Mom Guilt Is More Common Than You Think—An MD Shares Tips for Addressing

One of the most common words associated with motherhood is guilt. From the moment I became a mother, I found myself constantly juggling what I should be doing and what I wanted to be doing. It was always an internal battle against the nagging feeling of mom guilt for desiring things outside of my caregiver role. At thirty-six, with eleven years invested in my career as a fashion stylist, I expected motherhood to seamlessly integrate into my life. What a shock and surprise it was to find otherwise.

Featured image from our interview with Ariel Kaye by Teal Thomsen.

Woman and daughter

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An Honest Conversation on Mom Guilt

Even after three months of bed rest, I felt like a stranger to my little one. We hadn’t shared any bonding moments or experiences. He couldn’t even smile at me yet. My work was on hold, my life had slowed down, and I was expected to fill the gap of my eleven-year career with round-the-clock childcare. It was a challenging transition, and the guilt of not feeling completely fulfilled by motherhood weighed heavily on me.

Recently, I came across some deeply honest articles on mom guilt. One that resonated most was an excerpt from In Kind Magazine.

“Becoming a mother can feel like turning into a different person when all you want to be is the woman you worked so hard to become.”

– Becky Nielsen Filipski for In Kind Magazine

Since it seems like every woman on the planet, including myself, is suffering from the endless loop of mom guilt, I got in touch with Dr. Sarah Oreck, MD, MS for her professional opinion on how to define mom guilt, who it affects, and how to manage it. Ahead, we discuss all things mom guilt—including how to break from the cycle of negative thinking and step into your identity with joy.

Sarah Oreck MD

Sarah Oreck, MD

Sarah Oreck, MD, MS, is a Columbia University-trained psychiatrist focusing on Women’s Mental Wellness. She runs a private practice in which she combines the most up-to-date medical treatments with talk therapy, meditation, and a whole-body complementary approach. Dr. Oreck is passionate about teaching and regularly lectures at Cedars Sinai Hospital, UCLA, and the Providence Hospital system in addition to her media work.

Woman holding daughter.

How do you define mom guilt? 

Mom guilt is a feeling of inadequacy and shame that mothers experience when they feel like they are not doing a good enough job raising their children. It stems from unrealistic expectations about what motherhood “should” look like.

These feelings can be exacerbated by social media portrayals of idealized motherhood and can significantly impact a mother’s mental health, leading to anxiety, depression, and chronic stress. Addressing mom guilt involves recognizing these unrealistic expectations, fostering self-compassion, and seeking support when needed.

How common is mom guilt?

Mom guilt is quite normal and many women experience it. It arises from the pressure to meet societal expectations of perfect motherhood and the challenges of balancing various responsibilities.

As a reproductive psychiatrist, I often see mothers feeling guilty about not spending enough time with their children, struggling with work-life balance, or comparing themselves to others. Understanding that these feelings are common can help mothers practice self-compassion and seek support when needed, knowing they are not alone in this experience.

Megan Roup holding daughter

Tips for Managing Mom Guilt

  • Be patient with yourself. It takes time to adjust to motherhood, and making mistakes is part of the journey. Be kind and gentle with yourself—just like you are with your babies.
  • Don’t compare yourself to other moms. Everyone parents differently and has different circumstances. Focus on what works for you and your family.
  • Ask for help when you need it. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from your partner, family, friends, or a professional.
  • Take care of yourself. Make sure to get enough sleep, eat healthy foods, and move your body. Taking care of yourself will make you a better mom.

In addition to Dr. Oreck’s insights, I wanted to share a few tips that personally helped me in my experience grappling with mom guilt. Intentionally defining my values as a mother was key. It helped me get clear on the things I needed and wanted to do as a mother and release the external pressures that didn’t resonate.

I’ve also learned to prioritize quality connection with my kids. This has helped me focus my energy and feel like I’m giving enough to others while still maintaining a strong relationship with myself.

Mother daughter embrace.

When should you seek help managing mom guilt?

You should seek professional help if your feelings of guilt are interfering with your ability to parent or to enjoy your life. Notice if you are feeling overwhelmed, hopeless, or are developing symptoms of depression or anxiety. It’s possible that you may have thoughts of harming yourself or that life isn’t worth living or you have a history of mental health problems. A therapist can help you understand the root of your guilt and to develop healthy coping mechanisms. They can also provide you with support and guidance as you work to overcome your guilt.

Babba Rivera

The Takeaway

Motherhood is a journey best traveled with support. Don’t hesitate to seek the resources you need to make the experience more enjoyable. Through my writing, I’ve realized that motherhood isn’t a one-size-fits-all journey, and the expectations placed on mothers are often unrealistic.

By sharing our truths, we can empower the next generation of mothers to feel heard, safe, and open to shaping their own versions of motherhood. This authenticity helps us move beyond the unrealistic fantasies we’re often judged and compared against.

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