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Why Mom Guilt, is Really Mom Shame. | Parent Coach | MegAnne Ford

Why Mom Guilt, is Really Mom Shame.


Mom guilt and shame are ready to be dissected and reframed. 

You might be familiar with the content that I produce, and this content is often seen as shaming parents for what they do. When I started to really dig into this work and kind of what elicits those feelings, I think it's natural to feel shame when we have been shamed and when we are encountering something that reflects back something that we feel shameful for.

This always comes out in comments on social media or comments to someone who's outside of the work, and what they say to me is they call me a mom shamer, or they say, you know, stop shaming moms, and they get kicked into a very strong defense.

I want you to know I get it. Learning positive parenting methods and becoming accountable for the ways that we show up in our relationships in the parent-child dynamic is a very vulnerable and sensitive topic.

It's natural that when faced with information that challenges some of your current behaviors or your current methods and strategies, it's natural to be like, "Oh, like, ah, that sucks," or this feeling of immense guilt and shame comes up.

I think the conversation I want to have is to pause there in that feeling of shame, of what is it that's really going on, and then how can we move past it?

Because what I normally see this play out is it's been met with defense.



Common things heard when speaking about parenting

"Well, we're doing the best that we can, right?"

We use that as an excuse. It's like, "Well, we're just doing the best we can." And I get it, and I am like, "Yeah, we are. So let's reflect back, say, 'Hey, are we in alignment with the impact that we're making?' Because if we're doing the best we can and this is the impact, then it's natural to say, 'Hey, let me get into spaces that allow me to elevate and learn more so that I can do better and then in turn have a different impact, a better return.'

"Well, they are kids. You don't get to tell other people how to raise their kids."

In those respects, I agree. I agree that my job, my role here, is not to tell people how to raise their kids, is not to tell people one way is better than the other, but again to reflect back, like, 'Hey, let's take accountability here in our intentions and our impacts and really lean into becoming aware that our impacts and our intentions might be misaligned.'

"There's no perfect parent."

I agree. I agree with you that there is no such thing as a perfect parent. I even think saying there's no perfect parent is still in some way valuing perfection as the gold standard, and I'm here to say no, positive parenting is not synonymous with perfect parenting. Positive parenting is actually about focusing on the process, getting into those uncomfortable spaces, getting into those spaces to become self-reflective so that we can start to honor our own practice, our own process, and value our own efforts.

"There's no manual"

I agree. I agree there's no manual. However, there is a lot of great information and great support on how to meet children in developmental appropriate spaces, on how to create and set effective and healthy and not harmful boundaries, how to use natural consequences to help support children in stressful moments rather than add more stress in those stressful moments. So, though there is no parenting manual per se, there are a lot of great resources now, especially now in times of Google, in times of a lot of access on demand, to help create and empower you to form your own manual.

"Well, every child is different. You don't know what's right for mine, and what works for yours won't work for mine."

I agree. Every child is different. However, we also all typically respond to stress responses very similarly. Whenever we are inside of a threat, there are some pretty predictable outcomes to that. So, though every child will be triggered into one of those responses differently, it's a common human space to be triggered into that threat when we are experiencing threat, and my goal, my role here, is to help create a space where your child does not see you as the threat, that your child feels safe with you as their caregiver, which means creating that relationship with your child, co-creating that relationship with them, so that we can start to see where are our efforts, again, misaligned, so that we can get back into alignment.

 "I'm trying, and that's all that matters."

I agree. I agree with you that trying is a huge part. It takes so much courage, effort, and vulnerability to step into spaces, to ask questions, to make mistakes, and to work towards improving yourself. I just empower you, and I encourage you not to find comfort in the phrase 'I'm trying.' And what I mean by that is when parents come to me and say, 'Well, I'm trying to stop yelling,' I see it. I invite them to say, 'You know, who is that protecting? Is it protecting you or is it protecting your child? Because your child is still experiencing the yelling.' So, though I encourage you and applaud you and want you to get into spaces that allow you to try, to take action, to make mistakes, to get up, to self-reflect and start that process again, I want you to release that you have to prove something, that you have to prove like, 'I'm trying to do it,' and then put pressure on yourself to keep doing something that maybe you don't have that knowledge, skill set, support, access to.

I hope this is all tracking because I think that this conversation is a big one, and I know that parenting is a very charged space in general. And I just think that, especially as a parenting coach, it can come with a lot of false beliefs of what my perspective is or what my role in this conversation is, and I know that those feelings of shame, I mean, they are sharp, and they are heavy, and they are painful. Let's bring light to the dark areas, saying that it's safe to feel uncomfortable, it's safe to feel those big emotions, and really start to reinterpret what those big charged emotions mean.


Three beliefs holding you in mom guilt

Asking for help means that you're inadequate, that we maybe think like, "Oh, you don't know."

I want you to know that that's false. I actually think that asking for help means that you are amazing, that you are courageous, that you are stepping into spaces to better yourself and better your children, and that's incredibly brave.

That other parents, quote-unquote, just know what to do.

Like we see it on social media, and we see them portraying and projecting out this ideal of perfection, and so we just think like, "Oh well, they just know what to do," and I want you to know that if they know, it's because they've been taught, either through their own parents modeling these skills for them or they have taken action to attain that knowledge and education themselves. No one is just born knowing how to set boundaries because that's something that is learned, like no one is just born leaning into natural consequences because it's actually going counter to our instincts, and our instincts are to protect and survive.

So positive parenting is really about getting into a space that invites us to regulate ourselves, to get out of those instinctual survival skills, and get into a more thriving space that creates a sense of safety.

Bad parents work with parenting coaches.

I do not believe in bad parents. It's a controversial take. I say good parents yell, because I know there is no such thing as a bad parent. I truly don't believe it, and I empower and encourage you to get out of this good-bad binary as well. 


Three Assumptions that I make to break you free of mom guilt

You are a good parent. 

I believe that all parents are good parents because I believe all people are good people.

You are currently trying.

I never assume that you're not trying. I think you're always trying. I think parents are some of the most dedicated and amazing people there are because they are taking care and fostering and cultivating the next generation. I know that that comes with an immense amount of pressure and effort, so I know you are trying. I'm never questioning that at all.

You love your child. 

That is never anything that I ever question when working with clients, and when we're again going into this topic even more, it reminded me of a quote from Brené Brown in her book. 

"I also learned that when you hold someone accountable for hurtful behavior and they feel shame, that's not the same thing as shaming someone. I am responsible for holding you accountable in a respectful and productive way. I am not responsible for your emotional reaction to that accountability." - Brene Brown Atlas of the Heart

I think it's a good space to hold here to reflect in this space because positive parenting is activating, and it's activating a lot of "oh I wish I should have, I wish I had known different" or "I should have known that" or "of course that would have worked" or "yeah, I get it," and all of those shame triggers come up or all those big feelings of mom guilt come up. And I want to invite you to be gentle with yourself in those moments.


Unpacking Mom Guilt

As we're stepping into unpacking mom guilt and mom shame, I really wanted to honor you.

If big feelings are coming up or if there are activations, I want you to be gentle with yourself in those activations. Or if you see a social media post that triggers some sort of guilt, I want you to listen to that.

I want you to give the guilt the mic, not to believe it or condone it, but I want you to give it air. I want you to give it air so that we can see that it's giving you a message, remembering that all emotions are sending us messages, and it's just listening and observing and interpreting.


What is the message behind guilt?

Before doing the work of looking in the mirror and taking control of my story, when I felt guilt, it was actually shame, and then my behavior was to freeze.

I was stunned whenever things popped up like, "Ah, I wish I hadn't done that." I would get stuck in the freeze response because I would think, "Oh my gosh, I've messed up." I was bracing myself for the punishment, the lecture, the fallout, and really, I needed to slow down here and get very clear on those differences.

When I did, when I got very clear on that story of what was the message there, what was the emotion, what was I sensing, what was my experience, what was it trying to tell me, I really started to learn that guilt actually meant that I had violated my values.

Now, when I feel guilt, when I think, "Oh, I messed up" or "I made a mistake," I'm quick to go back into taking action to repair. But it came from me slowing down, bringing some light into a very uncomfortable space for me so that I could start to feel supported and safe in that space, having this emotion, feeling that message.


What does this have to with Mom Guilt?

That's what led me to want to talk about it in relation to Mom's guilt because I see Mom's guilt touted a lot on social media. I hear mom guilt at the park, I hear mom guilt at Starbucks, I hear mom guilt everywhere.

From what I know now, that guilt means violated values, it then becomes curious to say, "Okay, well, let's connect back to our values, and let's see where we can make the repair."

But I see many do what I used to do, which is just freeze and get so stuck in it. Instead of seeing guilt as that trigger into repair, reconnection, accountability, apologizing, and behavior change.

I see many do what I did, which is an actual shame. It feels heavy, or I start to feel like I'm not enough, or I start to feel like I'm walking through mud, and it feels clunky, messy, and heavy. I want you to know that if that's been your experience, you're safe here, and you're okay. It's okay to have these feelings, to have this sensation, and to really slow down and bring light to this so that then we can start to make different choices, take different.


Finding relief from mom guilt

I'm going to pull in that Brené Brown book, "Atlas of the Heart," that I mentioned. In this book, she talks about all the different places we go, and she kind of makes it a dictionary of all these different emotions and expressions. Inside "Atlas of the Heart," she talks about the places we go when we fall short, and she discusses humiliation, shame, and guilt.

According to her definition, guilt is an emotion we experience when we fall short of our own expectations or standards.

That's in alignment with my new definition of guilt as well, which is that guilt means that we've violated our values.

So, with guilt, the focus is on having done something wrong and on doing something that sets things right.

When we experience guilt, when we experience a mistake, when we experience that feeling of like, "Oh wait, ah, we didn't do what we said we were going to do," we can start to listen to that message and have it trigger us into apologizing and changing our behavior.


Finding relief from shame

Her definition of Shame from this book is that shame is an intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and, therefore, unworthy of love and connection.

With shame, the focus is on being inherently wrong and unworthy. Shame stuns and shrinks you; it triggers you into that freeze response.

I know shame. I feel shame. I am constantly, well, not constantly, but at least once a day, faced with this distinction, coming back, connecting me back to my worthiness, connecting me back to moments of my own struggle and sufferings to invite me to dig into my own deepening of self-compassion. It is not about perfection but knowing that you can work through it.  


Mom guilt and mom shaming are all around us.

I thought about those memes, those memes I see often shared again with humor attached to it.

It's a form of connection, and I think, "Wow, we're connecting in that we are all experiencing this sense of not being good enough and connecting in our own shame."

So, I thought about this one picture. It was like a little letter board, and on it, it said, "Behind every great kid is a mom who's pretty sure she's screwing it all up."

I used to see these, and I'm like, "Ha, those are kind of funny."

However, when we really settle into the message, it's saying behind every great kid is a mom who does not feel enough, a mom who is feeling shame, a mom who is feeling frozen.

And I think, "Wow, how much time are we wasting in that space? What if we said behind every great kid is a mom who knows her worth and value as well? How radical is that?"

I know it goes against social norms, I know it goes against a lot of our upbringing and a lot of our conditioning, but if we want our children to know how great they are, we give what we can hold. It's an invitation for us as adults and caregivers to connect back to how great we are.

Another thing I found was called Mom Guilt Bingo.

So, on this bingo card, there's just a whole long list of things that parents judge themselves and others in. There are things like pizza for dinner, using the TV as a babysitter, throwing away their artwork, screen time of any kind, and hiding in the bathroom. 

It's things that we think that parents shouldn't do or are bad for doing. We start to tie morality into it, and again, it's normalizing this, but it's normalizing in a way that continues on shame cycles where now we feel like we are not good enough for these things.

Mothers in my parenting classes have shared seeing shame for things like having a c-section and breastfeeding.

Yes, what other things? I want you to think about them now. What are the other things that we create this binary, one bad one good?

It starts to pull up into this bigger conversation of really teasing out and shining a light on us. We don't know what's right for other people, but we do know what's right for us.


Using Mom Guilt and Shame to our Advantage!

Behavior is communication, a common theme in all of my work. I use this Iceberg method Model a lot. If we think about the iceberg that sunk the Titanic, they made their decisions based on what they could see, what was popping up out of the surface of the water. The reason why the Titanic sank is they were unaware of how big the iceberg was underneath the water because they couldn't see it.

Same with us. What we see on the surface is our behavior. That's what's just poking up out of the surface. What's supporting our behavior are our thoughts, our feelings, and our beliefs. That's the stuff that we can't see, that's underneath the surface.

When we think about the behavior of guilt, the behavior of guilt is saying things like, "Well, why did I do that?" The focus is on the thing that I did. It sounds like, "Well, I yelled. That means I must need a break."

We're now seeing our own behavior as data, and we can observe it. We take that information, we filter it through, and we're like, "Whoa, okay, there's a break. There's a rupture here. I need to start reconnecting and repairing that rupture because, guess what? I don't want to yell anymore. It doesn't feel good to yell. I don't like yelling. I want to now start to take action to remediate yelling."

So, the focus in this is focused on the action, and the value that I'm responding from is self-compassion.

The self-compassion value and skill allow me to separate myself from what I did, from the action or the behavior. Being grounded in self-compassion allows me to say, "Hey, I yelled, and that must mean I need a break. This is what it means. I was snippy, that means that I'm overtaxed. My bandwidth is taxed."

What's another thing that I do? I'm gonna speak from my own experience.

When I can't stop crying when every little thing is making me cry. Oh, maybe that means that I need to eat something. It invites me to self-reflect and be like, H.A.L.T. (hunger, anger, lonely, tired). Are any of those big tripwires not fulfilled? How can I fill those needs so that I can start to feel better?

Because I know that I'm worthy of care and support. I know that this behavior is telling me something else is going on below, and then I can meet that need and build those skills.

Compared to shame, shame can present the same way, but shame on the outside invites us to say, "Why did I do that?" We start to say things like, "I yelled, that must mean I'm a bad mom. I made this mistake because I'm a shitty mom."

You start to identify myself with what I did. Really, the focus here then is morality, and the value is that I'm valuing perfectionism. I'm valuing that there is a good mom and there is a bad mom. I am valuing that good moms do these things and bad moms do these things. I'm starting to now label myself, and when I label myself, I get trapped in it. I then start to judge myself and others. That becomes the binary. It becomes now seeing everything as either good or bad.


The Downfall of the Good-Bad Binary

This discussion delves into the common trap of labeling parenting behaviors as "good" or "bad," which can lead to self-judgment and the unfair assessment of our children.

Through the lens of my online parenting classes, we explore the misconception of what defines a "good" parent or child.

I emphasize the inherent worth of every parent and child, suggesting that behaviors may signal unmet needs rather than character flaws. Are you attuned to these signals or caught in the cycle of judgment? Let's break free from the "good-bad Parent Trap" and embrace curiosity, validation, and active listening in our parenting journey.

The idealized portrayal of the "good parent" permeates society, depicted in various media forms as always nurturing, keeping children happy, and swiftly addressing their needs.

However, this fantasy overlooks the reality of parenting challenges and the complexity of children's emotions and behaviors.

It sets unrealistic expectations, leading to feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt among parents who struggle to meet these unattainable standards. Let's acknowledge the beauty of imperfection in parenting and embrace the journey with compassion and understanding.

The notion of the "good parent" extends to being protective, providing solutions, and always remaining calm, happy, and in control.

However, this ideal overlooks the reality of human emotions, including anger, conflict, and struggle.

By fixating on this narrow definition, we neglect the essential aspects of humanity and the opportunity for growth through challenges.

It's vital to recognize and embrace the full spectrum of parenting experiences, allowing for imperfection and learning along the way.


Shifting out of the Good Bad Binary

It's easy to fall into the trap of shame when we perceive ourselves as not meeting the ideal of a "good mom."

Instead, let's shift our mindset to view mistakes as opportunities for growth and learning. Just as we respond to signals on our car dashboard, let's pay attention to the signals our emotions send us, directing our focus to areas needing attention.

Remember, you are inherently good and worthy, raising children who are also good and worthy.

It's about evolving our methods and behaviors, a process that is entirely achievable. So, ask yourself: Do you respond with guilt, recognizing mistakes as repairable, or do you freeze in shame, labeling yourself as a "bad mom"?

This internal dialogue matters because it impacts how we interact with our children, shaping their perceptions and experiences. Let's choose self-compassion and growth, modeling resilience and emotional intelligence for our children.


Practice where it feels safe


Children often come home from school reporting about "good" and "bad" kids, or how teachers treat certain students. If your kids aren't in school yet, reflect on your own school experience. Were you able to identify the "bad" kids?

I know this firsthand because I was once labeled as one. However, I was struggling, and signs of my distress were overlooked.

Let's move away from these labels and recognize that every child is unique, with their own challenges and strengths. It's about understanding and supporting them, rather than fitting into unrealistic expectations of what a "good" kid should be.

The fantasy of a "good kid" encompasses traits like being a great listener, always doing tasks perfectly, and fulfilling every parental expectation.

It suggests that a "good kid" is constantly in control of their emotions, makes impeccable choices, and is unfailingly well-behaved.

Growing up, I often fell short of these expectations, leading me to believe I was a mistake or a "bad kid." Unfortunately, the adults around me reinforced this belief, failing to create a supportive space for understanding and growth. This is why I am a parent coach, teaching and coaching what I have learned and grew from is my life's passion.

The support I needed in my struggles was often missing because adults didn't know how to respond when they fell short themselves. Instead of meeting me with understanding and encouragement, they approached me with guilt and shame, questioning why I acted a certain way.

It took me a long time to realize that I wasn't a "bad kid," but rather a good kid dealing with a lot of stress and struggle. Normalizing mistakes and providing a safe space for growth allowed me to reconnect with myself and embrace my journey.


Truly no Such thing as a Bad Person

I firmly believe that there are no inherently "bad" moms or kids.

People may engage in behaviors or make choices that aren't ideal, but this doesn't define their worth as individuals.

Fear-based punishments only perpetuate a cycle of shame and blame, leading to self-punishment in adulthood.

Instead, I advocate for a supportive approach that focuses on addressing behaviors and building skills rather than resorting to punishment.

Through my platform, I strive to empower parents to feel supported and equipped with the tools to navigate challenges with compassion and understanding, knowing that when they feel better, they'll do better for themselves and their children.


Here are some questions for reflection:

  1. What mistakes do you tend to hide from others?
  2. How much time do you spend dwelling on those mistakes?
  3. What would it feel like to share those mistakes and receive acceptance, compassion, and support?
  4. How could embracing vulnerability and seeking support help shift you out of "mom shame" and into a space of self-compassion and growth?
  5. How can you align your actions with your values and use moments of mistake as opportunities for learning and growth?
  6. How might viewing mistakes as guideposts rather than barriers help you navigate challenges with greater resilience and self-awareness?

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