This post was written by Niyatee Sukumaran, Ph.D.
Do you ask yourself, “Am I doing enough as a mom or dad?” Do you compare yourself to other parents, or minimize yourself, either in your thoughts or through action? If you have related to these questions, please read along to learn more about mom and dad guilt and the recommended coping skills.
What Is Mom Guilt?
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Mom guilt occurs when a mother feels inadequate or thinks she is not doing enough for her children. It can be triggered through a woman’s perinatal (prenatal and postpartum) journey. For example, a mother may blame herself for not caring for her health which led to an unexpected birthing experience. Additional triggers of mom guilt include a baby’s NICU hospitalization, breastfeeding challenges, caregiving challenges to an infant, difficulties in keeping up with daily life chores, and returning to work after parental leave. Mom guilt can continue to recur as children grow older, such as feeling guilty for working full-time or for not being able to volunteer at your child’s school.
What Is Dad Guilt?
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Unlike previous generations, modern-day fathers are taking a more active role in parenting and raising children. Dads can experience feelings of guilt, and it can be triggered when they have to return to work and experience the pressure to fulfill the role of “the provider” for the family. First-time fathers may also have a perspective on fatherhood, different in comparison to their elders. Not receiving adequate intergenerational parenting guidance, only deepens their feelings of inadequacy.
Culture may also play a crucial role in defining the roles and responsibilities of the parent, especially based on gender. To meet said expectations thrusts immense pressure on a parent, followed by the creep of guilt. Furthermore, with the increase in globalization, migratory experiences, and the set-up of nuclear families, parents tend to receive limited help and support with raising a family.
Mom and dad guilt influences parents to have a negative self-image, experience feelings of inadequacy, and low self-esteem. Some parents experience feelings of shame, which can impact their self-worth.
If these feelings of guilt and shame are left unattended, it can further intensify parents’ perinatal mental health including symptoms of postpartum depression, anxiety, and OCD. It is important to note that 1 in 7 women experience postpartum depression within the first three months, 1 in 5 when women are followed for the first year, and 1 in 10 dads have reported postpartum depression. Mothers are also being impacted by postpartum psychosis and deaths by suicide mothers at an alarming rate, hence, making it crucial to seek professional help.
Behaviors Influenced by Mom and Dad Guilt
- Avoidance, Human beings find negative emotions aversive. Parents may engage in unhealthy coping strategies to avoid addressing feelings of guilt including being disengaged from family conversations, playing on one’s phone, and possibly overworking.
- Over-Indulgence, Some parents may participate in activities that lead to immediate gratification such as emotional eating, frequent and/or excessive use of alcohol/other substances, or spending too much time on social media.
Coping With Mom and Dad Guilt
- Be Patient With Yourself, While many prepare by reading literature and seeking their elders’ guidance on how to be parents, the experiential aspect of parenting is still quite challenging! Remind yourself that “you are learning on the job,” and the job of being a parent is 24/7. Practice self-care by attending to your emotions, nourishment, and hydration, getting in physical movement/exercise, and making time to be with yourself even if that means sitting by yourself for 5-10 minutes.
- Choose Self-Compassion Over Self-Criticism,
Self-compassion is the practice of being caring and compassionate towards oneself in the face of hardship or perceived inadequacy and has been associated with more caring relationship behavior (Neff, 2003; Bennett-Goleman, 2001). Parents can incorporate specific behaviors that address the three elements of self-compassion (Neff, 2011):
- Develop self-kindness by using words that are gentle, warm, and affirming towards yourself (eg, I am a loving mom/dad,” “I accept myself exactly as I am in this moment.”)
- Acknowledgment that suffering is universal and that you are not alone! Parents can benefit from connecting with other parents (eg, by participating in mom/dad groups, talking to other parents and acknowledging the challenges of parenthood, and validating each other’s efforts in caring for their children).
- Practicing mindfulness on a regular basis can aid in self-awareness and non-judgment. Guided meditations can be used as a formal mindfulness practice wherein one observes the negative thoughts and emotions with openness and clarity and focuses on the present moment. Parents can incorporate informal mindfulness practices by engaging in mindful walking or playing with children. Savoring, which is the mindfulness of positive experiences, can be practiced when participating in activities with children such as when playing, hugging, or reading to them and when putting them to sleep.
3. Improve Communication With Your Partner. It is possible that mom guilt and dad guilt can influence competition between partners with respect to who is “suffering” more. In such circumstances, it will be helpful to acknowledge and accept the differences in the perceived gender role expectations and express compassion and gratitude to each partner for their care and support.
4, Seek Community, Parenting is much more than a full-time job! Hence, it is important to be willing to seek help from others including extended family members, and friends, or hire help for coping with household chores.
5, Professional Help, If you are struggling with mom and dad guilt, feeling overwhelmed, depressed or alone in this experience, it may be time to seek professional help. In therapy, you can explore and identify the sources of guilt, and work towards healing from perceived inadequacies, insecure attachments, and birth-related trauma.
Resources for Crisis and Perinatal Mental Health Support
- If you or someone who you care about are experiencing a crisis, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline and website: 1-800-273-8255.
- The Postpartum Support International (PSI) HelpLine is a toll-free telephone number anyone can call to get basic information about the following: support services such as an online directory for providers specializing in perinatal mental health; resources including support groups for moms and dads, online meetings, and other additional information regarding help for families.
- PSI Blog
- Self-compassion exercises
- Mindfulness literature
- Mindfulness recordings
To find a therapist, please visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.