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How to Cope When Mom Guilt Is Getting the Best of You

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Dr. Meg Meeker

Experts agree that mothers have it very tough right now. If you’re a stay-at-home mom, your job is more intense than usual. Your children are home 24/7, which means you hardly get a break. You have also probably been given a few new job titles: teacher, tutor, craft organizer, lunch lady, and naptime supervisor. If you are a working mom, you’re trying to juggle stay-at-home duties with your work duties, trying to please your boss, kids, and partner, all in a day’s work. But right now, you’re doing several days’ work in one.

I know fathers are working extra hard right now too, but mothers carry with them a heavy mental load. They feel a deeper, more innate sense of responsibility for their child’s well-being and are constantly thinking about everything everyone needs: meals, baths, laundry, homework.

While I can’t do anything about the pandemic or the government’s orders, I do have some encouragement for you, mothers. Most often, moms feel the most pressure from the one looking back at them in the mirror. You guilt yourselves when you aren’t operating at 100% in every area of your lives. Right now, during a global pandemic, you will not be operating at 100% in any area of your life. Because of this, it’s important to let go of the ideals and focus on these three simple things instead.

1. Give yourself a break. 

Most women have expectations of how they should manage their lives so that things go well at work, at home, and as a mother. We want time with our kids to be fun, light and enjoyable, and we want everyone to get along. We feel the need to ensure our kids have entertaining things to do, and we feel the need to find that entertainment for them. We want to manage screen time well, make sure our kids don’t fight, etc. 

It’s all a part of that mental load. We have a long list of “what we should do as good moms” and when we don’t succeed, we berate ourselves for being failures. Don’t do this. Not now, not ever. Know that your kids will fight because they are frustrated with this situation too. They will watch more T.V. than usual, and they will probably be bored. This is all OK. This is an unusual time, so stop beating yourself up. 

2. Talk to yourself as you would your best friend. 

Many of us say things to ourselves like…

You are such a failure. 

No other mother would do this.

You can never get it right.

Write down the criticisms that circulate in your head and then ask yourself if you would ever say these things to your best friend. Of course not. You would encourage her and tell her to stop these thoughts. So why should you treat your best friend better than you treat yourself? Start treating yourself as though you were your best friend. You will have kinder thoughts and you will be more forgiving when you make mistakes, extending yourself more grace—which is something we all need in abundance right now. 

3. Put everyone on a schedule. 

I don’t say this to add to your mental load, but rather to help take the load off. Kids and parents do best when they have a rhythm to their days, and this means a consistent schedule. School time, lunchtime, nap time, and free time can all get an allotted slot on the calendar. You don’t have to stick to this every day. That’s impossible. But having a schedule hanging on the fridge or on a whiteboard or chalkboard somewhere in your home where everyone can see it will free you up from having to figure out what every child should be doing every hour. Just point to the schedule and have your child figure it out for herself.

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