How to Say No to Mom Guilt

frustrated mom

Photo by Jamie Grill/Getty Images

Photo by Jamie Grill/Getty Images

I’m what a lot of people would call a “go-getter.” Type A, super goal-oriented, incredibly focused and extremely driven.

Over the past eight years, I’ve built a successful seven-figure company from scratch, become the New York Times bestselling author of five books, retired my husband, and lead a community of more than a million women on a daily basis.

I’m also a mom.

And that means that I know, perhaps as well as anyone, that for women with kids there is almost always a hidden dark side to accomplishment and drive, one that us moms don’t always talk about, but one that lurks around every corner of achievement in our lives.

It’s mom guilt.

That feeling that we are doing something wrong or neglecting our family or somehow damaging our children anytime we pursue one of our own passions or dreams or goals, anytime we take the time to take care of ourselves, or even to focus on our career.  It’s the guilt we have about saying no or even “not right now,” the guilt we have for not cooking every meal from scratch, or for handing our kids $5 for school lunch instead of making it ourselves.  It’s the guilt we have for secretly being thankful for homework, because it means just have a few minutes of peace before we start the day all over, or the guilt for not being the chaperone on this month’s field trip or the mom that gets excited about watching every soccer practice.

It’s omnipresent guilt that is there in the background All. The. Time. That little nagging voice that keeps telling us we should be more, do more, love more, nurture more, give more, serve more, and even pray more.  That little voice that says whatever we’ve done, it’s probably not enough.

Not long ago, one of my employees quit her job because of that voice.  She loved her work, she told me, but she felt like she just couldn’t be a good mom and still do her job.  Something had to give.

It made me sad, but also a little bit mad.  Not at her—I understood why she made the choice she did—but at the pressure we women constantly put on ourselves to be Supermom.

Because I might be wrong, but as far as I can tell, dads don’t suffer from this same guilt complex that plagues almost every mom I know.  They don’t feel bad about going to work—after all, they’re providing for their families—and they don’t feel bad about spending their Saturday morning playing basketball with a few buddies, or feeding the kids PopTarts for dinner, or for watching the game on Sunday or for not making it to every single school event or PTO meeting or soccer practice.

They make time to go to the gym or to work on a project in the garage or to go out with the guys without feeling like they’ve somehow failed in every possible way.  Because they haven’t failed.  Taking the time to do their job and take care of themselves doesn’t make them bad dads, but just the opposite.

Last year, I did something I’ve never done before–something I don’t think I ever would have even considered, had my husband not suggested, then encouraged it, and then insisted on it.

I went on a personal retreat.

For four whole days, I did nothing but read books, go for long walks and hikes, do yoga, take long baths and lay by the pool.  I completely unplugged from work and literally retreated from the world

It was nothing short of incredible, and it was a powerful reminder to me–someone who normally thrives on being busy–that sometimes taking care of ourselves is the most productive thing we can do.   I came back refreshed, recharged, and ready to pour back into my family, my team, and my community.  And as a result, my husband was happier, my kids were happier, and I was happier too.

And I discovered through that experience is that mom guilt voice is lying to us.

I don’t have to be supermom, and neither do you.

And if you are ready to stop your mom guilt in its tracks, then you’ll need to start reminding yourself of this fact, over and over again, as many times as it takes for the message to sink in.

You don’t have to be all things to all people.  Your kids will be okay if you’re not perfect, or if you don’t have time for creative Bento Box lunches. You have my permission to go after every single one of your big goals and your dreams without feeling the least bit guilty.  It is perfectly okay to take time for yourself. 

In fact, you’ll be a better mom because you do.

About our expert

Ruth Soukup

Photo courtesy of Ruth Soukup

Photo courtesy of Ruth Soukup

Ruth Soukup is a speaker, blogger and entrepreneur, as well as the CEO of LivingWellSpendingLess.com. Get inspiration from her Do It Scared podcast at DoItScared.com.