Mommy Guilt: Learn to Worry Less, Focus on What Matters Most, and Raise Happier Kids


"Parents today try too hard to be superhuman, often sacrificing their own well-being -- and relationships with friends, family, even their spouses -- to meet the ever-increasing demands of their children's lives. Of course, such efforts inevitably fall short, and parents blame themselves.

Mommy Guilt encourages parents to let go of unobtainable (and ill-advised) goals in favor of parenting philosophies that concentrate on the whole family. This eye-opening book presents the results of an original, ...

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"Parents today try too hard to be superhuman, often sacrificing their own well-being -- and relationships with friends, family, even their spouses -- to meet the ever-increasing demands of their children's lives. Of course, such efforts inevitably fall short, and parents blame themselves.

Mommy Guilt encourages parents to let go of unobtainable (and ill-advised) goals in favor of parenting philosophies that concentrate on the whole family. This eye-opening book presents the results of an original, never-before-published nationwide survey of over 1,300 parents -- 96% of whom reported they felt guilty about some aspect of parenting. The most common include yelling, family time, work choices, school, and sports. Mommy Guilt offers straightforward principles for handling these and many other common issues -- as well as for dealing with everyday challenges that frequently add up to feelings of guilt.

Through practical, tried-and-true tips, anecdotes, quizzes, and worksheets, Mommy Guilt illustrates how moms can fend off the guilt and focus on what really matters."

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“…well written and well organized, includes an appropriate amount of humour, and is enjoyable to read.”

-- Journal of Association for Research on Mothering

“As a practical, ‘how-to’ guide, this book is very successful. It is well written and well organized, includes an appropriate amount of humor, and is enjoyable to read. One strength of the book is the inclusion of practical examples of ‘Mommy Guilt,’ alternative ways to think about them, and strategies to deal with them. I particularly like the authors’ use of a developmental approach throughout the book. This developmental approach not only assists parents in dealing with their current issues, but also provides them with a glimpse into the future when their coping strategies will need to change.”

Journal of Association for Research on Mothering

Volumes 9.1 and 10.2

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780814408704
  • Publisher: AMACOM Books
  • Publication date: 4/8/2005
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 666,055
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.57 (d)

Meet the Author

"Julie Bort (Fort Collins, CO) is an internationally published journalist with substantial expertise and experience in survey research.

Aviva Pflock (Loveland, CO) is a certified parent education and child-development specialist, as well as a grant writer and administrator.

Devra Renner (Centreville, VA) is a clinical social worker with over a decade of experience working with children and their families in school, community, home, summer camp, and hospital settings."

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter 3

1. You must be willing to let some things go.

2. Parenting is not a competitive sport.

3. Look toward the future and at the big picture. Don't become overly hung up on the here and now.

4. Learn when and how to live in the moment.

5. Get used to saying yes more often and being able to defend your no.

6. Laugh a lot, especially with your children.

7. Make sure you set aside specific time to have fun as a family.

Mommy Guilt-Free Principle No. 1: You must be willing to let some things go

By the time we bring home the bacon and fry it, clean the kitchen, put away the laundry, help with homework, and tuck the kids in, all most moms want to do is crawl into bed alone—to sleep. Let's not forget the bills, the miscellaneous phone calls, and, of course, our spouses. Reading about it is exhausting, let alone accomplishing all these things. Human beings were not designed to toil endlessly. We eventually become sloppy, inefficient, and grouchy. This is why so many of us continually make that oh-so-short leap from asking our children to do something to screaming at them—and from screaming to a nice bout of Mommy Guilt. Yelling at the children was named by two-thirds of Mommy Guilt survey respondents as a prime cause of regular guilt. While no mother is so perfect that the occasional tantrum never bubbles up from her soul, it is possible to eliminate yelling entirely as a parenting style. (We'll show you how in Part 2 of this book.)

The point is this, if you found out you had only six months to live, would you spend that time defending the carpet against spots? Or would you spend it enjoying your family? We'd guess that filling your ears with the laughter of your children would take priority over rubbing out the chocolate stain on the living room carpet. Still, a serious illness notwithstanding, it is never easy to prioritize things in your life. After all, if everything on your list weren't already some kind of a priority, it wouldn't be on your list at all. Yet mastering the "letting go of things" is one of your premier tools for fending off Mommy Guilt. This alone can lead to such contentment with your parenting work that you float through most of your days feeling like you're doing a darn good job of it all. Furthermore, this feeling can be used as a flotation device to help everyone in the family feel happier and more content.

The safety guidepost: You, as a parent, are responsible for providing a safe environment in which your child can grow and learn. The first trick to helping you prioritize is to ask yourself this question, "In what way would my child be harmed if I didn't do this task right now?" If the answer is, "not much to not at all," you've just found an item that can easily be dropped down the priority totem pole.

Housework is an ideal example. In our survey for this book, 59 percent of participants reported feelings of guilt over not keeping up with the housework. So please, hear this: It is perfectly fine for your house to look as though children live in it—even when guests drop by! You can have toys on the floor, snacks out on the table, and shoes piled up near the door. While we've got loads of advice in Chapter 8 on managing specific housework tasks, for the sake of example, let's use a housework situation to show Mommy Guilt-Free Principle No. 1 by applying the safety guidepost.

You had completed a top-to-bottom cleaning of your family room last night at 11 P.M. It is now 7 A.M. and in the twenty minutes your children have been awake, they have had ample time to destroy the room. You see empty food containers on the couch. They dragged a box of toys up from the basement and dumped its contents on the floor, thereby mixing up several box games. Something brown and sticky is now on the wall (chocolate?). To complicate matters, friends are dropping by later this morning, something that both you and your children have been looking forward to for days. You had planned on using your time in the morning to prepare a picnic meal.
You flash back to the night before, where you braved exhaustion and gave up your precious before-bed reading time to clean this room. The kids hardly notice you standing there, ears red from anger, as they watch cartoons and walk past the mess to grab more food from the pantry. You begin to yell. You tell the oldest to start picking up the toys, making sure to put all the pieces back in the proper boxes. He starts to comply but then pouts and stops. Meanwhile, you begin frantically scrubbing the wall and picking up food containers, grumbling as you clean. The kids have moved from passive resistance to arguing with each other and with you. They soon dissolve into tears. By the time your friends arrive, you are frazzled—and although you feel justified—you also feel guilty for yelling.

After dinner the night before, you reminded your kids that in order to have a play date, they promised to help you clean the family room. You had given each kid an age-appropriate task, along with clear instructions on what they were to do. While the group of you cleaned the room, you excitedly talked about how much fun the play date would be. Your kids, of course, got constantly distracted from their tasks and needed your help to complete their cleaning portions, but eventually they succeeded and you could do your task, which was vacuuming. In the end, they felt proud of their work on the room and you heaped praise upon them.
All of that pride was forgotten by the morning. It is now 7 A.M. and in the twenty minutes your children have been awake, they had ample time to destroy the room. You see empty food containers on the couch. They dumped the toy box on the floor, and you spot a brown sticky mess on the wall. You are tempted to start yelling, but instead you take three deep breaths to calm yourself. You make a mental note that next time they have a play date, you will set up activities for them to do that will help ease them through their excited waiting period without digressing into destruction. You would like to make the kids clean the room again, so that your friends don't think you live like pigs, but you realize that yesterday's cleaning took a couple hours and if you don't get cracking on making the food, you won't have a picnic to take with you.

So, you ask yourself, is any of this mess harmful? The brown goo seems iffy so you prioritize cleaning that yourself. The toys are not in the walking path, so you opt to let them stay out—they'll be dumped out as soon as your guests arrive anyway. Your kids can certainly carry their own food containers to the dishwasher. Game plan in place, you step in front of the TV, turn it off and say, "Remember how nice this room looked last night? We need to fix some things before our guests arrive."



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Table of Contents


Part 1 Introducing Mommy Guilt

Chapter 1. The Pitter-Patter of Guilt

Chapter 2. When You Hear the Mommy Guilt--Tune It In or Turn It Off

Chapter 3. The Seven Principles of the Mommy Guilt-Free Philosophy

Chapter 4. Giving Birth to Guilt

Chapter 5. The Start of First-Rate Parenting Choices (and the End of Second-Rate Childhood Habits)

Part 2 The Stuff of Guilt

Chapter 6. Yippee! Guilt-Free Yelling

Chapter 7. Throttle Down That Tone of Voice, Part Two

Chapter 8. A Parent's Guide to (Almost) Stress-Free Housekeeping

Chapter 9. The Guilty Gourmet

Chapter 10. Family Time and the Fair-Fight Zone

Chapter 11. Husbands as Fathers

Chapter 12. School-Yard Guilt

Chapter 13. Working on Guilt

Chapter 14. Do You Have a Case of Mommy Guilt--or Is It Stage Fright?

Chapter 15. An Extraordinary Guilt

Chapter 16. Other Issues That Cause Guilt

Part 3 Building on Your Mommy Guilt-Free Foundation

Chapter 17. Time: How to Make It, How to Take It, and How to Spend It, Guilt-Free

Chapter 18. Guilt-Free Pleasure--Time with Your Spouse

Part 4 Appendices

Appendix A. Take the Mommy Guilt Survey!

Appendix B. Helpful Hints: Food Staples to Keep in Your House

Appendix C. Emergency Guilt-Relief Guide

Appendix D. Additional Reading"

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First Chapter

The Pitter-Patter of Guilt


Before the twinkle in your eye becomes an expansion in your waist, the conversation about starting a family takes place. It usually goes something like this:

"What do you think about a baby?"

"I think we’re ready."

"Good. Me, too."

Well, maybe you say a little more, toss around the financial responsibilities, check out the space in the house, or generate a quick list of names. One thing you rarely do is have a conversation like this one:

"Do you want to be the cook, maid, nanny, chauffeur, chaperone, or banker? I think I’d like to be the disciplinarian and dictator."

"All right, I’ll take on nanny, cook, and chauffeur, but we have to toss a coin for the others."

Of course, if the initial conversation covered all these important details, far fewer people would have children. These details, though, often leave mothers frustrated, stressed, guilty, depressed, and experiencing moments when they wonder why anyone would ever embark on the journey through parenthood.

With this book, we hope to show you how parenting can become more enjoyable for you, your spouse, and your children. Remember, we didn’t say fun, we said enjoyable. As parents ourselves, with more than 450,000 hours of parenting to our credit (and counting!) we have retained valuable knowledge certain to be of value to you, too.

Within these pages, we discuss some of the most common parenting issues -- the kind that can easily max out your guilt-o-meter. We offer practical solutions while introducing an underlying philosophy: We believe that your parenting experience is a gift, and you have the right to open it up and enjoy it! We hope you will read Chapter 1 through Chapter 3 in their entirety. Beyond that, the book may be used as a reference guide when situations arise that stress you out and you need to bring sanity back into your family life. Not every area in this book will apply to every reader, since we know that most moms are basically happy and experience countless hours of enjoyment with their children. Yet, we all appreciate a bit of support and encouragement to help us over the rough spots in taking care of our families. And that’s why we are here. Think of us as a brigade of your closest friends sitting on your bookshelf, ready 24/7 to help you with life’s most stressful parenting issues--from the mundane "how to get dinner on the table every night" to the major leaguer "how to stop yelling."

Whether you choose to read our book from cover to cover and absorb the entire Mommy Guilt-free philosophy in one trip (minus the guilt!) or you pick our book up whenever the need presents itself, we hope you will feel encouraged that you are not imagining your Mommy Guilt. Indeed, according to 1,306 parents surveyed for this book, 96 percent said they experience feelings of guilt associated with parenting. It is our goal to help you overcome the pangs--and sometimes downright agony--of Mommy Guilt. When you overcome Mommy Guilt, you are free to focus on the truly important things in life, like the happiness of your family. Getting rid of the guilt in your life will make you a more competent and confident parent and spouse. 


The tiny bundle of guilt
And so it begins, before we go through pregnancy, labor, and delivery or adoption. We feel a deluge of emotions. For some couples, this is enough to leave them wondering, "What did we just do?" For others, it is such a wonderful experience that they can hardly wait to do it all over again. In any case, everyone goes home to start the honeymoon with a new, expanded family. This honeymoon tends to be much shorter than the one immediately following a wedding. After a few days and nights without sleep, everyone feels like crying. (If this is the stage you are at now, don’t panic! Babies won’t know, or care, if you feel like you don’t know what you are doing! They also don’t care if you go without a shower until 3 P.M., leave dirty dishes in the sink, or forget to brush your teeth.)

For most folks, the decision to have a child wasn’t made to impress everyone by being a Supermom or Superdad. If yours was, it's time to remove that cape and change your plans. Most of us decide to be parents so we can have a special bond with a little life that we will love, take care of, and nurture into a wonderful human being.

So if your baby is two weeks, two years, or twelve years old, forget all those things that are going wrong and spend a few minutes just holding your "baby." Ignore the telephone, delay the dishes, or turn off the TV. Close your eyes and enjoy the moment. Now, take the memory of how good you feel after that brief time of pure happiness with your child and put it in an easily accessible place in your brain. This is what we mean by enjoyable. The moment won’t make all the other things go away, but it will remind you why you wanted to have children and of what's really important.

What’s next? We can tell you that some things will have to slide, and we will help you to prioritize. We will continue to remind you that almost all moms experience this feeling of Mommy Guilt--and once Mommy Guilt gets a hold of you, it may never let go, even through years of parenting or raising multiple children. In fact, a whopping 70 percent of Mommy Guilt survey respondents said that parenting more than one child caused them to feel an increase in guilt. For 40 percent, their guilt has increased as their children grow older.

The joy we derive from being parents is in our ability to appreciate and embrace the existence of our children. Enjoying children is not the same as spoiling them--nor will too much enjoyment of parental life spoil a parent. Indeed, a mother's state of mind strongly influences the emotions of her household. When a mother is happy, the whole family is happier .  

 Spoil a parent, now there’s an interesting concept. As you are reading this book, you are probably feeling anything but spoiled. We want you to take a few steps toward the idea of spoiling yourself. The first step is to escape guilt. In order to escape guilt, we must first know what guilt is. Guilt, defined by Webster as: "1. The state of one who, by violation of law, has made himself liable to or deserving of punishment; culpability. 2. Wrongdoing; wickedness. See synonyms under sin." When did it become against the law to not feed your child enough vegetables? Leave clothes in the dryer overnight? Fall asleep in the middle of the day? Serve a bowl of cereal for dinner or (gasp!) dessert before dinner? Is it really a sin to work outside your home? Alter your career path to stay home with your children? Not have a home-cooked dinner on the table at 6 P.M. every evening? You see, according to Webster, we are not doing anything criminal that defines us as guilty. We’re giving you a "Get Out of Guilt Free" card to help you have more fun with your family--and your family to have more fun with you. The next step is to actually release any guilt or unpleasant feelings associated with the idea.


I remember the precise time when the guilt-free epiphany came to me. I had just given birth to my first son. It's funny about that new mother period--everyone imagines it will be this tranquil time of oohing and aahing over the new baby, the blissful homecoming as you sweep back into your former life with this little bundle of joy. Hardly anyone talks about the fights. There are fights. In talking with other moms and dads, it is a truth that people somehow don't readily remember, or maybe they just don’t readily admit to it. But I remember and admit it.

So here we are with our lovely little baby. I am making every attempt to nurse this child, with limited success, and my husband is being a jerk about it. (At least, in my hormonally infused brain, I felt like he was being a jerk, thinking to myself, "Hell, it's not like he could do this at all, but there he is accusing me of doing it wrong!") I became so upset about it that I couldn't nurse at all. And being unable to nurse made me even more upset. What a lovely cyclical event it turned into! Lucky for me, my oldest and dearest friend had come out to help that week. She and I had a long talk about how  bottles were invented  to feed children, not to make moms feel inadequate or guilty.  She reminded me that my husband probably felt a bit helpless and his jerky-ness was a result.

After that talk, I nursed as best as I could and began to supplement feedings as necessary. While I wanted to be the perfect mom, I realized then that the definition of perfection is fluid from person to person and situation to situation. I promised myself that I would simply focus on being a fantastic parent within the scope of my own abilities.


Supermom meets super guilt
Lucky is the mom who dispenses with guilt when it first hits in those new baby days. Lucky and rare. While we are fairly certain that generations of moms have suffered from some form of Mommy Guilt, it appears that today’s moms have been harder hit. Is it the supermom image, the feminist movement, technology, or geographically dispersed family units? It is a combination of these things and more. We cannot deny that we are expected to do it all. The question is, who has that expectation? The answer is us. Women have fought a long, hard battle toward equality with men. We can fill the same jobs and do the same work, but it isn’t complete quid pro quo. Men are unable to get pregnant, they don’t give birth, and although they have nipples, they cannot nurse. We enter motherhood through the things that only we can do and quickly expand our self-images. We see ourselves as supermoms--doing it all ourselves forever, with grace and style!

Does a father suffer from feelings of guilt? Don’t assume, ask him. Some men have instances where their behavior falls so short of their own standards that they feel guilty about it. But walk into a room full of dads, ask them if they feel guilty over parenting and they’ll probably give you a funny look and wonder what you are talking about. Men are twice as likely to experience absolutely no feelings of guilt associated with parenting than women are, according to our Mommy Guilt survey. Of course, these men suffer negative feelings about parenting, but "frustration" and "anger" are often the names given to those feelings.

So why do moms name it guilt? Could it be that we also feel frustrated, upset, and angry but, since we are mothers, think we should not feel these emotions? Could it be that we worry that a carefree attitude is somehow equivalent to not caring enough? The authors of this book believe this reason to be at the root of it. We believe Mommy Guilt is actually all of our negative emotions about parenting lumped together, including feelings of inadequacy.

Anger, frustration, confusion, denial, and desperation are all actually part of the process of parenting. Parents who tell you that they never have these feelings are not coming clean. Parenting will test everything you’ve got, and in solving problems and helping your child through new experiences (wonderful and painful), you will know a kind of joy that simply can’t be found any other way. Parenting will be the ultimate life-experience gift you give to yourself. It is better than graduating high school or finishing a two-year quilting project, better than bungee jumping, and better than being promoted at work. But, to get there, you’ve got to turn your energies toward enjoying the experience of being a parent. You’ve got to empower yourself by recognizing that you’re going to experience those negative feelings, and ditching the guilt associated with them. Once this happens, you can give yourself permission to feel good about what you are doing as a parent. And your kids will feel good about having you as their parent! 

As mentioned earlier, if we thought about all that parenting entails before we signed up for the experience, our population would be in decline. Since we can’t return the children, we must figure out how to enjoy being parents,   and our children will naturally be all the happier  for it.  We are going to show you how to cast aside the Mommy Guilt and turn, instead, to the Mommy Guilt-free philosophy.

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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 3, 2006

    A great book

    This book helped me to finally add myself to my priority list! Well written, information and helpful...I wish somebody had given me this book after I had my first child!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 10, 2006

    A terrific resource for parents

    The authors' reassuring tone, sound advice and dozens of real-life examples make Mommy Guilt a terrific resource for parents. Readers will learn how to banish those guilty feelings and start enjoying being a mom.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 30, 2005

    great book for us guilt-mongers

    I give this book four stars only because I'm so compulsive I can't give up ALL my guilt, which I feel guilty about--but this is an excellent starting point for ditching an emotion that wastes more energy than anything else. Parents are so apt to be caught in the moment--will my kid *ever* learn to tie her shoes--that we forget the big picture. This will help you frame your big picture, and very concretely--with exercises and charts etc. It also helps, while reading it, to remember George Carlin's childrearing advice: 'Parents, do your kids a favor! Leave them the %**!# alone!!' Kids are not hothouse plants, and it's okay for them to realize they are not the center of the universe.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 8, 2005

    Get rid of guilt & get on with your life

    Finally, a book that doesn't judge, preach, or presume to have all the answers. I've read lots of this stuff before, but I've never related so well to one book. Maybe because this one doesn't have a 'my way or the highway' attitude. No labels. And, best of all, no guilt! It's not earth-shaking stuff. It's simple, sane and subdued. It's the voice of reason and common sense from those who have gone before us or are in the trenches with us. What might have jolted the earth a bit, though, is that not only are they living our lives, they talked with hundreds of parents just like us. The real-life examples they give come from their own lives and from some of the 1,300 parents they surveyed for the book. They show Mommy Guilt Scenarios (for example: run late, get mad, yell at kids, feel guilty). Then they twist the lens just a hair and show Mommy Guilt-Free Scenarios (a different way to perceive and react that makes a whole lot more sense and a whole lot less guilt). Simple. And powerful. I can't see myself belting out Broadway tunes to defuse a tense situation (as in one of the examples). But that's not the point. The point is to do something that works for my family and me. And they say just that: 'Keep in mind that what is best is what works for you and your family, and that the definition of best will change as you and your family age.' They list Seven Principles of the Mommy Guilt-Free Philosophy. The list looks like it should be cross-stitched, framed and hung in a kitchen right next to the one about 'sweeping and dusting can wait 'til tomorrow.' Yeah, nice thought. But who really believes that? Well, that's what the book is about: taking each principle and showing it is important and possible to work into our lives. The underlying message throughout the book is, 'You are not alone. It's OK. You're doing a great job. Forgive yourself. Stop feeling guilty.' Someone in the book said, 'Although I love my son, I hate changing diapers. I hate giving baths. I hate messy meal times. Then I hate myself for hating these things.' Does anyone really love cleaning shrapnel from a poop bomb, the kind that makes me wash my daughter up to her neck? Does anyone really love peeling off her clothes at the end of the day, stinking like poop, pee, puke and every other p-word known to humankind? I think not. I clipped something from a parenting magazine when my son was an infant: 'You don't have to like it; you just have to do it.' That helped banish the guilt at the time, and this book will help keep the guilt at bay. But here's the kicker: 'The guilt trap frequently snaps shut when we second-guess ourselves.' To me, this one statement is worth the price of the book. Other things may speak to other readers, but this spoke to me. Second-guessing is what parenting guilt is all about for me. The times I did it, I regretted it. I've learned to take any 'expert' advice with a grain of salt and trust myself as a mother first. Will this book make everything better? No. Will it make us stop yelling? Probably not. But it will show us how to better equip ourselves to handle things responsibly without being crippled by guilt.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 11, 2010

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