Tag Archives: motherhood

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.

babies are people

Babies Are People

Because they don’t talk. Because we support them. Because they need so much. Because we are all they have.

It is sometimes difficult, if not impossible, to remember that our babies are people too. They have their own needs, wants, and struggles.

Difficult Times

My partner experienced this recently when he kindly offered to take our four-month-old son for a while so could relax.

Our four-month-old sleep-regression-and-developmental-leap-having son.

He was not the easiest he has ever been.

My boyfriend remarked in his wisdom that he could see how people sometimes forget that babies are people.

My boyfriend, obviously, is not alone in this. We had spoken about it. I have had that feeling. We all have that feeling.

Little Baby “Thoughts”

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While we’ll never know exactly what babies think—although that’s not quite the right word—I try to put myself in their shoes. I try to think of having a pain and not knowing how to resolve it. I try to think of being alone and not knowing if I’ll ever see anyone again. I try to think of needing help, and the people I care for most withholding.

Of course, my son’s thoughts are nowhere close to this coherent. Babies are people, too, but he has just come out of creature mode. He is just waking up to the world. His emotional system is just coming online, and he can begin to respond with reactions other than fight, flight, freeze or faint.

But even without the cognition, the important thing is there. The feelings are there.

And to me, they sound very difficult and very frustrating.

No Theory of Mind

I try not to go in the other direction, either. There are people who prescribe far more cognitive abilities to children than they have. I probably tend on this side, though I can usually catch myself.

Infants don’t have a theory of mind—they don’t know that you’re making choices and thinking thoughts different and independent from theirs. They don’t understand your motivations.

When my son is uncomfortable or in pain, I sometimes wonder if he is thinking, “Why won’t you just solve this? You’re so big, so strong. You can do so much. Please make this pain stop.”

But he doesn’t think that. He just feels: “I don’t want this!”

As he ages, he may start assigning blame. It will have to do with his temperament, and the sort of culture we set up in our household. Whether he blames me, himself, the world, or realizes that there is no need to sign blame, our ideas and attitudes towards are discomfort are going to have some effect on him.

Being Present

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But for now, my goal is just to remember that he is a person. He is not an inanimate objects that I can force my desires on, and he is not a full grown adult prescribing malintent. He’s neither a manipulative psychopath trying to pull from me every resource that I have nor plant requiring just a bit of water and a touch of sun.

All that I can do is respond consistently to his cues. This doesn’t mean perfectly, and this doesn’t mean immediately. It means recognizing that he is trying to communicate his needs and wants to me and responding to them sensitively.

Sometimes, he will cry while he is in my arms, but if he is with me, he will be fine. And if I can see him and stay with him there without demanding he feel some other way, then I will, too.

 

Cry It Out

It is not possible to spoil your baby. Anything that your baby wants, your baby needs. If that is food, if that is sleep, or if that is just your attention.

Attention is not inconsequential to a human’s life. Because we are social creatures, others attention a is fundamental to our survival.
We are used to saying that babies only have one means of communication: Crying. That is not quite the truth. Read anything about breastfeeding, and it will tell you to look for other signals before they start to cry. Rooting, chewing on their fingers, behaving restlessly. The quicker you are to respond to these small signals, the easier it will be for baby to remain in a state of emotional regulation.

Mild Deprivation
We know that extreme deprivation of parental care causes huge problems for an infant. Famous studies were done in Romanian orphanages where they found out that children who were not touched or paid attention to had higher rates of criminality and drug use. They were in worse health and more likely to suffer from mood disorders.
The literature is less definitive on sleep training and other practices that involve the intentional decision to allow your baby to cry without responding.
What the literature is very clear on, though, is that responding to your child’s cues is never going to be the wrong thing to do. Especially not for an infant.

The point of argument is whether or not cry-it-out, as it is know, is negative or neutral; not whether or not responding is a bad thing. There are some physicians who will tell you that without sleep training, your child will fall into sleep dysregulation–some go even as far as to call co-sleeping or nursing to sleep a “sleeping disorder.”

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Sleep Associations
We all use what are called “sleep association” to get us to bed. Very few of us just conk out where ever and whenever. If you look for tips on the best way to get a good night’s sleep, you will again and again come across two suggestions: (1) Make your bedroom only for sleep; and (2) create a routine. Because our brains are association machines, you will automatically be put into a state of ease if you use these tools.
Anyone who is calling using your mother as a sleep association a disorder is drawing an arbitrary and unhelpful line.
While evolutionary psychology is often just-so, I think it is useful to note that babies would have slept with and been nursed by their mother’s for most of human history. While we should be wary of people using naturalistic arguments to push their view, using our past is not a bad default to move from.

Cortisol
What made the children in Romanian orphanages ill equipped to handle life?
It has to do with their cortisol levels. Cortisol is a chemical that is released in response to stress. Too much of it is linked with bad health outcomes.
Since we know at least one of the mechanisms that leads to poor life-outcomes, we can ask specific questions. Does cry-it-out release enough cortisol to produce negative, long lasting effects?

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Hyporesponsitivity
One of the most fascinating things about babies and young children is that they actually don’t produce much cortisol, even when they are crying a lot. This is called the period of hyporesponsitity, and you can read more about it here.
Hyporesponsivity essentially means that while you see your baby or toddler getting red in the face, crying, or having a tantrum, their brains aren’t reacting as if they’re in a stressful situation. It is hard to illicit a boost in cortisol, even if we can see that our children are having a very difficult time.
We don’t know why the brain does this in those early years of rapid neurological development, but we know it does. We also know that brains bathed in cortisol early in life set up their organism for failure, so it makes sense that it has some way to protect itself.
There is one easy way to get a baby or toddler’s brain to start producing cortisol, though: Remove their caregiver.
Our small ones use us as a buffer against stress. We mediate their emotions because they can’t.

Distress vs. Eustress
But isn’t stress good for us?
We will encounter stress throughout our lives. Some of that stress will make us more likely to develop cardiovascular disease, and some of it will make us better, stronger people. We can distinguish between these two kinds of stress. One is distress, which is negative; and the other is eustress, which is positive.
Eustress is short-term stress where we believe that we can cope with the demands on us. It is motivating. Taking on new job or hobby are examples of good stress. Distress can be long-term or short-term and it makes us feel like we do not have the tools we need to be successful. Unemployment and a death in the family are example of bad stress.
Are babies experiencing eustress or distress during CIO? Is it chronic stress or does it get interpreted as acute stress?

Inoculation
There is a phenomenon called stress inoculation. If you are exposed to a small amount of stress, you will slowly grow the ability to deal with more and more stress in your life. That is, you’ll subjectively perceive instances as eustress that you may otherwise have perceived as distress, if you have encountered similar struggles before. You will grow your window of tolerance for difficulty.
Studies have shown that baby monkey’s who experience short periods of separation from their mother’s in early life tend to be less anxious later in life.

Answers
This information my awareness of the need to focus on integration. My children and I need to be linked but distinct parts. Sometimes that calls for closeness and comfort, and sometimes that calls for standing apart.

As much as I’d like for the answer to fall definitively on my side–that what my gut tells me is right, is right–humans aren’t that simple. We might never have the answers we need to rest comfortable in our judgementalness of other’s choices.

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.

The Best Way to Help Your Child With Difficult Emotions

Your child is hurting. She asked someone at the park if they wanted to be her friend, and they said no. She feels embarrassed, scared, and sad. She doesn’t understand why someone doesn’t want to be her friend.

You’re an attentive parent. You hold her while she sobs. You keep brushing her hair back, kissing the top of her forehead, and telling her that it is going to be okay.

She cries and cries until she stops. You don’t get annoyed at all. You don’t tell her to suck it up. You tell her that you’ll play with her. You play together and then it is time to go home.

This is a good response. It may even be the response that you’ve worked really hard to give. Perhaps you used to find crying weak. Or maybe you used to want so badly to distract her from her feelings. You’d give her candy or throw a toy in front of her face. It has taken a while to get this far—to not feel irritated or stressed by her feelings, to let her have them. You’ve done it.

And you still need to do more.

Always, there is more to do.

What your child needs is called emotional coaching in Dr. Gottman’s Raising An Emotionally Intelligent Child. This means, of course, allowing your child to have their feelings. But we need to move beyond that. She needs to be taught the tools to regulate her emotions, not just sit and feel them.

For my part, I’ve been excellent at feeling my feelings my whole life. I wear them on my sleeve. And when I get depressed, I plop myself right down on my bed and feel that deeply and non-stop, every moment of it. In fact, I was so comfortable with feeling my feelings that for a long time I just couldn’t muster up any interest or energy to change them.

This wasn’t a bad first step for me. There was a huge difference between when I fought my depression and hated myself for it, and when I accepted it and worked with it.

But after having identified and accepted that it was a problem, I tolerated it.

I could not have done anything else at the time. I did the best I could. I lacked the tools for self-regulation.

You are helping your child to accept their emotional world, which is a great foot to get them started on and far better than not allowing all of the “bad” emotions out in the world. Still, you can teach them more.

These are the five steps Gottman identifies in emotional coaching:

1. Become aware of the child’s emotional

Look at that! You’re already 20% there!

2. Recognize the emotion as an opportunity for intimacy and teaching

30% there? 40% there?

3. Listen empathetically, validating the child’s feelings

Oh snap, you’re awesome at that one. 50% there.

4. Help the child to find words to label the emotion he is having; and

70% there! I would add that you should help him identify the feelings are in his body, as well.

5. Set limits while exploring strategies to solve the problem at hand!

This last part is where most parents in the conscious parenting community slip up.

While Gottman’s work refers specifically to when the children are in conflict with their parents, the work applies universally. We can talk to our children about another person’s limits when they are having difficulty with someone else’s boundaries.

What does helping them find strategies to cope look like?

  • These are good times to practice mindfulness. Whether it is blowing out your finger candles or paying close attention to a tree, this is calming.
  • Talk about positive experiences. Discuss with your child something in the past or future that made them feel good. This doesn’t hide the negative thing that is happening; it allows them to step outside of the emotion for a moment to get a bigger picture of the emotional world they’re in.
  • Walking/jumping. Physical activity calms us down and resets us.
  • Calm jars. Shake these up! I like the idea of designing different ones for different feelings. This can aid young children in identifying the emotions they’re feeling.
  • Story telling. Story telling can bring us outside of ourselves, help strengthen our theory of mind, and transport us. They help us to see things from others perspective and make sense of our behaviors. Read your child a book, or tell a glamorized version of the story that just happened from one or both points of view.

At a young age, you’ll help children to identify their emotions and teach them ways to cope with them. As they get older, you can elicit the feelings from them and ask them how they’d like to cope. Feelings are difficult to handle. The decision-making part of your teenagers brain isn’t fully wired up, so they’re still relying largely on emotions to lead them. They still need your help. You’ll have to validate their emotions and remind them that they have these tools at their disposal for a long time coming.

Practice

  1. Pick one coping technique that you will practice with your child. For now, just one. The comfort of familiarity helps to calm us.

Please leave a comment telling me what other coping techniques you’ve taught your child. Have friends visit this post and tell us their techniques so that we can update the list and make it a resource.

The Ultimate Career

“All other jobs exist for one purpose one, and that is to support the [homemaker].” -C.S. Lewis

What would you say to a person who was working 98 hours per week?

You’re crazy! You need to relax. Take time off. Spend it with family.

What would you say to a person who was putting effort into something they deeply loved and wanted for 98 hours a week–that is 2.5 full time jobs?

I’m guessing your answers are quite different.

Frames are how information is presented to us, negatively or positively. For instance, 20% chance of rain and 80% chance of sunshine mean the same thing, but they resonate with us differently. We use framing any time we deliver information. I can say 1 in 4 homeless people are women, or 3 in 4 homeless people are men. While they mean the same, they clearly put the emphasis on different parties.

We often accept the frames that we are sold. We might accept that we have to do well in school in order to be successful people. We might accept that love asks nothing. Or we might accept that because motherhood takes effort, it is the same thing as work.

Motherhood is a gift.

Does that mean that it isn’t tiring? That there isn’t a lot to do? Of course not. All things in life take effort. The question is whether or not that effort is worth it. Framing things solely in terms of hours spent doesn’t give us much information.

Man spends 40 hours a week lifting!

Boy spends 120 hours sleeping a week!

Child spends 2 hour in front of screen per day!

Woman spends 168 hours a week breathing!

How old is the boy? For a one-month-old boy that would be a reasonable amount of time. Does the man “lift” 40 hours a week because it is part of his job? Without any way to put these times into context, they’re meaningless.

Reportlinker did a survey about time spent cooking meals at home. It found that 23% of people said they spend more than an hour cooking each night. This may seem a huge amount of time. But a great deal of the people report doing it because cooking is a passion. These people aren’t doing a chore; they’re participating in their own gratification.

The average person does not have a very fulfilling job. Gary Keller says, “Success is getting what you want. Fulfillment is giving what you’ve got.”

Hal Elrod, an author and speaker says, “The more value that you give to people, the more value that you get out of life.”

All signs point to motherhood being very meaningful and fulfilling. It is out of line to compare someone working at McDonald’s or even the CEO of a Fortune 500 company with a mother.

We have been sold the frame that mothering is a curse on our brows, that being a mother is a million jobs tucked into one.

It is not. It is not 2.5 jobs.

You don’t always have to be happy. Things are allowed to be difficult. Life is hard.

But we don’t need to compare our effort as mothers and wives to careers. And we certainly don’t need to be martyrs that are bearing a cross. Unmartyr yourself.

When you believe that motherhood is a burden, it will feel that way. Most of the time, people portray parenting as torture—funny torture, that is eventually worth it, but torture nonetheless.

In fact, parenting can be pleasant. A great deal of the time. If you come at it from the right perspective and with the right energy.

More than ever, the mothering community is putting an emphasis on self-care. As well it should. We cannot afford to not take care of ourselves. And not just for ourselves, but for our children. We have to have the mental energy to re-frame a culturally constructed narrative that tells us that this is unpaid labor, when it is really our unpaid purpose.

How To Teach Children Gratitude

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You imagine your well-mannered child saying “please” when they ask if they can use a ball. He says “thank you” whenever anybody gives him a present. His manners are peak and it reflects so well on you.

But what if these words are meaningless when he says them?

What is your goal with having your child say thank you? Do you want him to develop a deep appreciation for the things in the world and deep gratitude for the people who are kind to them, or to say words that you’ve taught him to say?

Think of all the things that honest gratitude takes. What does it take to feel appreciation towards someone for doing you a favor or giving you a gift?

There has to be an other. This rules out very young children.

Then you have to have a theory of mind: the ability to understand that people feel differently than you (age 3) and think differently than you (age 4 or 5). You have to be able to tease out intention. Why did this person get you this thing?

In Should One Return the Favor? researchers found that around the age of 11, children begin to understand returning a favor as a moral value. Age 7-10, children believe you should return a favor to avoid judgment or because it is what everyone does. Before 7, most children don’t understand you are supposed to return a favor at all.

In adult gratitude, there is an expectation of reciprocity. Doing things for each other is what holds us together as communities, and we don’t want our children to be takers. This is part of the reason we feel so attached to them saying “Thank you.” We want them not only to express this in words, but to feel it deep down and reciprocate. To be productive and valued members of their community.

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Having token words that we use does not teach a child any of these skills. You can say thank you a million times and not mean it once, and you certainly don’t need to have followed through on any action to pay the person back. So what is the purpose of saying “Thank you”?

I think the answer is to calm the anxiety in the parent and the benefactor. Which isn’t wrong. But it isn’t what our stated intentions are. It isn’t working towards the goal that we say we are.

Will you kids learn to be grateful by themselves, though?

No. This is a skill that can be developed by the parents by fostering the abilities that it actually takes to show gratitude.

This means, of course, modeling. Modeling is always important. Not just when you think children are looking.

But we can do more than that. Modeling doesn’t work for all skills. Dweck’s research on growth mindset has shown this. We sometimes need to actively encourage modes of thinking in our children, as well as avoid inundating them with the wrong kinds of thinking.

On the Your Parenting Mojo podcast—which is exceptional and I cannot rate highly enough; host Jen Lumenlan comes from an RIE perspective and each episode is packed tightly with research about child development and parenting—there was recently a guest, Dr. Jonathon Tudge, who discussed his work on developing gratitude in children and adolescence.

Here were a few of his key points:

Do not say thank you for the thing but instead thank the person. Gratitude is about relationships, not materialism.

Encourage mindfulness: When somebody gives our child a present, ask them how it feels to be given a nice thing that they want.

Encourage empathy: Ask your child to think about why people give them presents, even when they don’t like them. What was the person trying to accomplish?

Encourage recall and reciprocity: Whenever giving a gift to someone, try to help them remember a time that person did a nice thing for them.

Other studies have shown that mothers who talk about internal states help children develop theory of mind, which is necessary for the practice of gratitude.

I highly recommend you listen to that episode here.

Teaching your children to say thank you is fine. It isn’t destructive. In fact, if you are going to do nothing at all or do that, go ahead and teach them to say that.

But there are better tools at your disposal.

Please share this post, because more people need effective tools to teach their children this very important skill.

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