7 mommy guilt trips
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|Fri, 04-30-2010 - 3:03pm|
Mommy guilt is like PMS — we all get it from time to time. In fact, a whopping 94 percent of moms in a recent BabyCenter survey fessed up to feeling shame over issues ranging from the amount of time they spend with their kids to the kind of diapers they use.
Mommy guilt is an equal-opportunity affliction, the experts say — it strikes whether you're 20 or 40, CEO of your home or a Fortune 500 company, living in the big city or on Main Street USA.
"We found that moms from all walks of life have mommy guilt, which blows the 'grass is greener' thing right out of the water," say Devra Renner and Aviva Pflock, coauthors of Mommy Guilt: Learn to Worry Less, Focus on What Matters Most, and Raise Happier Kids.
But guilt can actually serve as a helpful tool — as long as you don't take it too far. "It can provide a check and balance," says Pflock. "The trick is that you want to be in control of the guilt, rather than letting the guilt control you."
To help you take charge of your own mommy guilt, we've given a rundown of the most common mom cringe-inducers and what to do about them.
1. Feeding your baby formula
You pull out a bottle to feed your crying baby and notice raised eyebrows all around. It turns out that the other moms you're with all breastfeed exclusively.
Soothe it! You may feel like you're the only formula-feeding mom in the universe, but this is far from the truth. Whether it's due to supply issues, latch-on problems, going back to work, or something else entirely, many mothers find themselves relying on formula to supplement or replace breastfeeding.
According to information from the Centers for Disease Control, 42 percent of U.S. moms are still nursing at 6 months but only 11 percent are nursing exclusively. And in a BabyCenter poll, 68 percent of moms said their babies had formula in the first six months. In other words, there's a lot of the stuff floating around.
And still, we feel bad: In that same poll, 79 percent of moms who'd stopped nursing said they felt guilty about it. "After a few weeks of crying more than my infant, I finally switched to formula. But now I'm consumed with guilt," says one mom. "Everywhere I look, even on formula packages, breastfeeding is touted as best."
If you're grieving the loss of nursing, allow yourself your sadness. But then accept that you did your best, and move on. Breast milk is not the be-all-end-all — loving your baby is infinitely more important. And formula-fed babies are also thriving, nourished, and nurtured. As one BabyCenter mom says, "The best thing you can do for your baby is to be a happy mom — and if that means no breastfeeding, then that's the best choice for your family."
2. Using TV as a babysitter
Time to cook dinner, so you plop the kids down in front of the tube so they won't be underfoot. They're happy, but you feel a pang of guilt as you see their jaws go slack and their eyes get that faraway look.
Soothe it! In 2003, the American Academy of Pediatrics announced that children under 2 shouldn't watch any television. No more popping in a DVD while you grab a shower, no more cuddling on the couch and watching kids' programs.
This recommendation became instant fodder for mommy guilt. "I started letting my son watch Baby Einstein when he was 1 and he still watches DVDs. But after reading about not allowing any TV for kids under 2, I'm panicking!" says one BabyCenter mom.
But if you break this rule, you're not alone: A poll of BabyCenter moms reveals that only 9 percent of moms with toddlers forbid TV completely. And 70 percent think it's okay to let babies watch some TV. Another 51 percent let their baby watch the TV shows and DVDs they're watching. But the shame is still in play: 32 percent of moms lie about how much TV their children watch!
Is television really so evil? No, say Renner and Pflock: "Using television entertainment as a form of quiet time is perfectly appropriate." The key is moderation. If your child is under 2, keep viewing time to a minimum, and break it into 15-minute chunks. Watch with your child, and pick programs that are appropriate. If your child is older, see our TV guidelines for preschoolers and big kids. Then relax and send your guilt on its way.
. Being environmentally unfriendly
As you throw out a trash bag bursting with disposable diapers and Styrofoam cups, you spot your neighbor hanging cloth diapers on her clothesline. Her new hybrid is parked on the street, not far from your gas-guzzler.
Soothe it! It can seem like Kermit the Frog was singing directly to us parents when he warbled: "It's not that easy bein' green." Conveniences like disposable diapers and wipes, bottles of water, and paper towels can feel essential when we're stretching to keep our family's life humming along smoothly. And having kids usually leads to consuming more resources like water, electricity, and gasoline.
But raising children can also make us more conscious of our impact on the earth — 51 percent of parents in a BabyCenter poll are more concerned about the environment since having kids. And 58 percent are "extremely" or "very" concerned about environmental issues. After all, we want the world to be in the best shape possible for our kids.
This push and pull can lead to a nasty case of green guilt. Let this be a wake-up call — but know that letting guilt devour you won't do you or the earth any good. You may not be able to take public transportation to work, switch to cloth diapers, hang your laundry on the line, or toss out all your environmentally unfriendly cleaners right now.
Instead, focus on the dozens of small changes you can make. Try unplugging appliances when they're not in use, doing your laundry in cold water when possible, lighting your home with fluorescent bulbs, and other easy, earth-friendly tricks. Don't worry too much about the Greens next door — maybe someday soon you'll be giving them tips.
4. Feeding your kids junk food
At the end of a long, stressful day, the drive-through calls. But as you hand the crinkly bags back to your now-ecstatic children, you think about your own mother, who never did this.
Soothe it! Sure, there are kids out there who don't know a French fry from a French twist. Maybe you even used to be one of them. If your own kids can sniff out a fry from a mile away, though, rest assured that you're not alone — 76 percent of BabyCenter parents say they rely on fast food a few times a month or more.
Sometimes we forget that fast food — while not usually the best nutritional option — isn't poisonous. As with television, the key is moderation and smart choices.
Eating fast food as often as twice a week is fine as long as you choose relatively low-fat options, says Mary Savoye-Desanti, a bionutritionist at Yale University and director of the Bright Bodies Program.
That could mean ordering a regular single-patty hamburger instead of a double-patty burger loaded with sauce and cheese, a sandwich with chicken that's grilled rather than fried, a pizza with extra vegetables and less cheese instead of pepperoni, or a baked potato or side salad in place of fries. Get more tips and nutritional information from major fast-food chains.
If your family is turning to fast food more often than meals prepared at home, however, make some changes. You can serve healthy foods without spending hours in the kitchen — try prepared foods from the grocery store like roasted chicken, sliced roast beef, and bagged salads.
When you do take your kids to the drive-through, let them know that fast food is a "once in a while" thing. Then shoo your guilt out the car window.
5. Leaving your child with another caregiver
It's the first day of daycare and your baby seems fine — but you're a wreck. Tears drip down your face as you stop for one last kiss, and you drive to work fighting the urge to turn around.
Soothe it! Working moms often struggle with intense guilt — especially when they first go back. "Since I was returning to a job I loved, I thought I'd feel happy and worthwhile. I didn't expect those feelings to be so tempered by guilt," says mom Johanna Villanueva.
Working moms can also feel guilty for wanting to work. Tela Durbin of Working Moms Against Guilt was tearful and upset when she left her son at daycare — but she also felt relieved to have some time away from his colic. "I had two kinds of guilt — guilt for leaving him and guilt for wanting the break," she says.
If you're in this position, know that studies have shown time and time again that good childcare can promote cognitive, language, and social skills. Relieve your guilt by choosing the best daycare center, home daycare, babysitter, or nanny that you can.
To ease the transition, become familiar with your care provider before you go back to work, says Durbin. "Do practice runs. Maybe even leave your child there for a few hours while you run an errand."
Stay away from the online "mommy wars" between working and at-home moms, and tune out any judgmental comments you may receive. This vulnerable period is no time to jump into the fray. There are many supportive online forums for working mothers — turn to one of these instead.
And finally, remember that your work serves a crucial purpose. As Durbin says, "You know you're doing what's best for your family, whether you're working for financial reasons or because it makes you happy."
6. Yelling at your kids
Your toddler starts shrieking moments after your baby finally goes down for her nap. "Don't wake the baby!" you snap, much louder than you meant to. Your toddler looks at you with wide, frightened eyes.
Soothe it! No one feels good about yelling at their kids. In fact, Pflock and Renner's survey of mothers found that yelling is the number one cause of mommy guilt.
When this happens, take a careful look at your own behavior. Was the yelling out of the ordinary? Are you usually calm with your child? If yes, then let yourself off the hook and take this as a learning opportunity for both of you. As Elizabeth Pantley says in The No-Cry Discipline Solution, "Even the most peaceful easy-going parent loses patience and yells from time to time."
Reassure your child that everything is okay, and explain what happened: "Sometimes people yell when they're upset. But that can hurt people's feelings. I'm sorry. It would have been better if I had said 'Please be quiet. The baby is sleeping.'"
But if screaming is becoming a habit, you may need to take action to manage your anger and reduce your stress levels. Join a support group, see a counselor, read relevant books and articles, or get help from moms on our Parenting styles and strategies board. You can also get tips on avoiding yelling from BabyCenter moms.
"I ended up talking to a therapist, and he showed me that it was all about stress," says one BabyCenter mom of her yelling habit. "I committed to finding ways of reducing stress — I gave up some work, exercised more, got a little more relaxed about the housework. It was very hard, because I'm a control freak, but it paid off."
7. Not being able to afford all the extras
Your mommy friends have all signed up for a popular — and expensive — kids' music class. You'd love to join, but you can't afford it. You gloomily envision their children playing in the symphony, while your own child mops up their sweat.
Soothe it! It's easy to feel bad when you can't afford an activity for your child, or when you're the only mom in the playground with a plain stroller rather than a deluxe model loaded with bells and whistles.
But many of the things that we think of as "necessary" aren't. What kids really need is love — not the next expensive activity or "It toy." In fact, too much stuff can be a problem. "If you're constantly overindulging your children, they'll never learn the value of money," explains psychotherapist Kate Levinson, who leads workshops for women to explore their emotional relationship to money. "You also want to teach them how to enjoy life and solve problems in ways that don't have to do with buying things or using money."
Instead of focusing on what you can't give your child, focus on what he can have. For example, instead of the high-end music class, try a free class or library story time. If he loves to "cook" but you can't afford a play kitchen, help him make one out of a cardboard box. You'll probably feel your guilt drain away as you watch him happily banging on his new stove.