This article originally appeared in “Chicago Tribune”
Here are a few things I’ve felt guilty about in the past few days: Working too much, spoiling my kids to compensate for working too much, giving my kids cookies because I was too lazy to cut up fruit, hiding the cookies so I wouldn’t have to argue about cookies, not playing Legos with my 4-year-old, telling my 4-year-old I had to work so I couldn’t play Legos (when really I just wanted to mess around on Facebook) … and the list goes on.
If you follow me on Facebook, you’ll notice I preach against mom guilt all the time. But it’s not because I’ve got it all figured out—in fact, quite the opposite is true. As much as I try to quiet the critical voices in my head, it’s still something I struggle with every day.
I decided to reach out to Kelley Kitley, LCSW, owner of Serendipitous Psychotherapy, LLC, in Chicago, for advice. Kitley, an Oak Park mom of four, specializes in helping women with issues ranging from postpartum depression to eating disorders to parenting.
We spoke recently about parenting, guilt and the importance of time for yourself. Here’s an excerpt from our conversation:
Me: Before I became a mom, I don’t remember having guilt about anything. Now I feel it every day. What is it about having kids that makes women feel guilty?
Kitley: When you’re raising little people, it’s an awesome, scary responsibility. What we need to realize is that we’re not fully responsible for how our kids turn out. Part of what causes the guilt is we take ourselves too seriously—we think it’s all on us. We don’t have that much power; we are only one aspect of our children’s development. So many other people and factors have an influence.
Me: I totally know what you mean. I’m always putting the blame on myself if my kids aren’t behaving—as if I’m a failure because they won’t sit still in church, stuff like that. I guess I feel like if I don’t do everything I possibly can to raise good kids, I might regret it later. My boys are 4 and almost 2 years old. All of these books talk about these being the crucial years for development—it’s a lot of pressure!
Kitley: Take them with a grain of salt. We have lots of time to form our kids’ foundation, and we can also undo things. Nothing is permanent. I don’t think our day-to-day activities necessarily impact our kids as much as we think we do. And I’ve worked with parents who actually regret having spent their kids’ entire childhood worrying about whether they were making the right decisions. They regret that they weren’t in the moment.
Me: That’s a good point. I’m pretty bad at being in the moment. I’m always thinking about whether I’m doing the right thing. How can I calm down the voices in my head?
Kitley: This inner dialogue you’re describing can be insightful but also exhausting. Sometimes it helps to do things that can calm your anxiety, like deep breathing, journalism and meditation. I also teach intuitive parenting: Turn off your brain and think about what feels right in the moment. We have expectations to always be present with our kids. That’s not the real world. Sometimes your kids just have to sit on the floor and play by themselves. You don’t have to justify not playing with them. You can say, “That’s just boring to me and I don’t want to do it right now.” And it’s OK.
Me: Haha, totally! I know the feeling.
Kitley: Sometimes I’ll even say to my kids, “Mom needs to take 10 minutes and I’ll be right back.” That’s modeling—you’re not punishing yourself, you’re just giving yourself some space.
Me: That’s awesome. I want to give myself a time-out! Speaking of time out, I know self-care is important, so I force myself to do it. But sometimes it still doesn’t feel good. Any tips to help me feel better about taking time for myself?
Kitley: The other day my kids asked if I’d be home when they got home from school. I knew I could be home, but I also needed a workout. I fast-forwarded in my mind: What’s better: Get what I needed done and be fully present with my family, or come home right away and feel agitated because I didn’t do anything for myself? Think of me-time as your chance to recharge. Otherwise the likelihood of projecting your irritability on kids is a lot higher.
Me: This is all so helpful! Do you have any mantras that you like to help remind women of these things?
Kitley: I love mantras. I recommend writing them on Post-it notes and putting them around the house, because often it’s hard to come up with them when you’re in the moment. I remember when one of my kids had colic, I wrote, “You are a good mom,” and just posted it everywhere. I also like, “You’re doing the best you can,” “It takes a village” and “Put on your oxygen mask first.”
Me: I’m going to try this! Thanks so much for your help, Kelley. Already I feel like a better mom—and now I have a strategy for when mom guilt strikes.
Nicole Radziszewski is a freelance columnist. She lives in River Forest and is a certified personal trainer and mother of two. Check Nicole out on Facebook at Facebook.com/mamasgottamove.