Mom Guilt: Time to Stop Pushing the “Bad Mom” Button

Posted April 26, 2011 by

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On the last day of spring break, I finally managed to pull an activity together for my son. For the whole rest of last week, he sat watching T.V., playing video games and listening to books on tape.

(Bad mom.)

At dinner at a neighbor’s house recently, our son (who is 8) put his face in the plate and ate pasta from it like a Golden Retriever. Guess we’ve been lax in the manners department. (Bad mom again.)

Playing Yahtzee with relatives last month, our son held an “L” up to his forehead, and shouted “LOSERS!!”  to everyone in the room when he won. Not cute. (Bad mom, again. Guilt and shame buttons duly pushed.)

So what is it with mothers and guilt? It seems inescapable. As a working mom, I feel guilty that I’m not spending enough time with my son. When I stayed at home with Alex when he was younger, I felt guilty about not contributing more to the family finances, and about the stress my husband was under. I worried that I wasn’t doing enough to educate our child or teach him the right things.

“Damned if you do and damned if you don’t,” as my mom always says.

So here is my question to all moms out there who feel this way. (And I know I’m not alone!)

Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we feel guilt or shame for not being perfect — when, as we all know, the pursuit of perfection is an impossible, soul-killing task. I’m not saying that I couldn’t be a better mom — I could, I know that all too well — but what I am saying is that maybe, just maybe, we can give ourselves a break from all that hot messy guilt this Mother’s Day.

I always think of what James Lehman said: “Be a good enough parent.”

So this Mother’s Day, take some time to push some of those “Good Mom” buttons. In fact, maybe it’s time to start listing the things you’ve done right for your kids, the areas where you shine.

The list doesn’t have to be elaborate. The only rule is that you include things that are positive. It could be simple, at first:

  • “I sat with my son and watched Phineas & Ferb together, and we had a good laugh.”
  • “I listened to my thirteen-year-old daughter talk about how she’s worried that she doesn’t fit in at school.”
  • “My kids and I made dinner together tonight.”
  • “My son and I had a good day; we got to bed without a fight.”

Happy Mother’s Day to all the good (and good enough) moms out there.

Elisabeth Wilkins is the (good enough) mother of an 8-year-old son and the editor of Empowering Parents.


Elisabeth Wilkins was the editor of Empowering Parents and the mother of an 10-year-old son. Her work has appeared in national and international publications, including Mothering, Motherhood (Singapore), Hausfrau, The Bad Mother Chronicles, and The Japan Times. Elisabeth holds a Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Southern Maine.

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  1. Ethiopian Report

    Great Article. i always feel guilty when i look at my kids doing something wrong but i shouldn’t be hard on myself. thanks

  2. Elisabeth, EP Editor Report

    I’m so glad to hear that this post resonated with other moms out there. So often it does feel like we’re all alone in our guilt or shame, but I firmly believe that everyone has these feelings. I think that KAG’s comment — to go for excellence (i.e., the best we can do) rather than perfectionism — is good advice. I can tell you from experience that it’s hard to let go of pushing that guilt button, but it’s not impossible. Just keep thinking, “I’m a good enough parent” and you’re on the right track.

  3. frustrated parent 35 Report

    I too often push the Guilt Button just yesterday on Mother’s Day, I was having a pity party for not being a better mother to my child especially my 15yr old. But after reading your blog today. I am glad that I am good enough parent, yes I could do alot of things differnetly but I must remember I am not perfect and my kids are not either. I want to learn to meet them where they are at and go from there. Thank you for saying the things that I was afraid to say out loud.

  4. KAG Report

    Hello, all you excellent moms! The focus on anything we do should be on excellence, not perfectionism. There is no such thing as a perfect mom or a perfect child or a perfect household. If you’ve ever spent any time with anyone who seems perfect in every way, that person is annoying and that becomes an imperfection. I have been a stay at home mom for 15 years and my husband works full time. We are a traditional ‘Leave it to Beaver’ family except that Wally and the Beav have autism, I don’t wear pearls to do the dusting, I’m a yeller (People hear me all the way down the street.) and Ward doesn’t wear a suit to sit in the house and read the paper. It helps to keep in mind that all those perfect TV families had a script to follow, a director and plenty of chances to re-take scenes if they didn’t come out right the first time. They were getting paid to be the perfect family and they only had to do it on the screen, not off.

  5. Leigh Cain Report

    Hello Great Moms out there. I used to battle with myself daily because after being home for 5 years raising my two dauthers, I went back to work full time and my husband became MR. Mom.

    Try to let go of ALL the control you have on your household and how it is run, and letting go of control of the daily routines that you have worked so hard to establish and give all that you have worked on building for 5 years to your husband?? That was so hard for me, and I still beat myself up for not being able to spend a lot of time during the week with them because I work such long hours.

    BUT, what I did learn was that the time I do spend with them I make sure count, and we all look forward to our time together laughing and being silly together. Once they got used to me being back to work, I noticed that my girls started to mimic me, and act like they were going to work and roleplaying me. That made me so very Happy because now I know that working is setting a great example for them. They will grow up knowing that Mommy worked hard and took care of us, that is a quality that everyone would want to instill in their children right?
    I Love this website, i've learned so much from the advice given on here and it really does work! You ladies are amazing. Thank you.

  6. Sara Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor Report

    To ‘skater’: It sounds like you are having a really difficult time with your son. We are glad to hear that you have purchased the Total Transformation program. James Lehman’s view is that children’s difficult behavior is a result of poor problem-solving. His program helps to teach parents how to be more effective in their roles as trainers and coaches, problem solvers, and limit setters. There are many families who have found a great deal of help and support from our program even when the child was not living at home. While you may not be able to prevent your son from moving in with his father, and while it might be difficult to fully implement the program if he’s not in the home, you can still learn the skills you need to be a more effective parent. And remember, the Parental Support Line is available to provide personalized guidance on how you can use the program in your situation. Don’t hesitate to give them a call if you are feeling stuck. We wish you the best.

  7. Ife Report

    I didn’t know there were other moms who have the same feelings as I have, this is quite encouraging. Now I know I don’t have to live with feelings of guilt. Rather I should just keep working at getting better. My kids are grown up and each time I blame myself for some attitude I see in them that I do not like.Now I am on the lookout for what will make me a better mother of grownups and a good grandmother.

  8. skater Report

    I love what you say about being a good enough parent. I just ordered The Total Transformation program and can’t wait for the arrival. However, I don’t know if I’ll get a real chance to use it because my 17 yo son wants to go live with his father. I don’t have peace about the decision. Any advice?


  9. graciana7 Report

    Like Carol Burnett said about her own children, I don’t take credit for when they do something good and I don’t take the blame when the do something bad. Or something along those lines. So true!

  10. 8cowmomma Report

    thanks for that great comment, a good enough mom, i am the mom of 8 and just got remarried… tough (it sounds) but fabulous, love my life…your program helped a ton,,, i have one ( not bad 1 out of 8 ) that has struggled,, and yet this last month, a changeover to everything… i think she might even like me a little woo hoo!! progress! i love her to death, she just doesn’t think so, so in turn always turns me into the bad mom,, and tells me exactly why and how i am so bad… not anymore,, i don’t listen to those words, i just love her, tell her, even though she says she doesn’t want to hear it! and yet, still discipline (used to be scared too) and we are doing much better!! I do the best I can, and that is how we all live,,, be the best that you can be,, (even written on my checks!)
    thanks again, have a great mother’s day!
    TO ALL

  11. Cecile P. Report

    I muddled through so many mistakes as a young mom that I could write a book about it. But,despite this,my daughter grew up to be kind,loving and intelligent. And her sense of humor lights up many lives.

    Children don’t come with a manual–thank God!Who would want a by-the-book kid? Or a by-the-book Mom? I know I wouldn’t.

    One step at a time moms work it out, and if a child toys with being a dog enjoying a meal or excitedly expresses his/her joy of winning a game by yelling, “Losers!”–which made me chuckle, should we label them “bad moms”?

    No way!

    Our children aren’t meant to be perfect pieces that we set on a mantel–stores sell doll for those who want that. And moms will never be perfect–someday, stores may sell robots to those looking for perfect parents. Myself, I’ll keep muddling through it because when I evaluate things, I see that my kid and I are tight; and love is what got us through it all.

    Happy Mother’s Day to all!

    • Elisabeth Wilkins Report

      Cecile, thank you for your beautiful, kind words. You are so right…kids aren’t meant to be perfect little robots, and neither are we. Perfection is boring, anyway. Give me flaws and warts every time. Happy Mother’s Day to you — and thanks again for chiming in.

  12. Elisabeth Wilkins, EP Editor Report

    Gina, thanks for your comments, and back at you! You’re right about building a foundation — it’s so important to pull back, think about what we’re doing and look at the big picture, rather than tearing ourselves down for every mistake we make. (Sadly, my mistake list is much longer than my “good mom” list — at least in my head!) I also think it’s OK to apologize when we do make big mistakes…but that’s fodder for another blog post! 🙂

  13. ginanorma Report

    I really enjoyed reading your posting Elisabeth! I can totally relate to what you are saying and I can imagine every mom can, or has at one point. The thing that helps me is if I know I’m focusing on building my daughter up to be the best person she can be; giving her a great foundation. I feel so bad for us Mom’s when we think we don’t “do” enough, we are so hard on ourselves, but so much of it is like the list you gave, those were about BEing! I’m going to remember that one amazing sentence this Mother’s Day and for the rest of my Mothering years “I’m a good enough Mom”!



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