Overcoming Mom Guilt

If there’s one topic that keeps coming up in my work with mothers (besides the need for self-care!), it’s “mom guilt.” If you’re a mother, you know what I mean. Guilt over our own frustrations, weaknesses, and learning moments and what these might have “done” to our children.Guilt over not doing enough, not being enough. Guilt that maybe we really aren’t good enough.

Last week was Mother’s Day–a day on which moms everywhere should feel celebrated, appreciated, and loved. But in my experience, too many moms, instead, feel guilty. Hearing of other mothers’ successes, they feel like “I’m not as good as that,” like “I shouldn’t be celebrated,” like “I’m failing as a mom.” We’ve all been there. At least, I know I have. So, why is it so easy to fall into the trap of mom guilt?

Mom Guilt: Why is it so Common?

First, we feel guilty because we love our families. We love our children, our spouse/partner, and we want the best for them. It’s therefore easy to feel down on ourselves when that “best” isn’t happening. Postpartum depression, anxiety, motherhood depression, hormone shifts that wreak havoc on our emotions, and major life events and stress can make us feel like we’re “weak,” like we can’t do the job we so desperately want to do in the way we want, need or feel we “should” do it.

When kids make poor choices, we moms often take it upon ourselves, making us feel like we’ve somehow failed as mothers. We feel guilty when we’re exhausted and need a break, when we need help, and even when we’re feeling good and just want some time to ourselves. We feel guilt when we don’t “love” every moment of motherhood, even though that’s just part of the deal of being a mom. And the list goes on…

All of this can lead to feelings of self-doubt, guilt, shame, and even self-loathing that bring us down, down, down in a spiral of negativity and despair. This is what guilt does, and why I always say, “Guilt is good for nothing.”

The 2 Types of Guilt

Actually, I used to say “Guilt is good for nothing..,” but now I add, “…unless you use it for something better.” There are actually two types of guilt, and understanding the difference between these is crucial to overcoming mom guilt.

First is what I call “Depressive Guilt.” Depressive guilt is that downward spiral I described above. It drags us down and makes us feel low and useless. This type of guilt is good for nothing, for the more depressive guilt we have, the worse our situation gets.

The second type of guilt is “Motivational Guilt,” and it is good for somethingif we use it for something good. Motivational guilt comes when we’ve done something wrong and we know it. It comes when we feel remorse for our words, thoughts, or behavior, and we know we need to change. Motivational guilt has the potential to lead to change; in fact, by nature, this type of guilt is meant to help us change.

Allow me to explain, using my favorite metaphor for guilt: gasoline. Gasoline is a good thing when we use it for good things, like helping a car to drive or a lawn mower to mow. But, gasoline is also highly flammable. If we pile up gasoline in our garage, or rather, if we hold on to depressive guilt, allowing it to fester or rot or bury itself deep inside and adding to it over and over, eventually, all it takes is one little spark and “Boom!” the whole thing goes up in flames. If, however, we use that gasoline (or motivational guilt) for some greater purpose; if we put it in our car and drive somewhere beautiful, or if we put it in the lawnmower and make the lawn beautiful, then we’re actually using it for change and growth. Motivational guilt can help us apologize, forgive, repent, and seek a better way, leading us to that “somewhere beautiful” we so long to be.

How to Overcome Mom Guilt

So how can we use this understanding of the two types of guilt to overcome our own mommy guilt?

1) First, acknowledge the guilt. We can’t do anything until we acknowledge something needs doing. Only once we’ve identified, “Yes, I feel guilty,” can we truly begin.

2) After you acknowledge the guilt, examine it. Ask yourself, “What is this guilt all about?” “What am I really feeling guilty for?” This will help you determine if it’s guilt for something you feel remorseful about and want to change or guilt that’s just pointing fingers, filling your heart with despair, and dragging you down.

3) Ask, “Is this depressive guilt or motivational guilt?” Answer honestly. Remember, guilt is a feeling, an emotion. It’s not a reflection of who you are.

4) If it’s motivational guilt, pointing you to change, then it’s time to start the process of change. You might go and say you’re sorry right away; you might take some time to formulate a plan for change in your parenting approach; or you might need to take a whole lot of time as you work on true forgiveness. As long as you use the guilt as fuel for change, it doesn’t matter how long it takes. (Read about the Spiral of Change, here.)

5) If it’s depressive guilt, then the answer is to practice letting go. I know “letting go” is much easier said than done, but it’s an essential element in overcoming mom guilt, much of which tends to be of the depressive sort. How can you let go? That’s a big topic for another day and another post (coming soon), but to start, you can do the following.

  • FEEL. “Freely Experience Emotion, with Love” (This is How We Grow, p.184). You can’t let go of something you haven’t fully experienced yet. You must FEEL the guilt in order to heal from the guilt, in order to let it go. Tell yourself you can feel the guilt and that, even if you don’t like feeling it, you will survive feeling that emotion.
  • Lean back from the emotion. As you FEEL the guilt, lean back from it, reminding yourself that it is not you. (Watch this 3-minute therapy video, “How to Overcome Powerful Emotions: FEEL,” on my YouTube channel.)
  • Remember letting go is a choice we make over and over again. Yes. Letting go is a continual choice only we can make. When I work on letting go, it’s helpful for me to ask myself, “What would I feel like if I didn’t have this emotion? If I didn’t carry this burden? If I could really just let this go?” I then imagine how I’d feel, and let me tell you, it is a hundred times better than carrying things around I can’t change and don’t need. Try this, and then cling to that imagined feeling of release, and choose to let things go. Repeat as often as needed until it has gone.


My daughter and me, walking along the beach. It’s moments like this that remind us, “You’re doing better than you think you are.”


I hope you realize you ARE better than you think you are. You ARE enough. You ARE worthy of all the time, appreciation, care, and love you and your family wish to give. I hope you realize “Guilt is good for nothing…unless you use it for something better.” And I hope you choose to work on overcoming guilt so you can feel these things I’m telling you and begin to believe them for yourself.




For more tips, skills, and tools, listen to my one-on-one Motherhood Radio “session,” Overcoming Mom Guilt, here,

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