Mom Guilt

In response to my last blog on date night I got a few mom’s who shared with me that they don’t do date night because they are struggling to leave their babies and children at home.  The word that came up in many of the emails was “guilt”. Many mom’s expressed guilt for taking time away from their children to take care of their relationship. So what do you do if you want to go on a date night, know it’s important to spend time with your partner, but just can’t get past the mom guilt?

First of all I want you to know that mom guilt is normal.  If you didn’t feel guilty about date night, you would feel guilty about something else.  Society has sent the message to women for many years that in order for us to be a “good mom” we need to devote our entire life to our children and anything less than that means we’re a bad mom.  The truth is that in order to be a good mom you need to take care of yourself so that you can take care of your babies. A burnt out, screaming, tired mom is not a good mom, although we all get there some times.  To be a good mom you need to be a complete person that nurtures and cares for yourself physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally.

Now I’m going to be very honest with you.  There is no easy way to get through mom guilt.  Like I said if you didn’t feel guilty about date night, you’d feel guilty about something else.  

Steps to start shedding the mom guilt:

First, talk to your partner.  Let them know how you are feeling and tell them you’d love to spend some alone time with them.  Prepare your partner for the likelihood that you might be struggling with guilt that night and ask them to be understanding if you find you have moments where you are not totally present in the evening.  Your partner may surprise you and have a few suggestions to help you get through this feeling of guilt.

Next I want you to go on a date night or just get out of the house together, no kids.  Keep doing this weekly. Over time the guilt will become less and less intense and you will start to enjoy and look forward to your time out together.  

During the time out, away from the kids notice when the mom guilt comes up.  Acknowledge it and then challenge the thought that is coming up for you. For example if your self talk is saying “you’re a bad mom.  I can’t believe you left the baby!”, list all the ways you are a good mom. Think back to all the times you got up in the middle of the night to hold your baby as they went back to sleep, the thoughtfulness you put into feeding them dinner, the times you take them to the park or the play group, all the times you changed the diaper, fed them, kissed, them told them you loved them.  Whatever the thought, your job is to take a moment and challenge it. If you’re having a hard time with this in the moment, ask your partner for help.

Next, say a calming statement to yourself like “I’m a good mom and it’s ok to spend time with my partner” or “I’m having fun with my partner and this time out with them will make us better parents”.  Say this over and over to yourself until you notice that you are able to focus more on the date.

Repeat the steps as much as needed.

Here’s a little cheat sheet of the steps to help you remember what to do.

  • Talk to your partner.  Let them know you are struggling with mom guilt.  Let them know you don’t expect them to fix your feelings and let them know the ways they can help.  

  • Get out of the house without the kids.  Go for a walk, out to dinner, to a movie, or something else.  Just start doing it.

  • Notice the mom guilt when it comes up.

  • Name it, acknowledge it: “Hey there mom guilt.  I see you”.

  • Challenge it:  “Am I really a bad mom?  I make my babies lunches every day, I drive them to dance class, I do arts and crafts with them.”  Start listing all the unique and awesome ways that you are a great mom.

  • Reaffirm, choose a statement to say to yourself to help calm your thoughts:  “I’m a great mom and going out with my partner is a good thing for my kids”.

  • Ask your partner for help when you need it.

  • Plan to go out the following week or aim to go out twice a month.

Need some extra support with mom guilt?  I'd love to meet with you to discuss how therapy might be able to help.  Email me with any questions or to schedule an appointment:

Gwendolyn Nelson-Terry is a Marriage and Family Therapist located in the Hillcrest neighborhood of San Diego.