Tag Archives: momlife

Mom Guilt vs. Mom Shame

Mom Guilt vs. Mom Shame

Mom guilt is a basic mom emotion, because guilt is a basic human emotion.

While unpleasant, it provides an important social and psychological function. It motivates us to behave differently than we have.

Shame, on the other hand, is a destructive emotion.

Brene Brown, a pre-eminent shame scholar and famous TED-talker, says that while guilt creates psyhcological discomfort, shame makes us feel fundamentally unlovable.

Motivation to Change

These are two wildly different things.

Mom guilt would be a feeling that tells us we aren’t behaving in line with our values, and it would nudge us in the right direction.

Mom shame motivates us to hide our behavior, not to change it. Since we become morally bad by our actions, it is important not to let people know. We cannot do without having other’s approval.

Mom shame is what most women are feeling, not mom guilt.

Or maybe something else entirely.

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Why do I think so?

Because mothers are largely doing the same things day in and day out. They aren’t feeling motivated to improve. Their conscious is not leading them.

Shame is a toxic emotion. We need to banish mom shame, and encourage mom guilt. Mom guilt would be when we feel discomfort because we have done something that we should not doing.

Mom shame about spending time away from your children would be ridiculous. It’s normal and natural in the context of a community, and spending time away from your childrenespecially young babies and toddlerscould help them with stress inoculation.

This would be useless shame. Not only do you likely have to spend time aware from your children, but it is neutral to helpful for your children. When you do it, you feel morally bad and alone, and you can’t change it. That is toxic.

Mom guilt is when you give your children food that you know isn’t good for them.

People are judging you for it.

And they should be.

The reason that you feel bad is because you are doing something that is against your core values.

Leveraging Mom Guilt

Does that mean that you cannot give your kid chicken nuggets every once in awhile?

No.

It just means that you need to be mindful, and realize that the emotions you’re are communicating to you.

I’m proposing that we want more mom guilt in our life. How can we get more?

Two things:

  1. Clearly laying out our priorities. When we know what we value, and in what order we value it, it is much easier to make decisions and much harder to feel guilty. “I value my children’s health enough to always have healthy food in the house, but do not believe that snacks will harm them. We can have snacks when we travel or are at a friend’s house.”

With this clearly laid out, I can feel bad when I bring some cookies into the house, and good when we eat a pie at Grandma’s. There won’t be low-level shame running through each day.

  1. Surrounding ourselves with people who share those priorities. Willpower doesn’t work. Changing your environment works. The people and things around you are what motivate you to do the things that you do. Call it triggers or associations, for better or worse, this is what ultimately dictates most of your decisions. Whatever your environment is geared towards will become your autopilot.

    People are a key part of that environment. If everyone around you is upholding the same values as you, you will feel deep, social mom guilt when you do not follow through—and the good news is that following through will be easier.

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Emotions Communicate

As our children grow, we want them to know that not all uncomfortable or negative emotions are bad. We don’t want them to run away from sadness or anger. We want them to rest comfortably in the fact that emotions are trying to alert them to some truth about themselves, the world, and how those two are interacting.

We want the same thing for ourselves.

Guilt does not need to be run away from. It needs to be acknowledged, and it needs to be dealt with. By forcing more mom guilt into our lives and forcing out the mom shame, we can let go of this low-level nag and move into action.

Expectations

 

Your biggest problem is your expectations.

When you go out and you discover a flat tire on your car so you can’t go to see grandma and AAA won’t make it there for two hours and your husband isn’t answering his phone and the kids are crying, it feels miserable. And it is definitely not your optimal outcome for any particular day, but there is nothing wrong or inherently bad about the situation.

Your husband shouldn’t have had the phone on.

You shouldn’t always have access to help.

Your kids shouldn’t be happy about the situation.

Your tire shouldn’t be full of air.

All of these things can be in any state without anything being wrong, even all at once.

You’ve just drawn a line in the sand about how your day should go, and when it wasn’t that way, you decided that there was something wrong with the world.

Hope for the Best, Plan for the Worst

This isn’t about being a boyscout. You’ll be fine if you run out of a good. You can run to the store, call to someone to get it, or order it on Prime if you have a day or two. Some situations are of course far more inconvenient if you don’t have a particular thing on hand—but this isn’t our real problem.

Very few of our real our problems, our big problems, our Pareto principle problems, actually come from whether or not we have immediate access to a piece of fruit or even a diaper. It may suck to clean up poopy pants or a poopy car seat, but it isn’t going to kill you.

What is going to make today worse, and all of your days worse, is if you expect to not have to deal with problems like this, and you end up having to.

The Real Enemy

Expectations are the real enemy.

Not just in every day nuisances like lacking an ingredient you thought you had, but in your relationship with your child.

And your partner.

And yourself.

In believing that you or your son or your daughter or your partner should be something other than they are, you create an unwinnable.

If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, you lose the chance to the admire the beauty in its swim.

“Age-Appropriate” Expectations

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There was a popular infographic going around talking about the cognitive capacities of children, when it becomes appropriate to expect things from them. I think that the effort of this infographic was noble—reducing the frustration that parents feel with their children when they have unreasonable expectations. But I feel that it also had two implicit messages that I have a harder time supporting:

  1. Expecting it: If you have an idea that someone “should” be able to do something, you will get annoyed with the fact that they aren’t doing it. If it is backed by “science”, the backlash is even worse. Parents feel not only put out by their child’s behavior, but might begin to believe there is something wrong with them.

    Milestone-mania is already rampant, and there is no need to double down on that sneaking sense of paranoia in an attempt to allay anger.

  2. Reducing Agency: One thing that happens when we decide what people “should” and “shouldn’t” be able to do is stop attempting to get them to grasp concepts or build the tools to head in that direction. This is called the tyranny of low expectations. It is essentially writing someone off and letting them pay the consequences.

More useful than developing suitable expectations is having none, but to give your children the support and skills that they need to develop and strengthen their capacities.

It’s not as if, on their fourth birthday, all or even more kids have impulse control. It’s not as if most adults have even worked that muscle particularly hard.

What is happening is a slow progression to have more emotional control—a completely unpredictable path that will move backwards and forwards more time than anyone could possibly count. A path that your child will continue to walk through toddlerhood, teenagerdom, and well into adulthood. Skills and abilities that you thought they had will seemingly fade overnight, and that they should be able to do these things—according to science!–isn’t going to help you or your child get anywhere.

Try This Instead

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Let’s go back to that day in the car.

You have a lot of other options, outside of disappointment. Give yourself five minutes to feel those feelings, then move on.

Check what your options are to carry out your original plan: Consider an Uber, see if grandma can come over, or someone can pick you up.

Or just go inside, tell grandma sorry, and have a different day from the one you were planning.

If you didn’t have that plan, how would the day have gone? How would you feel if those things didn’t happen on a day you didn’t mean for them to happen?

We can’t always have such peace and clarity, but working on lassoing in our expectations bit by bit, we can stop trying to handle disappointment, and instead just go about with our days.

Why You Should Say No

If you ask your husband to go to dinner at your favorite restaurant, and he says he doesn’t want to go there, how does that feel?

If you ask your best friend if she can come over because you are feeling sad, but she is unable to, how does that feel?

Do either of these situations stir up in you a feeling that these people in your life are rejecting who you fundamentally are as a person?

Of course not.

Or, I certainly hope not.

You are able to understand that your desires don’t take priority at all times. You know it doesn’t mean your family and friends don’t love you.

What if your partner told you no, you can’t go to that restaurant? What if he locked you in your room because you asked too many times?

You would quickly, I hope, leave this relationship.

How would you feel if you asked your partner to go to the restaurant and he said yes? And then he sat looking miserable the whole time, maybe even snapping at you? How would you feel if when you got home, he quickly rushed around from task to task, exasperated with all the things he had to do because he spent time with you? He wakes up the next day exhausted, unable to give of himself. And in the back of your head, you know he is thinking: This is your fault!

Would that feel good to you? Would you feel like your partner valued his time with you? Do you want your partner constantly draining themselves in order to feed your every little desire?

Of course not.

Or, I certainly hope not!

We have a deep desire to make our children feel that we are on their team. We want for them to feel validated in being their authentic selves.

The best way to do this is stop viewing children as fundamentally different from adults. They are only developmentally different. They have the same needs as us, largely. To be loved. To feel understood. To be mentored in things that they don’t yet understand.

It sucks when we don’t get what want. Of course we want what we want. That’s why we want it. But we can deal. Our reactions are mild.

Kids cannot control their emotions in the same way that adults can. They’re developmentally different. Very young children do not have impulse control yet. Even once it begins to develop, the decision-making part of your brain isn’t fully developed until early adulthood.

But does that mean that they feel that a “no” answer is a fundamental violation of who they are as a person? No. It doesn’t. All that it means is that they don’t have the tools yet to manage their own disappointment.

Not getting what you want already sucks. It would be much worse if people were yelling at us, lying to us. If they were trying to help, but feeling guilty and stressed. If they were slowly building resentment towards us.

I would rather have no favors done for me than ones with that price tag.

Kids ultimately feel the same way, even if they can’t say it. They can handle a “no”.

What they can’t handle is a parent who can’t handle saying “no.”