Mom guilt: 12 successful women on how they handle that nagging feeling
Even Olympians need to remind themselves that they’re doing the best they can
What’s the word for that feeling when your past self has eaten the last scoop of ice cream and your present self is staring into what seems like an empty box of happiness? Or when you arrive late after snoozing your alarm five times in a row knowing fully well your colleague are on the verge of a breakdown? That word is guilt.
Women are no strangers to guilt, but mothers get an extra special upgrade that triggers the minute you first hear your baby bawl. Mom guilt is the inescapable feeling that you’re not doing enough as a parent or doing things wrong.
According to clinical psychologist Rebecca Wheeler, “There is an expectation that women “must get things exactly right.” A form of perfectionism that’s become a social expectation, and it contributes to women fretting about making mistakes and being the perfect parent. They are often placing unconscious (or conscious) demands on themselves to do every little thing they can do to ensure their child has the best childhood possible.”
Mom guilt is often caused by comparison which can often lead to feelings of inadequacy. It is that pang of guilt that sneaks in when you think other mothers are doing so much for their children while you’re struggling to get them to eat their gobi matar.
One reason moms experience guilt more intensely than fathers do is because mothers are expected to be the primary caregivers, completely invested in their child. This can be especially difficult when they’re trying to adjust to their new schedule postpartum as they deal with physical changes, hormonal fluctuations and extreme emotional overload.
While some mom guilt is inescapable, sometimes it’s enough to know that you’re not alone. Here’s how 12 accomplished women, from entertainment tycoon Mindy Kaling to tennis legend Serena Williams, deal with mom guilt.
Getting over mom guilt
Cross ‘mom guilt’ off your to-do list
“Women are great at time management but terrible at guilt management,” remarks Namita Thapar, executive director of Emcure Pharmaceuticals.
With work piling up every second, she often misses her kids’ school events. “I ensure that I make up for this ‘missed event’ by doing something extra special for my kids and family/ friends when I do have that additional time,” she says.
“You have to schedule activities and time with your kids on your to-do list every morning – it needs the same structure, attention and time that you give your work… I will not take on irrelevant and unproductive work out of guilt,” Thapar adds.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help
Mindy Kaling says, “I’ve had to learn to release myself from mom guilt at least a couple times a day”. But she’s not apologetic about feeling guilty for wanting to excel in her career and at being a mother. “I’m learning to feel better about asking for help, whether it’s from family or hiring help. It’s not profound, but I love my career and I don’t want to make myself feel bad about pursuing both.” Kaling urges other moms to cut themselves some slack.
Talk about it
Serena Williams is no doubt running out of cabinet space from all the trophies she’s been accumulating. The one opponent she hasn’t conquered yet? Mom guilt. “I work a lot, I train, and I’m trying to be the best athlete I can be. That means although I have been with her (Alexis Olympia, her daughter) every day of her life, I’m not around as much as I would like to be,” Williams writes.
She overcomes this feeling of inadequacy by talking things over with those close to her. “I like communication best,” she says. “Talking things through with my mom, my sisters, my friends let me know that my feelings are totally normal.”
Your child’s happiness starts with yours
Working mothers, according to Kareena Kapoor Khan, “constantly feel if they are at work, they are missing out on that one moment.” She points out that you can’t pour from an empty cup, so it’s important for mothers to protect their state of mind. “If you’re not happy, your child can’t be happy. There should never be any guilt about that.”
Create your own standard
Arundhati Bhattacharya, former Chairperson of State Bank of India outlines the ways in which women develop standards based on their experiences and feel guilty when they compare themselves to others. While balancing family responsibilities is obviously crucial, she believes that it’s important to involve your partner and family, and set up a structure that works for you. In her opinion, you can’t live by “someone else’s” rules of a perfect mother, but need to create a standard that is your own.
Me-time is just as important as mom-time
Balancing an erratic work schedule while parenting three kids can be draining, and actress Kate Hudson has no problem admitting that, “Some days I feel like I should win best mom of the day award, and some days I find myself doing strange things that don’t have any real purpose, in faraway corners in my house, and I realise I am literally and deliberately hiding from my children”.
“I will sit and listen to my children pontificate and discuss their ideas till the day is long because it warms my heart, but I really don’t want to do math,” Hudson emphasises to other mothers the value of spending time on themselves as well as with their children.
Play the long game
“In the beginning, I felt a little bit of mom guilt,” says Ashi Dua, film producer and CEO, adding, “But later on, it became more of FOMO. I was more worried about missing out, like, what did I miss today?”
But then she realised that nobody quite remembers the minutiae of their toddler years. So Dua suggests, “You definitely want your child to know that these are the 10 things their mother did in her life. That is something they’ll remember and talk about, not that their mother left them for eight days when they were kids.”
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Put the phones down
Amal Clooney, a celebrated human rights attorney shares twins Alexander and Ella with her actor husband, George Clooney. She avoids using her phone in the morning to be able to spend more time with her family. This allows those moments to be about quality over quantity, as they engage with her directly.
Use your time exactly the way you want
“After I had my first baby, I went back to work in two months. And the first time I left him, I remember closing my flat door and bursting into tears because I felt so upset,” recalls publisher Chiki Sarkar.
“I approach that guilt the same way as one might look into the mirror and wish they had longer legs or a smaller ass – ‘Well, you don’t. What are you going to do about it?’,” she says about navigating mom guilt. “The trick is to use your time doing exactly what you want – it could be working, exercising or spending time with your kid. When the decision is based on what you want to do, the guilt is less”.
Let your children know that you’re at work, voila!
Victoria Beckham is a mother of four who has managed to establish herself as a fashion designer and develop her own makeup line. “I am incredibly lucky that I am the boss, so I can say: ‘I’m coming in late because of sports day’,” she says. “Some mums can’t do that, and the key is to not beat yourself up about it.”
In the end, Beckham emphasises how beneficial it is to instil in her kids the value of working hard. “All the children know that I go to work, and that is such a positive thing,” she explains.
Kids don’t come with a manual, it’s okay to make mistakes
Ghazal Alagh, Mamaearth founder said, “Being a mom and Chief Innovation Officer have one thing in common, both come with responsibilities and constantly need you to improvise.” She starts her day early and plans every hour of it to make the most of both sides of her world. “Eventually, I figured it was all about taking it one day at a time,” she says.
“At times when I am struggling to prioritise, I just take a deep breath and calm myself to figure what are most important to me,” she adds, recalling an incident from very early on in her start-up journey when she had to choose between an interview and her son’s first ever sports meet. She ended up going for the sports meet and rescheduled the interview for a later date.
“Take it easy. Kids do not come with manuals and it’s okay to make mistakes.”
Examine your guilt to determine a better way out
Athletes are taught to concentrate so much on their own wants and ambitions, but being a parent requires that you continuously think about your child’s needs. “Running is what made me a two-time Olympic gold medallist, but when it comes to mom guilt, I never run from it. I sit it in,” shares Natasha Hastings.
“When I feel mom guilt, I don’t reject it. I allow myself to feel it, investigate it, and determine whether its presence is a sign that something needs to change or if I am simply being too hard on myself,” she observes.