Overcoming the “mom guilt”

As moms, we do a lot for others.

In the mornings, I wake up first, feed the dog and cat, and then pump milk for my baby. As soon as I’m done with that, I check on the older boys to make sure that they’re moving along in their morning routine. In between, I’m trying to get a bottle warmed up for the baby, clean the pumping equipment, wash my face, and throw on clothes. I feed the baby, make sure he’s changed, and ensure he is packed and ready for daycare. Then, I would call the boys to let them know it’s time to go then I take them to school. After that, it’s time to drop the baby off at daycare.

When I worked my standard 9-5 desk job, I would head straight to the office and work all day, with a few breaks to pump. After that, it would be time to pick up the baby, call my husband to make sure he is picking up the boys (or go there myself if he is running behind), then head home and start dinner, all while balancing a baby on my hip. My only true break from everyone else’s needs was my shower before bed.

Sound familiar to anyone? This responsibility, this unpaid work caring for everyone else outside of work, has a name. It’s called the “Second Shift,” and it usually falls to the mother of the family. Even though my husband and I consider ourselves pretty progressive and try to split the work evenly, I still ended up taking on the majority of the household responsibilities. Unfortunately, this is all too common.

It leaves little time for self-care, however, self-care is absolutely vital to maintain your mental health. No can go on like that indefinitely and remain well-adjusted. My husband’s chosen mode of self-care is karate with the older boys twice a week, and either a show on Netflix or a video game as soon as the kids go to sleep. Me? I would have my well-deserved shower, check to make sure lunches were packed for the next day, and then would have to go pump again before going to bed. And believe me when I say that pumping, although often a solitary activity for me, was not really “me time.” It’s hard to truly unwind when you have two horns pulling on your already tender nipples.

So when I found time for myself and would retreat to my room to read or take a nap, I discovered myself feeling guilty for not spending time with our 6 month-old son. I’m fairly certain that a lot of other mamas can relate to feeling guilty when they finally find some time for themselves.

This “mom guilt”, as we call it, is a form of anxiety. It’s taken me some time to get over the guilt, and it creeps back up on me every now and then. When it does, I have to utilize some coping strategies to beat it back.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is based on the thought that how we perceive a situation is connected to how we react to the situation. In layman’s terms, this means:

  • Something happens.
    • In this situation, I have free time and am going to go read. 
  • We have automatic thoughts that interpret that something.
    • I think that I should be spending this time with the baby because it’s important not to miss anything at this age. 
  • Then based on those thoughts, we form our reactions.
    • I have feelings of guilt over choosing to use my time to read.

In CBT the goal is to change this automatic negative thinking and feeling in order to change our reactions, which in turn, will lead to an enduring improvement in overall mood and functioning.


I put this into practice (and believe me, I’ve had a LOT of practice) by first identifying my reaction, be that thought or behavior.

What am I feeling? Guilt. Where is that guilt coming from?

To figure this feeling out, I need to identify my automatic thoughts.  I was thinking about how I don’t spend enough time with the baby, so if I have some unoccupied time I should be spending it with him, and not on myself. Now what?

Now, I go down my checklist.

  • Is this thought realistic? Probably not. I haven’t had time for myself in weeks, and have spent every waking moment taking care of the baby and the kids. Self-care is important for my mental health.
  • Is this thought true? No. I spend a good bit of time with my baby when I’m not at work.
  • Is this thought important? In the grand scheme of things… no. It matters very little.
  • Is this thought helpful? No. I feel terrible when I’m thinking this.

The trick here is to evaluate your automatic thoughts to determine if they are really true. If they’re not, you can acknowledge that you have these thoughts, then look at the evidence, and reason it away.

I evaluated my thought and concluded that it’s not realistic. Keep doing this when you have these negative reactions to things. It applies to almost all negative self-talk, whether you’re berating yourself for missing something at work, thinking you are worthless or worrying that the plane you’re on will crash. This process grounds us back in reality, so if you’re like me, you can go read your book or take a nap while the kids entertain themselves and your husband watches the baby. You can rest assured that “you time” is well-deserved and release your feelings of guilt about taking it.


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