We’ve all read about mom guilt: why we feel it, how much it sucks and what we can do about it. But there isn’t a lot of information out there about why it’s so damaging.
Aside from crying on your way to work because you lost it trying to get everyone out the door; or collapsing into bed at night feeling like the worst mother on the planet for missing the soccer game, we don’t spend a lot of time contemplating mom guilt, specifically how hard it is on our physical and mental health.
Unfortunately, most of us have just accepted it as the cost of being a mother, especially a working one. But make no mistake, guilt is a toxic emotion that does our body and minds no favours.
Dictionary.com defines guilt as the fact or state of having committed an offense, crime, violation or wrong; especially against moral or penal law, and a feeling of responsibility or remorse for some offense, crime, wrong, etc., whether real or imagined.
“Committed an offense”?
Let’s hold up a second and think about what it means to apply this concept to motherhood because I believe guilt should have no place in a mother’s mind unless she’s turning tricks, robbing banks or committing acts that are so criminal and/or egregious as to land her in jail or on the cover of US Weekly.
Let’s face it, most of the things we do (working, travelling, pursuing our own interests, taking time for ourselves) are ultimately in service to our families because taking care of ourselves helps us take care of others, and working is a form of caring for one’s family. It’s okay to feel bad or sad about not making the game, and it’s okay to miss your kids while you’re away, but guilt is a different thing entirely because it exists to tell us we’ve done something wrong. And is that really the case?
Guilt is that little voice that tells us maybe we made a mistake, maybe we should apologize for something we did or said. Guilt is a normal and healthy emotion that keeps us connected to right and wrong. But when we start buying into the belief that somehow we’re failing our kids by not being around 24/7, guilt can turn into stress; and stress has a whole catalogue of negative impacts on our health.
Markham-based Chiropractor and wellness expert Dr. Pam Manning warns of the dangers of chronic stress for women:
“Women are more susceptible to a wide range of stress-sensitive disorders, including chronic pain and headaches, decreased metabolism, heart disease, infertility, sleep disorders, anxiety and depression. But these stress symptoms are merely the signals of the deeper impact that chronic stress can have on every organ and system in your body, from your nervous and circulatory systems to your digestive and immune systems.”
“Stress causes inflammation”, explains Manning, “And one of the proposed actions of stress is that it triggers inflammation in the body, which is thought to underlie heart disease, diabetes, autoimmune disorders like multiple sclerosis, and even pain. Studies have also shown that stress lowers immunity, which may explain why we’re more likely to come down with a cold after a crunch time at school or work. A woman under stress also is less apt to sleep well, which doesn’t help matters.”
And if you were wondering why stress tends to impact your libido it’s because “acute and chronic stress can fundamentally alter the body’s hormone balance,” says Manning, which can lead not only to missed, late or irregular periods but also a reduced sex drive and problems with fertility.
Stress can also impact our mental health by affecting how the brain processes information. “There are actual structural, functional, and connectivity-related brain changes in people who are under chronic stress,” Dr. Manning explains. “All of these can affect cognition and attention, which is why you may find it hard to focus or learn new things when you are stressed.
To recap: guilt can lead to stress, stress can lead to diseases, pain, headaches, sleeplessness, impaired cognition, wonky periods, and decreased amounts of sexy time.
And yet we continue to put ourselves through the emotional wringer.
Of course, simply knowing guilt and stress are bad for us doesn’t mean we can just stop experiencing them, like turning off a tap. For many of us, learning to manage these emotions is a process – one that should be rooted in proactive, physical and emotional self-care, recommends Manning.
“As a chiropractor, I am a big believer in working from the inside-out first. Reducing and calming your nervous system by ensuring your spinal health is optimized has a tremendous effect on the inner workings of all aspects of the body. By adjusting and removing misalignments if the spine we’re literally restructuring and rewiring the brain to release good hormones like oxytocin, dopamine and serotonin that shut off the stress response and allow health and healing to take place.”
Regular exercise, meditation, yoga, massage, adequate sleep, healthy eating, vitamins and remedy therapies are all said to be effective stress-management techniques. The secret is finding a routine that works for you – one that doesn’t, ahem, lead to more stress.
Dr. Manning, herself a mother of two, offers this advice when it comes to making wellness a priority amongst everything else we need to fit into our day: “Schedule your priorities, rather than prioritizing your schedule,” she says. “At this time in life, self-care will often cost time and money; two things that are at a premium when children arrive. But, investing in your health and wellness reduces possible greater suffering and/or quality of life in the future.”
Mamas, if you’ve learned one thing about mom guilt let it be this: it’s okay to not be happy every second of the day and it’s okay to wish for different circumstances and to miss your kids when you’re working. But letting those feelings manifest as guilt so they eventually cause health problems is not.
Mom guilt can have a toxic effect on our brains and bodies and putting a stop to it involves changing the way we think about our role and our responsibilities, and taking better care of ourselves. And there’s no reason that can’t start today.
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While spending such happy quality one-on-one time with my son, I saw the joy he felt for the rest of the day and well into evening. I had made his day. And spending quality time just with him made my day, too.