Managing Mom Guilt

April 28, 2021

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We are all familiar with the feeling of mom guilt but what is it really? Why do we experience this emotion so often?

Today Lorissa unpacks what this feeling is really about and how we can manage our minds when it shows up. 

You don’t have to spin out in mom guilt. You can find freedom. Come listen to find out how.

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Hello, mamas, welcome to Made For Greatness. This is episode 26 and I am your host today. Lorissa Horn and a couple of weeks ago, I did a podcast episode in which I briefly touched on. I think I just mentioned mom guilt. And I had said in that episode, I’m going to address this in a future podcast episode. And so here we are today. I want to dive into mom guilt because I think this is something that so many of us can relate to. If not all of us, I had yet to meet a mom that hasn’t struggled with mom guilt. So I hope and pray that in this episode, you will experience some takeaways that will help you in your life now to really kick us off in the understanding of mom guilt. I want to differentiate a little bit between regular guilt and mom guilt, because I think in understanding this first of all, and kind of defining it and really diving into what the differences are that in and of itself will help us a lot.

Just clarifying the two. So first of all, I want to just touch on the basic definition of guilt and there’s, you know, you can go to Webster’s dictionary and look up the meaning of guilt and all of them are pretty much the same. This is one definition that I found that pretty much sums it up. Guilt is an unhappy feeling that you have because you have done something wrong or you think you’ve done something wrong. So that’s pretty simple, pretty basic. I think we could all agree that that is guilt. Guilt is an unhappy feeling. We experience when we have done something wrong or we perceive that we’ve done something wrong. Now there’s a couple of things that I want to touch on here, because I think it’s really important, important for us. And especially as Catholics to recognize that guilt in and of itself is actually, and can be an, is like a good emotion.

It’s an emotion that we want to have at the appropriate time. So like God gave us the emotion of guilt ultimately to help us in our lives. And when our consciences are well-formed, well-formed in the faith, when we know the differences between right and wrong, then guilt is one of those emotions that helps us to navigate in our lives like lives of holiness. So I dove into the catechism of the Catholic church in, in regards to the, to the articles in there on moral conscience. And I just want to kind of highlight one little tiny section and I, you know what, like this has been really cool for me. I’ve read through this many times, but it’s been a while. And just going back to the catechism, it’s just, ah, and it like sets my heart on fire. And I hope that this just sets your heart on fire too, because it’s so beautiful.

But this is section 1776 and it says deep within his conscience, man discovers a law, which he has not laid upon himself, but which he must obey its voice ever calling him to love and to do what is good and to avoid evil sounds in his heart at the right moment for man has in his heart, a law inscribed by God, his conscience is man’s most secret core and his sanctuary there he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths. It goes on to say that it is in the depths of his soul, that that man can hear God speaking truly in the depths of his conscience. And so I bring this up because I really do want to highlight the fact that, that when we experience appropriate emotions of guilt, it’s a good thing we want. Like if we sin, we want to feel the emotion of guilt that indicates to us that we have a well-formed conscience and that emotion of guilt is you know, it’s one of those red flags is that trigger for us to say, okay, I’ve made a mistake.

I’ve sinned, I’ve broken my relationship with God or I’ve hurt my relationship with someone else. This emotion of guilt is an indication to me that I need to fix this, that I need to seek reconciliation, that I need to turn back to God that I need to turn away from my sin. And all of this is good when it is all within a well-formed conscience. And when the emotion of guilt correlates to the degree of the sin, that’s been committed. For example, if we’ve committed a major sin, if we’ve committed a mortal sin, it should be our hope that the degree, the degree of guilt that we feel should be pretty strong. And also if we commit a very minor sin of venial sin, we should experience guilt, but that guilt should be an appropriate level of guilt compared to the sin. And that should always that emotion of guilt.

Like we shouldn’t linger in it. We shouldn’t be consumed by it, but what it should do is it should prompt us to enter into reconciliation into whatever way reconciliation is needed to repair the damage of that sin. And then, you know, whether it’s the sacrament of reconciliation, you know, going to someone that we’ve wronged and apologizing for those types of things, then we should allow that that guilt should fall away. All of that is really like, that should be the goal of guilt in our lives. The goal of guilt should be leading us on a path to holiness. And so what I want to talk about though, is the difference between feeling guilt when we’ve committed a sin and then like what, like mom guilt is. And I like to define mom guilt, which I believe is not completely different, but significantly different than this guilt that we’re talking about.

That’s in direct correlation to sin. Now for us as moms, there are so many profound things that happen to us. I mean, obviously when we get pregnant, we become moms. We, our hormones change so many of our emotions intensify, but there is something really legitimate to this whole notion of mom guilt. And for me in my life, it started literally I can like look back to it, the moment I got pregnant. And it’s like, this realization is the deep realization that our decisions no longer impact just us, but they impact another human being. And I think because of that, our brains go into just like kind of this extreme mode of being hypersensitive to that. And I think in a lot of ways, this is why men don’t struggle in this area as much as we, as women do. This is just one of the reasons why, you know, like, like though we’re different than men, but that also like this realization that from the moment we get pregnant, all of a sudden our choices, everything we do can have an impact, a dramatic impact on the life of another human being that depends on us solely for its existence.

So for the first nine months in the womb, that baby is completely dependent on us. And we realize early on, you know, how important our decisions are. And so I think our brain just goes into this hypersensitive mode of always being overly aware of that and to the point that sometimes unless we’re really managing our minds, our thoughts can spiral out of control and lead to a lot of overwhelming guilt that actually doesn’t serve us in any capacity. And this is really the heart of what I want to get into today. So for me, I can remember, especially with my first several pregnancies, if not all of them, that moment of getting pregnant and all of a sudden, you, you start to just worry, you start to be, you know, you realize like, you’re you have this life within you. And so for me, that’s when the mom guilt, I’ll never like start it.

I’ll never forget the first time. Like I painted my fingernails when I was pregnant with my first pregnancy and I painted my nails and then it was, you know, using fingernail polish remover and stuff. And for like the whole week after I just went into panic mode, like, Oh my gosh, what if I smelled the fumes from the fingernail polish remover? And what if I did something to my baby? And I was like the first time that I felt this overwhelming guilt and worry about this other human life. And I remember feeling that throughout my pregnancy, everything, I ate everything I drank. You know, you’re not like I don’t want to drink too much caffeine and I don’t want to eat these certain foods and worrying about am I, you know, taking care of my body the way I need to, to be taking care of this human life and really scrutinizing everything that I did to the point that pretty much most of what I did, I would end up feeling guilty about it in some capacity.

And I remember even with my first baby thinking, Oh, I can’t wait for this baby to come out so that this guilt will stop. And then of course the baby comes out and we all know what happens. All those emotions just intensify like a hundred times. And then all of a sudden it’s just this overwhelming, like overwhelming emotions of like second guessing everything we’re doing and, and comparing ourselves. And we look at, you know, with everything for me, I really struggled with nursing. My body just would not produce enough milk. So like early on, I mean, it’s struggling as struggling to feed my babies, to nurse my babies, and then eventually having to, you know, give my babies formula and then dealing with, you know, like, Oh my gosh, feeling guilty about that. And like, why can’t my body make enough milk?

And is it bad that I’m giving them formula and just on and on and on until the point that like, we can literally consume ourselves with guilt about so many things about literally almost everything. I was a working, I’ve always been a working mom. And so I can just remember so many years, like I would be at work and like the whole time I was at work, I would feel guilty for being at work and like not being home with my kids. And then on the days that I was home with my kids in the back of my mind, I’d feel guilty for not doing stuff that I should be doing at work. And my mind was always spinning out of control with guilt. We feel guilty about so many things as moms like, okay, like, Oh, have I given my kids Mac and cheese too many times this week?

You know, if I was a really good mom that I’d be feeding them healthier foods, or, you know, I’m trying to get some other stuff done. So I put a movie on for the kids and if I was a better mom and I would be doing, you know, sitting on the floor, playing with them, instead of putting a movie on like on and on and on, like, we just will play ourselves and we will lay awake at night thinking like, Oh gosh, you know, like, Oh, my house is a mess and feeling guilty about not getting the laundry done. Or for me, I can think of so many times that, you know, I wanted to sit down with my family and maybe watch a movie, but like the guilt and like the thought of, Oh, you’re so lazy. Like, and then feeling guilty about that.

Like, Oh, there’s dishes in the sink. if you, you know, you really, you shouldn’t be sitting down watching a movie, you should be doing the dishes or doing the laundry or cleaning the house and this mom guilt or this like constantly like never like being good enough, always, you know, scrutinizing everything I was doing, feeling like I was never doing a good enough job in the mom department, oftentimes even in the wife department and literally being plagued constantly throughout the day with these emotions of guilt. And what I have come to understand is a couple things, first of all, this mom guilt, I don’t, well, I do know I, and I’m going to get to that in a minute. Like the root of it, I believe is perfectionism. And we hold ourselves to such high levels of like, of expectations. And so whenever we fall short of those, then we just feel guilty about it, but we can feel guilty literally about everything.

And so often what it comes down to and what I’ve discovered in my own life is that so much of the mom guilt shows up when I compare myself to others or when I compare myself to things I see on Pinterest or, you know, like, Oh gosh, you know, I’ll see somebody else have a birthday party for their kids. And it’s like this Pinterest perfect birthday party. And I think, Oh gosh, you know, like I’m not a good enough mom. You know, my kids just, you know, they get a Costco cake and some presents and you know, it’s not like this big elaborate thing. And then I felt guilty about that, but this is the deal. What I have learned, what I have come to discover, particularly since I’ve learned so much more about how the brain works and how our thoughts work and how our thoughts drive our emotions and all of these things.

And when our, when our emotions feel like they’re spinning out of control. And particularly for me, the mom guilt constantly just really dictating my life and, and ruining my life in a lot of ways is that this whole understanding of mom guilt doesn’t serve us in our master’s program. And in our coaching, this is a term we often use, like, does this do or do these thoughts serve us? And we have to literally stop and pause for a moment and really look at the ways that our emotions are affecting us on a day-to-day basis and how the thoughts that drive those emotions like do they, do they serve us? Do they help us in some capacity? Or do they not? Like I mentioned, at the beginning of this episode, guilt in and of itself can help us. And it is a good thing, but being consumed by mom guilt, oftentimes doesn’t serve us.

It doesn’t help us to be a better mom. It doesn’t help us in our lives. And I believe now in my life, like I have learned like really I’m, I’m no longer consumed by mom guilt because I’ve learned how to manage my mind in this area. And I’ve also learned a number of things I’ve learned that this whole concept of mom guilt, it literally can, it consumes us. My husband. I can remember so many times at night, I just be like laying there restless. Like I couldn’t go to sleep at night and my husband would be like, what’s going on? And I would just literally have all of these thoughts spinning in my head, consuming me of why, like how I was failing as a mom and not good enough and all the ways that I was messing up my children’s lives. And really like those things weren’t, weren’t even really accurate.

It was just this, the spinning thoughts that consumed me. And I remember at times like my husband saying to me, Lorissa just shut your mind off. Just stop thinking about that. I remember just like looking at him, like, how do you do that? I don’t, I don’t even like, can’t even grasp the concept of like shutting my thoughts off. Now, this is actually something that like, we don’t teach how to shut your thoughts off in our master’s program. But we do teach moms how to master their minds in a way that we really take control of our thoughts. And to me, that is one of the most life changing things that has happened to me to really learn how to do this and how to manage my mind every single day. So that the thoughts that I’m having are very intentional and keep me from spinning out of control.

But this is the deal when we do spin and mom guilt, it robs, and not only consumes us, but it robs us of the joy that God wants to give us in our lives. It robs us of the confidence that we need to be the best moms that we can be. Trust me, mom. I was like, we need confidence, self-confidence, like to do this job and to do this job well of, of being amazing moms and this whole mom guilt thing, it just strips us of our confidence. And even when we start to get traction in the competence department, the moment the mom guilt creeps in it just wipes the joy wipes, the confidence away. And I want all of us, like, I hope you are like, as you’re listening to this, I want you to just realize how mom guilt is truly hurting us.

And so that all of us can be like, yeah, I don’t, I don’t want to sit in this anymore. I also believe that mom guilt, it robs us of our self-worth or self-value. And ultimately I believe that mom guilt robs us of our peace now within life coaching. One of the things that we often talk to our clients about, and the women that are in our master’s program, we talked to them about indulgent emotions. Now, really, when we look at the wide range of emotions, we experience most of the emotions that we have serve us in some capacity, the good emotions, and even the negative emotions we have. I mean, there are times that we like, it’s good to feel angry and it’s important to be mad or sad, or, you know, afraid like those are all good things. Obviously the joy, the happiness, all of those types of things are really important as well.

But there are some emotions that we call like that. We just say that they’re indulgent emotion, emotions, and it’s those emotions that don’t really serve us. They don’t benefit us other than the fact that they just consume our time and they consume our energy, they consume our thoughts. And some of those indulgent emotions are emotions like overwhelm. The, the truly like the emotion of overwhelm. If you really stop and think about it, like it doesn’t serve us. There’s not a benefit to just sitting overwhelm or spinning and overwhelm another indulgent emotion is confusion. When we’re just sitting and spinning in confusion, it doesn’t help us. Doubt worry. Those are all indulgent emotions. And I believe that mom guilt, his whole concept of mom. Guilt is an indulgent emotion. Now, true guilt is necessary. True guilt serves us. If we’ve done something wrong, then we need to address it and fix it and then move on.

But spinning in mom guilt, just thinking that we’re never good enough that we’re failing at everything that, you know, like if I, if I’m, I’ve had a long day at work and I come home and I happen like one night, because I didn’t get groceries to give my kids Eggo waffles and an egg for dinner, because that’s quick and easy. And it’s what we have on hand. And then I beat myself up all night, like, Oh gosh, if only I was a better mom, I would have had the groceries or I would have, you know, fed my kids better like that. Doesn’t help us like that. That does not help us to be better moms. But this is the deal, our brains. When we spin out of control with mom guilt, somehow our brain is thinking like, if we spin in this mom guilt, it’s going to somehow make us a better mom.

But this type of indulgent emotion, it backfires on us. It just makes us feel like a worse mom. And when we have all of these thoughts, like I’m not good enough, or I’m failing, or I’m not as good as other moms or my kids, or, you know, I’m ruining my kid’s life. Like all of those really negative self-defeating thoughts just make us feel worse about ourselves. And when we feel worse about ourselves, we do not show up better. And our brain is just really good. Like our primitive brain, when we kind of are in that place, like Sterling likes to say that toddler brain, when it just is spinning out of control with all of these negative thoughts, then we just end up being consumed by that. And then it doesn’t serve us. It doesn’t help us to be the moms that we want to be.

And it holds us back. This is really a result of a mind that is not being managed well. And this is where a lot of times we don’t even realize it. We don’t even realize how much power we have. We just, we feel these deep, strong emotions. And we just kind of get stuck there when we learn how to manage our minds. And these are, these are the tools that we teach moms in our master’s program. When we learn how to do that, we learn how to take control and we learn how to live intentionally. And for me and my life, this is what has happened for me with mom guilt. Now I’m able to see things so clearly I am also so much more aware of my emotions. I’m constantly doing this work on myself, this deeper sense of self-awareness throughout the day. And since I’ve learned these tools, I’ve learned how to like, really become clear with how I’m feeling.

So if I’m going throughout my day, and all of a sudden, I start to feel an intense emotion of guilt, I will literally stop what I’m doing and pay attention to it. And I’ll think to myself, okay, I’m, I’m feeling this emotion. I’m feeling this kind of bad emotion. What is it is a guilt? Like, what is it? And once I kind of identify, okay, yeah, I’m feeling guilty about something. Then I pause. And I like really think to myself, why am I feeling guilty? What is the thought that I’m having that’s causing me to feel guilty? And the very first thing that I do is I ask myself, have I sinned? Because that is the indication for me, because I want to have a well-formed conscience. And I also know that I want to own, I want to feel guilty when I have sinned.

So I need to stop and ask myself, have I done something that is sinful? And if I can look and say, okay, why am I feeling guilty? Have I sinned? Then I’m like, okay, then I need to address that. Do I need to go to confession? Do I need to apologize to someone? But oftentimes when I go through this process, I realize, no, I actually haven’t sin. I haven’t sinned. I just am having this emotion that I are having a thought like, I will usually uncover the mom guilt. The mom guilt usually shows up in some sort of thought around. I didn’t do something good enough. So it’s not like it’s a sin. It’s just that, that in my mind, I haven’t done something good enough or I have somehow fallen short. And again, this lends itself to this whole notion of perfectionism, which actually is kind of a whole nother topic for another day, but this idea of not being good enough.

And that’s where I always have to check myself with a mom guilt. And then I will be able to look and say, you know what? I can, I can address that. I can look at the situation and say, yeah, I’m, I’m tired today. I’ve had a long day and I’m not able, or I, I choose to not do the laundry today. And I’m not going to feel guilty about that because I’ve done all of these other things today. And I’m actually a really great mom and I’ve done, I’ve chosen to spend my time focusing on other things. So I become really aware of my thoughts. And instead of just spinning into like, Oh, I’m not good enough. Or I’m just letting things go or I’m lazy or things like that that tend to lead to the whole constant like that. My whole idea of mom guilt, I reframe my thoughts really quickly and I move them and I focus on what are the things that I’m doing and what are the ways that I am doing a really good job, being a good mom, being a good wife, being somebody that cares about my family and I reframe it instantly.

So I change those thoughts instantly instead of allowing those thoughts to just start spinning out of control. In my past, you know, for probably the first 15 years of my marriage and of having children, I could literally spin into mom guilt and it would consume me for a whole day. In fact, I can look back and most of my days were consumed by mom guilt and never feeling like I was good enough. I do not do that anymore. I have learned how to manage my mind. I’ve learned how to take control of those thoughts. Do I do those thoughts creep in from time to time? Yes, they do. And I’m very aware of it. I’m very intentional about it because I don’t want those thoughts. They don’t serve me. They don’t help me to be better. They just robbed me of joy. They robbed me of peace.

They robbed me of confidence. They robbed me of all the things that I really long for. And when I’m living in a place like when I am showing up every day and I’m feeling confident and I feeling joyful and I’m feeling peace, then I show up as a far better mother, even though I’m not perfect. This whole concept of perfectionism and is, is truly at the root of all of this. And at the root of perfectionism is really the heart of not loving ourselves the way we need to be loving ourselves. So for me in my life, in this work that I have done intentionally every single day, working on has been at the root of learning how to love myself just as I am. And mom is, if you’re listening to this, if you’re, if you’re struggling with perfectionism, if you struggle with mom guilt, what the, like the very heart and core of all of it is working at loving ourselves.

And this is what we teach moms in the, in our master’s program. I know I keep coming back to this because these are the things that we want, want all of us as moms to learn, to embrace, to live out in our daily lives. When we start to learn how to love ourselves deeply, then all of a sudden the perfectionism and the desire to, to strive for perfectionism is starts to wear away. Our, we realized that our self-worth isn’t caught up in perfectionism, that our self-worth is actually found in our dignity and worth as being daughters of God, daughters of the King. And that we are like, our self-worth comes from being created and loved by him. And when we can enter into that, that self-love, then we realize that when like that, we don’t have to, to strive to be perfect, to somehow earn our self-worth.

So at the heart of all of this is the truth, truly loving ourselves. When we truly start to love ourselves, the perfectionism and the desire and the need for being consumed by the quest to perfectionism starts to fade away. And when that starts to fade away, the mom guilt also starts to fade away because we no longer like we stop comparing ourselves to others. We stop being consumed by not being good enough because we actually know that we are good enough. It’s so powerful. And when we start to really train our brain to have a completely different mindset on this, and when we start thinking intentionally and building ourselves up and recognizing all the ways that we are good and the ways that we are good moms and the ways in which we try and we work so hard, like truly that mom guilt starts to decrease, decrease, decrease.

And then when we get to this place of like realizing how the mom guilt doesn’t serve us in any capacity and that we don’t have any room for it in our lives, we don’t want it in our lives anymore. That’s when we kind of, we allow it to not be in our lives anymore. And then what is replaced with, Oh my gosh, it’s replaced with freedom. It’s replaced with peace. It’s replaced with joy. And it’s all of those emotions that really help us to become the wives, the women, the mothers, that God desires for us. So my sisters in Christ, this is what I have for you. Let us do this hard work of loving ourselves. This is what it’s about. Plus bring to our awareness and our, our thoughts, all of the positive thoughts that build us up so that then we can build others up and build our children up so we can truly live the lives of greatness that God is calling us to.



Lorissa Horn & Sterling Jaquith

Sterling and Lorissa are very different moms. Lorissa lives in town, her family loves playing baseball, and she’s proud to send them to Catholic school. Sterling lives in the country, her family loves camping, and she unschools the kids.

The thing these women have in common, an unyielding devotion to Christ. Seriously, if you hang out with either of them, they’re gonna talk about Jesus, a lot. He’s the center of their life.


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