As a first time mom, everything you experience is new: lactating breasts, zigzagging hormones and this little human you created, who depends on you and your partner for absolutely everything. Everything.
Naturally, you’re terrified you’ll screw it up.
But the thing is, no one gets it right all the time. As a new parent, your first screw up is practically a rite of passage. And all that fear? It’s just fertile ground for guilt.
Guilt has an important role in our psychological makeup. The ability to feel it means we’re able to empathize and take responsibility for our actions. It means we’re not psychopaths, and that’s a good thing. But guilt can become an emotional habit and a big block to happiness, and that kind of guilt is anything but good.
For moms, the opportunity to feel guilt is pretty much everywhere, and it’s backed by all the contradictory information fed to you through a million different outlets (we call it MommyLand). It starts as soon as you’re pregnant: If you eat a hot dog with nitrates, guilt. If you don’t love being pregnant, guilt. If you’re getting the epidural, guilt. And once your baby is born, guilt keeps coming: You’re not breastfeeding? Guilt. You’re not bottle-feeding? Guilt. You’re returning to work? Guilt. You’re not returning to work? Guilt. It just never ends.
And, really, what are the benefits of drowning yourself in guilt? None, there aren’t any. Guilt won’t change the past, and it won’t make you feel any better, and it certainly won’t make you a better person or parent. Guilt is a no-win situation.
So how to achieve guilt-free parenting?
The first step is to accept that, as a parent, you’re constantly making decisions and learning through trial and error. It doesn’t matter if it’s your first child or your fifth—you’re still learning as you go, because every child is different so every situation is different. If you can embrace you’re status as ever-learning parent, you’ll free yourself from the need to always get it right and the guilt that follows when you feel you got it wrong.
Writer and mother, Alice Li Morgan, was asked what she found most difficult about parenthood and guilt topped her list:
The guilt is and has been the toughest thing for me thus far. And what I’d tell new parents is this: Start fighting the guilt. Start trusting yourself. Don’t be complacent; you should always strive to learn more, be more, understand more, and teach more, but don’t let the guilt get hold of you … Give yourself props and kudos for the amazing job you do. Don’t kill yourself over the mistakes or the wish-I’d-done-this-betters. They’ll happen. Learn from them, and move on.
Staying guilt-free means:
- Trusting your instincts
- Not comparing yourself to others
- Letting go of being perfect
- Not letting people’s opinions cast doubt on your own
- Staying flexible for course-corrections
- Celebrating your hard-work and dedication
Remember, nothing learned is wasted. When you start beating yourself up, embrace it as an opportunity for growth (also, a great lesson to teach your child). Let guilt hang around just long enough to illuminate the lessons then wave it good-bye.
Learn and move on.
Then indulge in some guilt-free pleasure.