Mother's Guide to Dealing with Guilt
Taking Steps to Zap That Unnecessary
I was a teenager, my grandmother and I were on a family vacation
in my parent's RV. The quarters were close, the beds at
a minimum. My grandmother insisted I take the couch and she
take the floor. I objected to this arrangement, of course: "What
if I accidentally step on you in the middle of the night?"
She reiterated: "Step on me. Please."
How absurd, I thought. It wasn't until I had my own child
that I understood. To some degree, every mother wants her children
to be perfectly comfortable, perfectly protected, perfectly
happy-- no matter what sacrifices she might have to make. When
we, as mothers, inevitably fall short of this ideal, guilt sets
The Purpose of Guilt
Is there a positive side to these feelings of guilt? There can
be, says Lesley Spencer, founder and director of Home Based
Working Moms -- an association that helps bring working moms
closer to their children.
"Guilt keeps us in touch with our feelings," Spencer
says. "If we are feeling guilty about something, there
is probably an area in our life that needs addressing."
With the first pangs of guilt, ask yourself why you are feeling
this way. Are there ways you can alleviate guilt by changing
your priorities? Will this be a positive change? If so, make
that change. If not, take steps to zap that unnecessary guilt.
A mother's guilt stems from an inability to give more
of herself, but Jane Adams, speaker, author, and research psychologist,
offers another perspective. "Guilt is an internal state
that is self-defeating and also self-absorbing," she says.
"Guilt is all about you, not the subject of your feelings."
Adams adds that she prefers the word regret,' because
regret, she says, is "guilt without the neurosis. It is
an expression of feeling that acknowledges the other person's
4 Tips for Alleviating Guilt
1. Re-examine your goals and priorities
Spencer offers sound
advice. "If your guilt involves not
spending quality and quantity time with your children, then
the issue should be taken seriously," she says. "Decide
your goals and where they are falling short. If you work at
home to spend more time with your children, you'll have
to address the issue of a growing business that requires more
time or growing children who require more time. Don't hesitate
to hire outside help to help you accomplish your goals."
2. Remember Your Role as a Parent
Adams reminds us that it our duty to set limits. "Understand
that setting priorities, limits and boundaries...about time,
money, gifts, etcetera, is part of being a parent, and requires
no apologies or guilty feelings," she says. "Don't
let yourself be run or controlled by these emotions, especially
when it's in the best interest of your child to stick to
the limits or priorities you've set."
3. Learn from Your Mistakes
Discuss the object of your guilt with people whose opinion you
respect. Give yourself permission to make mistakes and vow to
learn from them. Be honest and upfront with your children, if
you determine you are at fault. Offer a sincere apology and
4. Change "Guilt" to "Regret"
A simple semantics change could make a big difference. "Try
substituting the world 'regret' for the feelings you now label
'guilt,'" Adams says. "Regret requires no expiation--simply
the realization that you did the best your could in the situation
and that you're not going to let your child's reaction control
Susie Cortright is the editor of two "just for you" websites:
BestSelfHelp.com, which saves you time and money by cataloging only
the best personal growth tools, and Momscape.com, devoted to helping
busy parents find balance.