The first time I experienced mom guilt, my baby was 10 days old and I was attempting to take my very first shower in as many days.
I felt physically sick leaving him my son alone and could barely bring myself to bathe. “You should be watching him,” my brain told me. “What if something happens to him while you’re showering?” other intrusive thoughts said. “What kind of mom leaves her baby to pamper herself?” I thought.
Uh, a first-time mom with limited support who needed a simple shower.
Related: Yes, a shower can be self-care—here’s how to level it up
That first-time postpartum bombardment of guilt has taken many forms throughout the decade that I’ve been a mom and added a few more children to our family.
I’ve had mom guilt trying to file an article on deadline while my infant happily bounced in his seat beside me.
I’ve had mom guilt when our house got too messy (too much fun) and I lacked the energy to clean it up.
I’ve had mom guilt feeding my kids leftovers for dinner—even though they happily gobbled it up.
I’ve had mom guilt on work trips and solo mom trips and one-kid trips. I’ve had mom guilt on family vacations when I fear I’ve spent too much money.
I’ve had mom guilt for working too much, and I’ve had mom guilt for not working enough and then not having cash left over for school/ toys/ fun for the kids.
Since moms feel guilty about anything and everything, yet they do more to care for their children than anyone—even to the point of their own chronic burnout—do they really have something they should feel guilty about?
Related: ‘Self-care’ is not enough to fix how many moms are burnt out
Mom guilt is the symptom of a disease plaguing motherhood. It is overwhelmingly an indictment of our society’s failures, not moms’ behavior.
To be very clear, guilt can be a healthy sign that your actions that don’t align with your values. In a healthy society, guilt can be a useful signal to improve your behavior. But today mothers don’t raise their children in a healthy society.
Instead, I believe mom guilt is a sign that mothers’ needs are not being met.
Because we know that in America, moms can’t actually do more, and they can’t do better. What moms need is structural and social support at every level so that they can DO LESS.
If we have any chance of disentangling ourselves from the social sickness that masquerades as mom guilt, we need the burdens on mothers to be lifted.
Moms raise children in a society that tells them that “family is important,” but does nothing to show that the wellbeing of children and their parents matter. From a lack of access to maternity leave, to a maternal mental health crisis, from inflexible workplace policies to abysmally unaffordable childcare. It’s clear that on all levels of society, moms don’t matter.
It’s time to stop feeling guilty, and start putting the blame where it really belongs. A society that refuses to support babies, kids, mothers, fathers and families.
Because moms feel guilty for being human, in a whole host of contradictory and sickening ways.
Moms feel guilty for taking care of themselves.
Moms feel guilty for being burned out.
Moms feel guilty for working—or not working.
Moms feel guilty for spending money on themselves.
Moms feel guilty for not having the money to spend on their kids.
Moms feel guilty for wanting an escape.
Moms feel guilty for not being able to “handle the pressure.”
Moms feel guilty for practicing self-care.
Moms feel guilty for not practicing self-care.
Moms feel guilty for spending too much.
Moms feel guilty for not saving enough.
Moms feel guilty for having a messy house.
Moms feel guilty for ignoring their kids while they clean their house.
Moms feel guilty for not creating enough “magic” and “fun” for their kids.
Moms feel guilty letting their kids have screen time so they can get a break.
Moms feel guilty if they haven’t set up fun play dates for their kids.
Moms feel guilty if they spend time alone without their kids, so that mom can have fun for once.
Related: Do moms really only get 30 minutes of ‘me time’ per day?
Moms feel guilty if they can’t meet all of their child’s needs, even though healthy societies divide the work of child-rearing among an extended networking of trusted adults.
Moms feel guilty for having needs, because the message they get from society is that their needs don’t matter.
Mom feels guilty because our society expects mothers to be superheroes, but they are simply, exhaustingly human.
If you are a mom who feels guilty for doing normal human activities, it’s imperative that you realize the problem is NOT YOU. The problem is on a social level, so let’s refuse to unquestionably feel it any more. Mom guilt is the internalized version of a story that our unsupportive society wants you to tell yourself. Because if you feel guilty, and you push harder, and do more, and keep burning yourself out with no programs or structures or village to help you, then nobody else needs to step up.
Related: Flooded with shame after mom rage? A therapist shares what can help
Instead of guilt, moms need affordable childcare. Instead of guilt, they need access to maternal health support. Instead of guilt, they need paid time off to care for newborns. Instead of guilt, they need husband and partners who take on an equal mental and logistical load. Instead of guilt, moms need a network of neighbors and friends and systems around them to lighten their load. Instead of guilt, mothers need permission to be human, too.
So let’s refuse to feel guilty, and start focusing our rage where it really belongs.
Because mom is a human, too. And she needs a shower.