Dr. Levy's CBT Blog
Insights on Well-Being, Contentment, and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Many mothers - both those staying-at-home with the kids as well as those working out of the house - often struggle with "mom guilt." Those are nagging feelings of guilt, shame, sadness, anger and despair that may be temporary or pretty pervasive. They are difficult and unpleasant. Older parents will tell you to let go, to enjoy the journey as time flies: "they grow up so fast." And yet, day to day those pesky feelings pop up, sometimes on cue and many times unannounced.
Cognitive theory will tell you that those unwelcome emotions stem from your thoughts, the stories that you tell yourself in your head. It can be a thought that you may not be doing enough, a notion that you are not sacrificing enough, or just a belief that you are not getting things right while everyone else has it together. In terms of concrete thoughts, they might span the range from "I should be playing with the kids right now (as opposed to doing something else I also enjoy!)", "they are watching too much TV", "I shouldn't loose my cool", "I actually want to complete this work assignment but feel I should be spending more time with the kids."
If you can't change your reality short-term, how can you deal with these thoughts and feelings more effectively? First, if I offer you a magic button that would make all of those beliefs and reactions go away, consider whether you'd press the magic button. It sounds like a good deal, right? Yet, these negative thoughts and feelings tell us a lot of beautiful things about you...They show you care, you want to do what is right by your children, that you are willing to look at your choices critically, and that you have really high standards and goals for yourself. All of those things are good!
Rather than pressing the magic button and make the "mom guilt" disappear altogether, how about figuring out how to modulate it? You can find a way to hold on to some of the healthy aspects of the guilt - after all, wanting to be the best mom you can be is an awesome goal! - but it is not so high that takes away from your chance to enjoy your children and your limited time with them. That is very doable with CBT.
To get to this lower level of distress, you will need to revisit the stories that you are telling yourself in your head. In CBT, we embrace the idea that your thoughts drive your emotions. Change your thoughts, change your emotions. There are a myriad techniques to re-write the automatic thoughts and ideas in your head around your parenting choices. You can learn about them in CBT-driven books such as Dr. David Burns' new Feeling Great book. Or you can work with a CBT therapist who can guide you in understanding and applying these techniques to the specific circumstances in your life. Your family will thank you!
Dr. Daniele Levy is a licensed psychologist offering CBT via Teletherapy from Menlo Park, CA. Her background uniquely combines leading edge training in behavioral sciences with deep expertise coaching and mentoring working professionals in dynamic organizations.