Every mom has had a brush with “mom guilt”. That feeling that you aren’t a good enough mom because you’re not doing enough, life is chaotic, your house isn’t cleaned up, your kids are feral, and you’re too tired to care, except that you care desperately — that feeling is common to us all. The secret that prevents mom guilt is to learn how to say no.
This may sound counter-intuitive.
Because isn’t mom-guilt coming from saying no too much?
The problem is we don’t know how and when to say no. So we say no to the wrong things without being healthy or thoughtful about when, where and what we say no to. And how we spend our time doesn’t reflect our goals, priorities or values.
Mom-guilt comes from the disconnect between how we live in practice, and what we truly want our lives to be like.
We all have this vision of what kind of lives we want to live, and how we want to raise our kids. And when real life doesn’t line up, the conflict creates internal stress and makes us feel guilty.
If you want to prevent mom guilt, here are 4 areas where saying no makes everyone’s life better — including yours.
Say No to establish healthy boundaries.
Most people hear boundaries and instantly want to rebel. We don’t like feeling caged in. And setting boundaries makes us think that we’re stuck inside, right?
When farmers want to keep the lambs close and the wolves out, they put the lambs in a pen. When ranchers want to keep the horses from being hustled, they put them in a paddock. Or when businesses want to keep thieves from stealing company cars, they put a gate on the parking lot. And banks keep valuables in a locked vault.
The point is, boundaries aren’t for keeping *you* inside — they’re for keeping the thieves, hustlers and wolves away from your valuables.
Saying no is like putting a lock on your most valuable thing: your time.
Realize that your time is like the money you have your account. It’s a finite resource, and without a budget, you soon won’t have any left.
Healthy boundaries around your time is the same as the budget you put on your money. It helps you say no to things that don’t keep the lights on, but instead, let you take vacations when you want to. And that’s just one way saying no prevents mom guilt.
Say No to recognize your natural limitations.
There’s only so much you can do in a day. And how much you can do depends on what — and who! — is relying on you. A mom of teens might be playing taxi all day, but they aren’t going to have the same physical limitations as a mom of toddlers. Every stage and season of life has its own unique curbs on what you can do.
So you need to figure out what your season of life is and what your own limits are.
What kinds of limitations might affect your ability to get stuff done?
Physical limitations: if you’ve got a baby, and you’re up every few hours, then a lack of sleep will limit how much energy and focus you have for other things. So you’ll want to be careful about what you plan to do and when. When I had 4 under 5, I’d schedule my creative thinking tasks for when I was most awake and least likely to be interrupted. And I’d schedule my energy-intensive tasks (ie cleaning) for when I first woke up. That’s when I had the most physical energy and I didn’t have to necessarily think about what I was doing a whole lot.
Emotional limitations: if you’ve got a teen or pre-teen going through changes that are making your life difficult, recognize the pressure that’s putting on your daily plans. This might be a season of life where you plan on doing big physical projects. Especially the ones that don’t require a lot of decision making. And that you make allowances for why decision-making takes longer now.
Mental limitations: if you’re juggling work pressures, kids’ activities and a busy household, your mental load is going to limit how much you can get done every day (not to mention all the time you’re busy anyway). So this season of life might have you saying no to a lot more than you might like, because you just don’t have room for it in your daily schedule.
Recognize your season of life and acknowledge the circumstances that will limit your ability to do things. And you’ll be relieved by that understanding, because you’ll know the reasons why you might not be able to get to everything you want to. You have natural limitations.
The best thing about this though, is that life changes. So what you might need to say no to right now, you may be able to include later on, as your season of life moves to the next season. And that prevents mom guilt in every season.
Say No to create realistic expectations.
Sometimes our biggest source of guilt is our own expectations of what we should be doing.
We get unrealistic expectations from all sorts of places — family, social media, even just society as a whole. And we internalize those expectations without even thinking about the messages, let alone filtering them. Just because we’re moms doesn’t mean we have to do it all, all by ourselves, all the time. It’s not fair, or even a reasonable thing to expect.
Saying no to the demands of society on what makes a “good” mom helps us be honest about what’s actually possible.
There’s a social media post I’m sure we’ve all seen that compares what parents need to do today in order to be considered “good parents”. From the moment we even think about having children, there’s a pressure in what is expected of us. Everything we do, eat, and say is under scrutiny.
Is it any wonder that we can feel guilty about not doing enough?
When you say no to the unrealistic and unspoken pressures of society, and when you choose what’s realistic for your family, you can let go of the feelings of not doing or being enough. And instead recognize that you’re doing what’s best for your family.
Practically speaking, this might mean saying no to big birthday parties. Or saying no to toxic playgroups or saying no to preschool or umpteen activities for the kids. Instead, maybe you’ll say yes to taking a friend to a theme park for that birthday. Or saying yes to library storytime once a month (instead of every week). Or choosing instead for free play instead of yet another structured activity you have to pay for & drive to.
And maybe, just maybe, you’ll finally feel the freedom of realistic expectations that you can protect by saying no.
Say No to protect what’s most important.
For me, time with my family is what’s most important. So every time I feel stressed or overwhelmed, it’s probably because I’ve said yes to too many things that are taking away my time with my family.
What’s most important to you?
We get frustrated when our energy, time and effort is spent on things that don’t align deep down with what we value most. And sometimes, we can think we’re spending time on important things, but they aren’t what we think is the most important.
And that disconnect causes us to feel guilty.
Funny thing is, you might not even realize that you are feeling guilty. But if you’re irritable, stressed, easily upset, and lashing out about little things, you’re probably feeling guilty about something. And I would suggest that this is where you’re having the issue: your daily life isn’t lining up with what you value most.
What prevents mom guilt?
The first step is to be brutally honest with yourself and figure out what you think is the most important thing to you.
The answer might surprise you.
We might have ideas about what “should” be the most important thing to us: career success, education of our kids, lots of friends, generosity and supporting organizations that help others are all good things in themselves. But are they the most important thing to you?
They don’t have to be. You might value your kids’ education, but not at the price of your clean home. You might think that success at your career — something you genuinely enjoy — is your most important thing, but you secretly deep down resent not having time for travel. Or maybe you adore your circle of friends and your social life, but you wish you had more time for education.
I’m not saying that any of these are better than any other. They aren’t. Your values and goals are yours, and there’s nothing to be ashamed about any of them. The problem isn’t what you value most, but that your daily plans don’t reflect those values. And when that happens, you’ll feel guilty.
So what do you say no to?
Say no to things you like that don’t fit what’s most important to you more often. Not all the time — just more often. So you have more room for what’s more important.
This might be that you say no to hanging out with friends so you can work on that course you’ve been putting off forever. Or maybe you hire a tutor or sign the kids up for an afternoon class so you can clean out the fridge. Or possibly it’s finally booking that vacation to Greece you’ve always wanted.
When your values and your daily plans are in sync, you get so much more done without having those nagging feelings of guilt holding you back.
Saying no prevents mom guilt
If it doesn’t match your reality, fit into your season of life, or reflect what’s important to you, it crosses the line. And that means it’s something you should say no to. It can be a good thing to do — just not right for you at this time or place in your life.
You can take control of your own life, and not feel guilty about it. Saying no prevents mom guilt from ever happening in the first place.