One of my favorite things is when guests bring a topic that has already been discussed. And GUILT deserves about a million conversations. It’s big. Really big. On Joy is Now episode 15, guest Giselle Gyalzen and I go deep on guilt covering a Freudian perspective and taking a closer look at the neuropsychology of Guilt. Turns out guilt has a distinct neural pathway. It’s pretty cool stuff. Today in our conversation, Alana and I are going to take a closer look at what is known as mom guilt. Yeah it’s a thing, just like every other thing women do becomes a thing. Are you exhausted yet? Buckle up.

First I want to say that psychological research is behind, like way behind. Way to go team! Ugh. I could not find a study that looked at mom guilt from the perspective of same gender expression parents, transgender parents, or primary parents, or parental caregivers. Studies are totally lacking in inclusivity. And that’s on us as a scientific field. Ugh. 

And there’s a lot of information out there. Like shiny, pretty, hand lettered inspirational quote, click bait info. How to tackle mom guilt for good, make your mom guilt disappear in 5 easy steps, banish mom guilt with ice cream - just kidding, but the other two rely on just as much magical thinking as banishing mom guilt with ice cream. So let’s start at the beginning. What is mom guilt anyway?

Like any other guilt, mom guilt is a pervasive feeling experienced when we think we have caused harm. Mom guilt specifically is the pervasive feeling that we haven’t done enough or made the right choices for our kids, given them everything they need, and been everywhere at once, said and done all the right things, and all with a smile on our fucking faces. That sounds fair, right? 

A deep dive into this topic gets real dicey real fast. And by dicey, I really mean in the context of the patriarchy, kind of made me want to lose my shit. So I’m going to stick to the facts here and y’all can interpret the deeper meaning for yourselves. 

Sociologist, professor at Washington University St. Louis, and author of the book, Making Motherhood Work:How Women Manage Careers and Caregiving, has led numerous studies examining gender inequality in the workplace and in family life. In a paper, published in Qualitative Sociology, Collins explores if mom guilt is a cross-national experience. Collins studied wealthy western nations of Sweden, Germany, Italy, and the United States and found that mom guilt is a part of the parenting experience in all countries, however, in the United States, mothers experience a lot more feelings of guilt. Regarding the disparity in depth of guilt among mothers in her sample population, Collins says,” To me it suggests that there is something societal, cultural, and political going on here.” And this quote I should say is taken from a great article by Alison Escalente in Forbes - linked here. Escalate writes, “Collins argues that social policies not only lead to greater guilt in American mothers, they depend on it. She believes that mom guilt takes on a social role that keeps women from questioning their lack of support. In other words, the US needs moms to feel guilty, or they might demand more help from society.” 

I’m just going to leave that there. 

A recent study conducted by Abigail Ocobock, assistant professor of Sociology at University of Notre Dame had similar findings. Ocobock interviewed 80 parents in the US with at least one child in elementary or middle school. The sample population consisted of heterosexual partners that work full time and were expected to facilitate virtual learning for their children while schools were closed during the pandemic. Ocobock found that moms experienced more guilt, even though they were performing most of the parenting duties and school related labor. She says, “They felt guilty for any number of things: if they tried to fit in any of their own work during the day, if they were tired or not energetic or engaged enough with their kids, if they lost their patience and yelled at their kids, and so on. By contrast, not a single dad mentioned feeling guilty about having to work, or not spending enough time with their kids during the pandemic. Dads seemed to have a much easier time hiding away somewhere in the house and focusing on their own work or needs.” 

Again, I’m just going to leave this here. You can read more from this article by Colleen Sharkey published in Medical Press here. 

All in all, the research I encountered on the subject of mom guilt emphasizes several clear findings. One, moms feel guilt pertaining to their involvement as mothers and the numbers of mothers who report guilt far outnumber fathers, two, American moms feel guilt more deeply than moms in other countries, and three, the depth of guilt expressed traces back to lack of social policies that support mothers at home and in the workforce. 


For more on MOM GUILT listen to JOY IS NOW Episode 51 with Alana Rivera

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