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Family Forum: End Mom Guilt Before it Affects Your Health

Give yourself a Mother’s Day gift: a break

It seems like once you become a mother, there’s always something to feel guilty about. No matter how much love, attention and mind-numbing decision-making we put into our parenting, at some point we all feel that we could have loved more, paid more attention and made better decisions. And it seems like once the guilt factor has been allowed to brew, it overflows beyond our kids to encompass how we interact with our partners, family members, friends and co-workers. Somehow we find ourselves frequently living by the “should,” “have-to,” “supposed-to” rules: meaning that whatever we’re doing now, we really ought to be doing something else.

But did you know that all this guilt can actually be harmful to your health? Christel Nani, R.N., author of “Sacred Choices: Thinking Outside the Tribe to Heal Your Spirit” says that guilt is a conflict between our inherited inner rules and our spirit. She says this conflict lowers our inner peace, stresses our immune systems and is a precursor to illness. Apparently feelings of guilt cause physical symptoms ranging from a knot in your stomach to migraines, fatigue, colds, irritability and depression. Guilt can also exacerbate flare-ups of back pain and immune disorders.

So rather than feel guilty, try these steps to diagnose your conflict, heal your guilt and achieve better health.

  1. Listen for tell-tale words in your vocabulary. If you hear yourself saying such phrases as, “I should...I have to...I’m supposed to...I must....I have no choice...,” it’s a sure sign that you’re doing something not because you want to, but because you feel it’s expected of you. This is the root of guilt: the conflict between what you want to do and what you believe others want you to do.
  2. Identify your limiting tribal beliefs. Tribal beliefs are the rules you were taught by the tribes you belong to: your family, religion, social circle, workplace and so on. Tribal beliefs are always at the root of guilt. To find the root tribal belief, ask yourself why you feel guilt. For instance, it’s Mother’s Day and all you want is to stay home, plant the flowers your kids give you and have some quiet time for just a little while. But on Mother’s Day you always visit your in-laws and have to bring along all the side dishes. It’s just what you do. Maybe this once the “should” part of the day can be eliminated.
  3. Watch for head chatter. When people are driven by guilt, they begin to negotiate with themselves. So for the mom above, her chatter might go something like this: “If I don’t visit my in-laws they’ll be miserable and then I’ll feel worse. It would just be easier to go than to make a big deal of it.” When you start negotiating, procrastinating or skirting around the issue, guilt is getting the upper hand and will start to wear you down.
  4. Get to the heart of your true wishes. Here’s the big question to ask yourself: If there were no logistical considerations--if you're not going to hurt anyone's feelings; if no one will believe you’re selfish; if your actions will not create any distress or anger to anyone--what would you truly like to do? Our mom above might say, “I want to stay home on Mother’s Day.” Our decisions become clear when we stop worrying about our reputations.

When you learn to get rid of the guilt, you’ll tend to feel less irritation, anger and resentment. And according to Nani, you’ll also feel calmer, less tired, more clear-headed and better able to sleep at night. I don’t know about you, but that seems like a great trade-off for giving yourself a break from the “shoulds” and “have-tos” we always engage in. And I don’t feel the least bit guilty about saying so.

Here are some events Long Island Parent magazine recommends for this week:

On Saturday, May 7-8, 14-15, the Chelsea Mansion Renaissance Faire takes place at the Muttontown Preserve, 34 Muttontown Ln., East Norwich from 12 p.m. - 5 p.m.  Admission is free for children under four, $7 for adults and $4 for children. The event showcases swordplay, armored combat, historical fashions, Maypole dance, games and crafts. For more information call 914-664-2733.

On Sunday, May 8, Ocean Science Sunday: Mother's Day at Sea will be held at the Cold Spring Harbor Whaling Museum, Main Street, PO Box 25, Cold Spring Harbor at 2 p.m. Admission is $8 and $3 for museum members. The event is designed for children ages five to twelve and features  mom creatures in oceans around the world. Touch a live crayfish & design a beautiful shell picture frame for Mom or a special person. For more information call 631-367-3418 or visit www.cshwhalingmuseum.org 

On Sunday, May 8, Celebrate Mother's Day at The Heckscher Museum of Art, 2 Prime Ave., Huntington. Admission is free for mothers and grandmothers from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. For more information call 631-351-3250 or visit www.heckscher.org.

Liza N. Burby is Publisher of Long Island Parent magazine

Liza N. Burby May 05, 2011 at 03:06 PM
Thank you for writing. I will definitely write something just for dads for Father's Day. One of the trends I'm following is the increase in stay-at-home dads, which brings with it a whole new set of parenting/emotional issues. I think, all guilt aside, we are the generation that is most evolved in terms of parenting. The fact that dads like you can talk about these issues is lightyears away from how most of us were raised and I think our children are better for it. Please send me a personal e-mail so I have your contact info for any upcoming dad articles, if that's okay with you (publisher@liparentonline.com). And please read our Dad's Corner at http://liparentonline.com/dads_corner.html for dad-specific advice.
katie baiata May 06, 2011 at 12:20 AM
such necessary awareness this article raised, even though we (mothers) know we should not sometimes we need to be reminded not to feel guilty. If you care enough to read about parenting, you are most likely doing very well in your position and have very little to feel guilty about. guilt is bad in so many ways and in addition to what the author writes about how guilt negatively affects our health- the knot in the stomach is the worst- it can also make your child perceive you as indecisive and not confident in yourself. that perception could in turn make your kid be able to use your guilt to their benefit and gain the upper-hand in our very fragile mother-child roles; your guilt may very easily spoil kids. on those clear days when i know what im doing is right and the guilt is taking time off is when make my best parenting moves and its also when my kids are most respectful and on board with the family groove.
Liza N. Burby May 06, 2011 at 02:22 AM
You are so right. And letting our kids know when we've made a mistake and apologizing is also a valuable choice to make and an important lesson for them to learn.
katie baiata May 06, 2011 at 03:21 AM
i live by that, i think its good for kids to know that we mess up too and that we can admit it. i've witnessed how that does not come so easy to many parents and its wrong when a kid does not get the validation they deserve when they were treated unfairly. we need to set and administer the rules for our kids without forgetting that they are entitled to being treated with the same set of ethical manners that any good human should demand. those kids are perceptive and i want my kids to see mama as a good person bc they should be the one's we are trying to impress- not the thousands of uninterested passer-bys.
Liza N. Burby May 06, 2011 at 03:26 AM
Sounds to me your kids are in good hands! Please visit my website for ongoing parenting information and activites: http://www.liparentonline.com/ And Happy Mother's Day!

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