it will be really good for empty-nesters to read.
It’s going to be good for moms of kids of all ages, but some of you have been asking me, are there specific ways I recommend to stop worrying about the things I did wrong as a mom, I know I did the best I could with what I had, but I seem to still feel guilty and what am I supposed to do with that?
And the reason I say this is a good one is because I actually wrote it specifically with a few friends in mind who are empty nesters, who I have the privilege of coaching, and we’ve cultivated the Three truths I’m sharing with you today. They are powerful truths. And honestly, I wish I would have known them sooner. So I’m excited to share them with you.
Before I do, I want to make sure that you know that as we near the holidays, if you need the perfect Christmas gift for someone, someone who likes this podcast who you think could really benefit from going deeper in this work, then go to daniellevaughn coaching.com and grab them a 2023 Dare Greatly Society membership.
It will get them into the program, my online coaching program that I teach, for three months. And we will be going through a new topic of personal development every month. The theme for 2023 is living a life with intention. And I’m in the process of finishing up my Dare Greatly Parenting course which has amazing content for parents. The course is included in the Dare Greatly coaching program, I’m getting ready to record all the lessons. I’m super excited about what I’m going to be teaching in there next year.
So grab that if you have somebody that you think might want to join us. They’re also going to get - in January, we’ll mail out to all of them a beautiful notebook journal, and pen, and that will be just a little gift that they’ll get for being in the program.
So let’s talk about Mom Guilt. I want to say, I love the moms I was thinking of when this topic came up for the podcast. And one of the women is my own mom who raised me.
Every mom goes through their own version of mom guilt. I don’t know any moms who escape it. And there’s an element of healthy-ness to go through it because it means you care. If you didn’t experience it, then we run the risk of being what Brene Brown defines, her definition of a sociopath, someone who doesn’t care or try to take the perspective of other humans. And when you have mom guilt, it is a sign that you care, that you are wondering what you could have done better or how you can improve.
So I think there’s a healthy aspect to mom guilt.
Say, when I yell at my kids. I want to have mom guilt for that. Because then I’ll figure out what I need to teach better or I’ll figure out what I’m needing that I’ve pushed aside and put on the back burner. Maybe I need more rest, better nutrition, more exercise, or some time away with friends, or some support from my partner.
And so I think that having some mom guilt is a good thing. I want to feel the prick of my conscience when I know I can do better. And so I’ll get busy and try to figure that out.
But what I want to make a distinction about with mom guilt, is when to notice it and let it serve you as simply good information for areas that need improvement, but then - to know when to let it go.
Some of us don’t know how to do that, how to let it go.
You’ll know if this is you because the following sentences run on repeat in your mind, and no matter how hard you try, these sentences are always playing in the background. Are you ready?
And it’s so fascinating to me how so many moms, from all walks of life, with various backgrounds, family dynamics, and even super high functioning, it’s so fascinating how these very same sentences are playing on repeat in the background with the parents I work with, the very same sentences.
And I hear their frustrations. I hear them talk about how they worry, they hope they did enough. And they analyze whether their children’s struggles, how much of it is their fault.
I know this all too well, too.
My young adult children have their own struggles and when they tell me about them, I wonder if there’s a way I could have prevented it.
I also want to share when I first became a mother, I was so full of hopes to be the very best mom I could be. I felt bad about how much I also wanted to be a musician who performed on the weekends. I had a full music studio of piano and guitar students and back then at the time, my toddlers were watched over by a few nannies, a few of the neighborhood girls who would come to the house and hold down the fort and take my kids to the park or play with them. And I liked that!
I liked putting myself together each day and looking forward to teaching. I liked having a purpose and work that wasn’t solely defined by motherhood, even though I loved motherhood equally as much. And I was busy! People would tell me they were so glad I kept teaching when I had my babies. I also wrote tons of songs back then and was in a band. I liked performing and getting to record my songs.
And - I also felt guilty about it.
I thought if I was a better mom, I would be content with being home with my babies. And once I finally decided I could do both, and that I had to do both because the alternative left me feeling unfulfilled, I decided to embrace that I’m happier when I work and when I get help with my kids.
I think God wants mothers to cultivate ALL of our gifts. And for me, he wanted me to come into my own as an adult, to be a late bloomer with my music. That’s how the timing worked out, for various reasons. As soon as I became a mom, it’s like this poet-songwriter came alive in my heart simultaneously. Giving birth to my daughter also gave birth to a new kind of creativity inside of me. And guess what? I’m not the only one this happens to.
Many moms have shared with me how this has happened to them, too.
And so as the years have gone by and I’ve raised my kids who are now teens and young adults, I look back and I am so grateful I gave myself permission to honor my creative yearnings alongside motherhood.
And so that leads me into truth number one, I want to share.
Here’s what I mean by this.
What you do and who you are, are separate things. Be careful not to equate them with your self-worth and judge them as the same. For example, you are not your clean house or your dirty house, you are not your pile of laundry and you are not your folded laundry, you are not your beautiful yard and you are not your messy yard, you are not the things that exist outside of you, your circumstances. Those things are secondary. The primary thing that you are is on the inside, your heart. We know this because You can have a messy house and still be a terrific person. You can have a pile of laundry and be a caring mother. You can have a messy yard and be a true friend to someone in need. What you do and the actions you take are separate things from the person you are.
If you like working hard, great, do that. If you like to rest, great, do that. But none of it defines your worth.
I think many of us as women confuse this truth. We get really tangled in this. We try to work our way to feeling good about ourselves, versus the other way around; feel good about ourselves first, then do work from that feeling and energy and enjoy our work.
If you have a habit of looking to what you accomplish to define who you are, you will have a hard time keeping up with the demands of that, you will always feel like you are falling short, and you will have a hard time figuring that out because you’ll constantly be comparing yourself to things and people outside of you who seem to be doing it better. I call this being Results and outward-focused, versus being Energy and inward-focused.
We want to be Energy and inward-focused to define our self-worth because our feelings never lie. And I’m talking about the feelings of love, self-respect, grounded, at peace, those kinds of feelings, knowing what kinds of actions are the fruits of those feelings.
Those kinds of feelings will never lead us astray. We know when we feel aligned when our heart and soul are aligned with who we are, and when we take action from that feeling because we create an outward expression of who we are that makes us feel proud of ourselves.
If we can believe that our self-worth is already there inside of us, that we came with it as newborn babies, and nothing can diminish that or take that away, that God gave it to us and it is most sacred, then we will operate from the energy of self-respect - and we will choose how we want to spend our energy with intention. And those intentions will inform the work we do, or choose not to do.
So please be willing to believe that your work does not define you. It’s not always easy to do. But I also want anyone listening to this, to know that God knows your worth, you came to this planet with it already inside of you, and you don’t have to prove it to anyone. God knows your heart, your challenges, your frustrations, and your shortcomings. And we are supported in those things if we invite Light and Spirit to help us through. We have to invite it though. We do.
Okay, so that’s truth no. 1 - your Work does not equal your worth: There’s no such thing as working hard enough to prove you are a good mom or a worthy person. You already are a worthy person. Your worth is inside of you. You came with it. No one and nothing can take it away. And it's not based on how hard you work or what you do.
Truth number two I want to speak to. And this one is so powerful. Are you ready?
Here’s what I mean by this.
If we define ourselves by our children’s choices, then we’re in trouble. I mean. . . we are. We’ve given our power away to define ourselves, we’ve given that power to our kids. And they will not do a good job of defining who you are, because they are too busy working on defining who they are. And they don’t want you to put that kind of pressure on them.
If we believe that the choices our kids make define us, then we are going to parent them from so much pressure and even cross over into some manipulative parenting tactics. We are going to be more concerned with what other people think about the choices our kids make than we are concerned about what our children think about themselves.
I did this recently when my son told me he doesn’t want to go to college. He wants to become an electrician. I immediately felt a wash of worry, it was interesting, I started to worry about what so and so would think. And I don’t even know why this person’s opinion mattered at the time more than being really present and curious about what my son was saying. I just immediately started to imagine what so and so would think and say.
So I caught myself and was able to switch to being more present, and asked my son to tell me more. He has really good reasons. I like his reasons a lot.
But how easy is it for us as moms to worry and make our children’s choices mean something about ourselves, when it has nothing to do with us?
It can be a little bit of a bitter pill for a mom to realize that actually, it’s not about you, right? You know what I’m talking about here?
I would argue that great parenting doesn’t look the way we think it does. That even though we have a lot of power as parents, we should be very careful with that power. And the more intentional we are with it and allow our children to choose for themselves, and separate our self-definition from their choices, the more powerful of a parent we are.
In other words, I like to give my child credit for their choices, whether good choices or bad choices, I like to let my child’s choices be more about them than me. When I am disappointed in a choice they make, I have to be intentional to own my disappointment, but not slip into thinking it’s my fault because I’m a bad parent.
Why is it that the seemingly best parents ever, have kids who make poor choices?
And why is it that the seemingly worst parents ever, have kids who make excellent choices?
Because it’s the kids who are defining themselves.
Let’s look closer at the flip side of this, believing that if my kids make good choices, it’s not because of me, I must have done something right, I’m a good mom.
No. It’s for my child to own.
If my child makes a good choice, that’s theirs to own. I give them the credit for that, not me.
I think we have to be careful of taking credit for our children’s choices, because if I take credit for my child’s good choices, then again, I have to take credit for their bad choices.
Kids’ choices are for them to own. If I feel guilty for the choices they’ve made, I’m taking on guilt that is optional to carry.
Let me take this a step further.
I see parents do this thing sometimes, they want their child to make good choices, but they go about it in a manipulative or controlling manner.
And the child will make good choices, but there won’t be a closeness or true connection on a heart level between parent and child.
Sometimes parents try to guilt their children into making good choices. An example might be, “it makes me sad when you don’t come to visit. It makes me sad when you don’t want to spend time with me.” They put responsibility for their emotional well-being on their child.
It helps to understand that when we do this to our child, we are coming from a place of disempowerment. We are trying to control our children so we can feel better.
If your child is angry, resentful, or has a lot of anger, but on the outside, they’re making good choices - it’s important to get curious if that is showing up in your relationship - to look at your role in believing that it’s your child’s job to make you happy.
As adults, we are responsible for our own happiness. We are responsible for how we think and feel.
I have to remind myself of this often when I see my child struggling with a poor choice and I think it’s a reflection on me and my parenting. It’s not that I’m letting myself off the hook from learning and teaching and wanting to do better in my role as mentor and teacher, but I don’t make their choices mean that I’m a good mom or a bad mom.
If I do, then I get out of integrity by allowing them to own their agency.
So my job is to teach and then let them govern themselves. Easier said than done, right? So that’s truth no. 2 - My kids' choices don’t create my feelings. My thoughts about their choices and what I make their choices mean about me, do.
The third truth I want to share to escape the Mom Guilt trap is this:
So let’s talk about mistakes.
When we’re talking about mistakes, we can’t do so without talking about the emotion of regret.
Emotions fall into two categories: useful, and . . . stuck or spinning.
Where would you put regret?
Is it a useful emotion? Or is it an emotion that keeps us spinning and stuck?
I think it can be both. And it’s important to know when it is in which category. For me, regret is useful if I can use it to make a change in my life that needs to take place.
If I lose my temper and yell at my kids, I know I’m going to regret it later on and feel bad. So in this way, regret is useful and I’m going to want to change the way I manage my emotions. In this way, regret is a quick flash of a moment of insight, and I can realize, “hey Danielle, I could’ve done that differently,” and then I adjust in the present, that is useful.
But if we’re using regret to blame ourselves for something that we didn’t do or for something that happened in the past, then no, regret is not useful and it is a burden that needs to be let go of.
If you’re constantly wishing you could go back in the past and change something, and you’re arguing with it in your mind, in your spirit even, that’s not useful regret. That’s stuck regret.
So we have a choice in how we think about mistakes. We can either look back and feel the emotion of regret over and over and over or - we can look forward and choose to create something better.
Which feels more useful to you? Which feels more productive?
A thought that really helps me do this is this: “what’s meant to happen does.”
And when I think of things in that way, I see that mistakes were meant to happen so I could learn from them, that we are meant to make mistakes, and so are my children.
This is a powerful way to let go of the pressure to be the perfect mom or to ensure that life goes smoothly and wonderfully. If we don’t make room for mistakes, if we don’t accept that we are going to make mistakes, we are setting ourselves up for a lot of anxiety.
Now, this doesn’t mean that mistakes don’t completely suck. And of course, we want to prevent them. But I’m talking about accepting that 50% of the time, we will create negative feelings because that is the way the world is designed. If it weren’t so, then we would all live in a place where mistakes weren’t possible to be made. We would live in a place with fluffy clouds and soft things where toes would never be stubbed on furniture, glasses would never drop and shatter, and there would be no dirt to make dirty things or no opportunities for spilling the milk. Do you see what I’m getting at here?
We are supposed to make mistakes, even terrible ones sometimes, and so are our children.
And so practicing some acceptance in this really dissolves guilt in a way that lets us put down the burden of regret that keeps us spinning and staying stuck.
So, it’s my hope, in sharing these three truths with you today, that you can see the truth of how you don’t have to keep feeling guilty for past mistakes, for not feeling good enough, those things are optional.
Let’s just review the three truths one more time:
No. 1 - your Work does not equal your worth: There’s no such thing as working hard to prove you are a good mom or a worthy person. You already are a worthy person. Your worth is inside of you. You came with it. It’s not defined by how hard you work.
And No. 2 - Our kids' choices don’t create our feelings. Our thoughts about their choices and what we make their choices mean about me, do.
And No. 3 - You were meant to make mistakes. And so are your kids. It’s part of the plan. And the plan is working, because we’re learning and growing when we make mistakes.
As we really come to know these truths, we can be a little more relaxed, and let go of the pressure - it is a cultural message we’ve all absorbed - to be all and do all and not have room for mistakes. If we can operate from these truths, we will challenge the hustle culture to prove our worth, we will be cycle breakers, and we will give a beautiful gift to our children, the next generation of parents, who use a different fuel than guilt to inform their parenting journey. We can create a legacy of guilt or we can create a legacy of trusting ourselves, of self-respect.
One last truth I want to leave you with. A parent's voice becomes a child’s self-talk. And so, If you grew up with parents who used guilt to get you to obey, then that might be some inner work you want to explore, if you are hearing your parent’s voices in your head, you can give those voices, those sentences back to their rightful owner.
What are the sentences in your brain that cause the emotion of guilt? Slow things down and get curious.
What do you want to feel moving forward in your parenting journey?
More peace? More grace? More self-respect? More light-heartedness?
Take a stand for yourself and choose to support the efforts you’ve made so far to parent your kids with your whole heart, given your unique set of strengths and weaknesses, be kind to yourself as you assess your parenting journey.
If we can learn to see things as they truly are, we can put the burden of guilt down, and we will feel better on the other side of doing that, better at enjoying being a parent.
I want this for all of the moms. This is how we escape the Mom Guilt Trap. You can keep up to date on all things parenting when you sign up for my Dare Greatly newsletter. Click here to sign up. I sure love you, friend.
Thanks for being here.
Have a beautiful day.
In this mini course, I'll take you through the Emotion Coaching framework that is a gamechanger for cultivating more peace. Plus you'll discover how to shift the 'frustration habit' and parent from a place of trusting yourself more.
In this free mini course, I'll take you through the Emotion Coaching framework I've taught hundreds of moms and dads for cultivating more peace. Plus you'll discover how to shift the 'frustration habit' and parent from a place of trusting yourself more.