Episode 2: You’re a Bad Mom & Other Lies Mom Guilt Told You
Hello! I’m Gwenna Laithland, and this is The Momma Cusses Podcast – the podcast dedicated to all the cussable moments in parenting.
Disclaimer: The Momma Cusses Podcast may have curse words, profanity, or adult topics. Okay, it will definitely have those things. If you have sensitive littles listening with you, now might be the time to pop on those headphones or go hide in the bathroom with your Grown-Up Juice.
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Alright, let’s get this shit going.
My eldest daughter was four days old when I had my first attack of mom-guilt. It was early on a Saturday morning when I stood over a squawking ball of pink polka-dotted tiny baby rage, frantically dialing my mom. I was 23, just entering a really rough patch in my personal life, and home alone with this tiny person I was responsible for keeping alive. I was barely keeping myself alive at that point, so the whole thing was overwhelming.
When my mom answered the phone, I burst into tears.
“I don’t think I love her enough,” I bawled into the phone. “I don’t have warm fuzzies. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know why she’s crying. I’m her mom. How can I not love her enough? ”
My mom, who’d been a single mom since I was nine, calmly and coolly said, “Gwenna, the fact that you’re upset that you don’t love her enough, means you love her more than you can comprehend. All moms feel that way at some point. At least you get it out of the way early.” She then proceeded to tell me she’d be right over, brought me coffee, and did everything short of pick me up and drop me in the bathtub while she watched the baby.
It took four days for the mom guilt to eat its way into my soul. And once there, she became this insatiable, smarmy bitch I’ve lived with since. Today we’re talking about mom guilt. So what is mom guilt? It takes a lot of forms and attacks each mom differently, but generally speaking, mom guilt is this constant feeling that we as mothers are somehow not enough.
This may manifest as guilt for not doing enough for our spawn or for doing too much for ourselves. We fed our tiny humans processed food instead of organic kale, and the mom guilt chimes in. We dared to take a shower alone, and there’s mom guilt ruining the relaxation.
She is fueled by a lot of things. And every mom’s mom guilt takes on a different form and origin. But I’d guess if we broke it down to the bare bones, the problem of mom guilt comes from comparison and fear. We compare how our kids are doing and what our lives look like to other moms or media-hyped standards. And social media often makes this so much worse. We fear that we have failed our kids if their lives, milestones, and experiences don’t look like the Pinterest-perfect, Insta-ready snapshots of motherhood we see slathered across our feeds.
All those perfect images and presentations are simultaneously goals and attacks on our sanity. Most of us would kill for a decent picture of our children dressed smartly in matching outfits with sunshine-lit smiles beaming brightly. Yet our camera rolls are filled with our children looking like they smelled a fart or covered in some unknown substance. The backgrounds are not rolling fields of heather but precariously balanced chaos of untended chores and unwashed dishes.
How the fuck do all these online mommas keep their shit together? Truth time. They don’t. They are lying. Or they managed one perfect moment after hours, weeks, or months of planning. For every one Instagram of a beautiful family moment, there are 700 snaps the public will never see of moody babies, mess creeping in on the edges, and stressed out mommas trying to keep their feed lit.
I would dare say that just about every mom deals with a constant internal monologue that they are somehow failing as a mother. The tiniest details can trigger a full-on mental meltdown, and we latch on to those. We feel stressed because kids are generally needy, selfish, and require a lot of attention and work. And then we immediately feel guilty because how dare we feel stressed? These are our sex trophies, our precious angels, our gifts from God, Odin, Zeus, whichever deity delights you. And yet, here we are stress-eating Oreos, hiding from our kids, listening to a podcast about mom-guilt. But why? Where does that come from?
The feeling of guilt, it turns out, doesn’t really do much for us. A study by Richard Wise showed that feeling guilty does little to change future behavior. We feel awful for letting our kids lunch on Goldfish crackers and fruit snacks, but then we do it again two days later. Our feeling of failure, though present and gnawing, didn’t prevent us from repeating the behavior that triggered the guilt.
We simply seek deeper into this lie that we are failing our kids somehow. And the bigger the issue, the harder the mom-guilt kicks our emotional asses. An Australian study looked at the emotional trauma of women returning to work after maternity leave, a ginormous source of mom-guilt across the globe. It followed six female occupational therapists who returned to work after pumping out a crotch goblin.
In it, they found that returning to work and minimizing the mom guilt was tied to two things: compromise and feeling valued. Ah, that’s a big one. Being a parent is a whole lot of work and pretty much zero credit. Our kids do not look lovingly into our eyes and say, “Mom, I appreciate you wiping shit from my butthole.” Instead, they insist on fighting invisible ninjas while we try do clean their tiny, squirmy bums. Kids have a tendency to make this whole parenting thing much harder than it needs to be. If it weren’t for their assholery, it would be a lot easier. Tell me I’m wrong.
In a professional environment, assuming you aren’t working for some toxic company or at Douchebags-R-Us, there are typically measures and rewards in place. You do the bare minimum; you get a paycheck. With this paycheck, we get the positive reinforcement that we are performing to spec, or at least our half-assed efforts have gone unnoticed. You go above and beyond, and you might be rewarded with positive performance reviews, bonuses, promotions, or donuts in the breakroom. Good work equals good rewards.
Parents don’t get that. There is no metric for rewarding good parenting. Even the term good parenting is extremely subjective. If we want donuts, we have to load the kids up, drive to the store and buy them our damn selves. And then, we have to share, probably. There’s no one to tell us we’re doing a good job. And we don’t really know how our work is going to turn out until the creatures are grown up and moved out.
A parent’s biggest fear and the source of the mom-guilt lies in that unknown. I don’t want to be the reason for my kids’ failure. Their failure is my failure. I don’t want to be the reason they need therapy as adults. I don’t want to fuck these humans up. But since I don’t know what type of human this one is going to be, I don’t know what I need to do. So we question everything. Twice.
We’ll pick back up here in just a moment, but first, it’s time for a Momma Cusses News Network Update:
Twitter erupted this morning after photos of local social media personality Heather Thompson leaked online. Thompson, better known as Heather Elizabeth or @perfect_heather_e. has risen to local prominence after her biting article, My Kids Are More Perfect Than Yours, rocketed her into the public limelight.
Since then, she has become a mainstay in the Sanctimommy community with commentary on parenting, household organization, Instant Pot cooking, wreath-making, succulent gardening, mom-chic fashion, furniture repurposing, and picturesque tablescapes. She is self-described as a “walking Pinterest board of the most amazing ideas – never flawed, never settled, never satisfied.”
Thompson was spotted on Friday, however, looking less than Pinterest-worthy. Witnesses report the 36-year-old mother of 2 was in an area Target sporting a rat’s nest bun, leggings definitely not purchased from Fabletics, and a stained, ill-fitted sweatshirt. Lisa Davies, a follower and once fan of Thompson, told our reporter:
“At first I thought, maybe this was just a new look for her, you know, like shabby-chic but with grease stains? But she wasn’t wearing make-up, her shoes were just grimy, and that hair, [definitely] not on fleek…she didn’t look fire. She looked fried. I mean, who goes out in public like that?”
“I don’t think I can trust her anymore,” says fellow fan, Gracelyn Kuykendall. “Her whole thing is taking pride in perfection and settling for nothing less. If she can’t even abide by her own mantras, why should I? For real, though, are her kids even perfect? I’m starting to think, no.”
Once the secretly snapped photo Thompson’s no-good, very bad day hit Twitter, her rabid and picky following melted down. It seems there is little grace for a Pinterest-fail in the community of perfection-seeking mommas.
“Her kids might be more perfect than mine, but at least I remembered where I put my brush this morning,” said a witness to the hot mess who wish to remain anonymous.
Thompson was unavailable for comment. This has been your News Break from the Momma Cusses News Network.
James Breakwell authored the book Bare Minimum Parenting: The Ultimate Guide to Not Quite Ruining Your Child. Of all the parenting books out there, this one has become my sort of handbook. It’s very tongue in cheek, but it draws out some impressive and guilt-alleviating revelations. His whole premise is that the kids of parents who constantly beat themselves up over every little thing, toting every kid to seventeen extracurricular activities, dousing their kids in developmental and enrichment aids, and obsessing about every parenting detail are no better or worse than parents who make the minimum effort of fed, dressed, and able to read.
Allow me to quote a short passage here. “If you’re a parent, your guilt response is already kicking in…What self-respecting parent would admit they DON’T want to work hard for their kid?
“A wise one, that’s who. There’s no reason to feel bad about making something as easy as possible. Do you feel guilty when you solve a math problem with a calculator instead of an abacus? Do you consider yourself a failure if you use a shopping cart instead of holding thirty-five different items in your bare hands? Are you tormented by inner turmoil when you fly across the country rather than walking the whole way?”
Breakwell goes on to describe his method of bare-minimum parenting as a tool, something to make life easier. As it turns out, kids kind of don’t care if we picked the right diaper brand or opted out of baby-led weaning. Ultimately, the book encourages you to go with your gut and go with what’s easy.
And now, my psychic abilities are kicking in…the moment I said go with what’s easy, your stomach clenched itself into a thousand knots. Hi, mom guilt! Thanks for coming to my podcast. You’re a bitch.
But hear me out. You may have issues with your own parents; I get that. They may have fucked up your whole childhood. And if you are one of those unfortunate souls, you spend a lot of time trying to do the OPPOSITE of whatever they did wrong. But do you harbor any specific resentment for the type of diaper they chose? I strongly doubt it. And yet there are whole internet boards of humans who will gleefully argue for one brand over the other. And yet more who will chastise you for using disposables, claiming the utter superiority of cloth diapers. The whole time we obsess over diapers, our kids are over there, not giving one fuck and shitting on the floor same as they would in a Pampers, Huggies, or BumGenie All-In-One.
Bare Minimum Parenting, according to Breakwell, is not about doing nothing. It’s about understanding that not everything matters as much as we are led to believe. Ultimately, go with your gut. If you have absolutely zero idea how to address an issue or handle a particular quirk your child has suddenly developed, you can hit up Google for ideas. Just don’t let yourself get caught up in the idea that there is only one right way to raise your kid.
I’ve long subscribed to the idea that parenting advice isn’t so much advice as “Here’s some shit that worked with my kid, maybe it will work with yours.” That’s not to say you shouldn’t check out what other moms and experts have to offer. Please, for the love of the goddess, keep doing that. I’m one of those moms with the advice, ideas, and opinions. But nothing in parenting is canon. What worked for some might not work for you, your kids, your situation, or your mental state.
Alleviating mom-guilt is directly tied to letting go of things that just aren’t that critical. Choose the things that are important to you as a human and applicable to your situation. Do those things. Try not to fixate on the rest.
Essentially, his approach is a bit like Marie Kondo-ing your parenting. If the behavior, activity, or work brings joy, keep doing that. If you hate it, stop. I know it's not that easy. And that water is as muddy as the rest. We’ll talk more about that in a minute, but first, let’s hear from our sponsors.
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