How to Stop Mom Guilt Before It Starts

It all comes down to that toxic phrase, "I should..."

Self-talk tips—especially for mothers who work

This episode’s question comes from a mom who knows she’s making the correct choice to start work—and wants to end unnecessary guilt. If you’ve ever felt guilty about your parenting, you probably told yourself the phrase, “I should…”

Carol and Anne share tips to move forward without “shoulding” yourself. Plus, listen for Anne’s intention that has always helped her find perfect child care for her family.

This episode’s Parenting Practice

On a piece of paper, finish this statement 5 times: “I think I should…”

Write as fast as you can. Then step back and notice how many of your answers actually have validity. Do they help you or keep you stuck in guilt?

Make a commitment to stop the “shoulds.” Move forward with this intention: “If there’s anything I’m inspired to do differently, I’ll know.”

Transcript of podcast episode

Carol: Guilt is a byproduct of a self-talk experience. So, if you want to avoid guilt, stop “shoulding” yourself. Welcome to the Child Whisperer podcast. I’m your host Carol Tuttle, author of the best-selling parenting book, “The Child Whisperer.” I’m with my co-host Anne Tuttle Brown.

Anne: This week’s question comes from a Type 4 Mom, “I’m a Type 4 Mom of two little girls, a Type 4 and a Type 3. After a lot of thought and prayer, I’ve decided to get a job. I know it’s right for me and my soul needs it. Carol has mentioned in the podcast that as moms we can feel guilt when leaving our kids to care for ourselves. What self-talk can I engage in that will help me when I face this guilt as I begin to work to know that my kids can thrive even as I go to work and leave them in childcare?”

Carol: That’s a right question for the fact that’s a big decision for a mom to know what’s correct as far as for herself and then considering her whole family. Sounds like this mom isn’t necessarily being forced to work because that’s a little different scenario when the family economy depends on it and you might not love your job. So, there might be some other issues. So, let’s talk about this from the space of it’s a choice. She’s decided it’s correct. So now, how does she move forward so that it’s supportive to her family? And, what I’ve mentioned in the past is guilt can become an issue thinking, “I shouldn’t be working or I should be doing something else.”

Anne: “I should be the only one taking care of my kid. I should be there 100% of the time. I’m going to miss out on a lot of things. They’re going to miss their mom. They need me.”

Carol: We have an interesting, I think, phenomena in the United States culture that you wouldn’t find in most countries that have more indigenous roots. The whole family system helps care for children. It’s not solely placed on a mother. And so, to consider that, what if it was supportive to your children to have other people be in their life?

Anne: I think when you have put a lot of thought and prayer into a decision and you know it’s right for you as a mom, then you have to trust that it’s right for your family as well because you can’t just do something as a mom and subtract the family as part of the equation, like, that has to come. So, when you get an answer in prayer, trust that. The answer is correct for the whole family unit.

Carol: And, make sure if you’re not working as a mom to be mindful if you’re actually judging moms that work, because you really don’t know all the details. You don’t know what’s going on. Make correct choices for you and your family and let other families handle their family business. Now, I was a working mother. I did work majority of my career out of our home a lot of it. I was entrepreneurial so I had the full control of my schedule in a way. You joke with me that you and your brother will tell me these stories and I’ll look at you and go, “I don’t remember that.” And, what do you say to me?

Anne: “You were in the basement.”

Carol: You’re in the basement working.

Anne: You’re in the basement writing Remembering Wholeness.

Carol: There you go, but you can thank me for being in the basement. I was helping people heal their lives.

Anne: That’s right, yeah.

Carol: Yeah. A lot of things you had to learn to work it out yourself without me being always hovering there.

Anne: Right. And, at that stage we were, you know, in our early teens.

Carol: Yeah. You were older. I never took you to childcare for a work experience though. You went to preschool because I needed a break. But, I just needed variety. And, your situation actually is more typical of a working mother where you’ve had to secure childcare. You leave your home. You have set work days and hours. What’s been your experience with this?

Anne: I’ve definitely felt this guilt around leaving my kids. And, it has been through just relying on that confirmation that I have received that this is right for our family. I’ve talked to my husband about it when that guilt comes up. And, he’ll, you know, talk me through it, like, “How are our kids? Are our kids happy, and doing well, and thriving?” “Yes, they are.” “Okay, then I think things are doing good.” I think it’s okay to, like, check in, “Where are things at?” To reassess, to give yourself that…

Carol: You have a strong belief that I think has made a huge difference in your absence to make sure that your children are being cared for by the right people that make up the difference basically. Share how you’ve worked through that. That, I think is the biggest issue moms have to face is, “Who are my children going to be with if I’m not there? When I’m with them I know what’s going on. When they’re not with me, they’re with other people.” You have some really good tips on how to make sure that is working well.

Anne: And, it’s always shown up for us, childcare has always worked out. And so, as I’ve seen it work out time and time again I just trust that now. Like, childcare will always show up. It will always work out to support me in this decision that we’ve made as a family.

Carol: You’ve set that intention though.

Anne: Yeah.

Carol: That was the biggest piece that you knew if that was in place and going well. Now, there’s not other issues because you’ve got great childcare. And, when you’ve had changes in that I’ll hear you repeating that when you’re talking about somebody maybe…it’s changing, it’s a transition, you’ll say, “We always have great childcare.” You’re reinforcing it. You really feed that belief.

Anne: I think that’s really important as a mom as you leave your children to really trust who you’re leaving them with. And, it doesn’t have to look like a family member. Our latest is a nanny that comes to our house and she really appeared out of thin air. We moved into a new neighborhood and someone just happened to mention that this girl who was graduating was looking for a job. And, we interviewed her and she’s actually a Type 2 secondary 3 with curly hair.

Carol: She looks just like you. The children don’t even know the difference, quite honestly. I get confused when I see her.

Anne: So do the neighbors.

Carol: It’s, like, ideal. It really is, so.

Anne: But, you have to really know that as a mom you can leave them with someone you trust and you can have a good communication with.

Carol: So, work on that if you have any issues around if you’ve been saying, “Childcare is hard to get. This never works out for us.” You’re going to keep materializing that so you really want to work on that belief that great childcare always is available.

Anne: And, there are a lot of options. This is the first time we’ve had an in-home nanny. We’ve taken our kids to a neighbor. We’ve done the traditional daycare route. We’ve done the preschool daycare. And so, there are a lot of options. And, it helps me to write it all out, “Well, what would a perfect scenario look like for childcare?” And, your children will show you if it’s working or not, yeah.

Carol: And, your children, do they cry when you leave to go to work?

Anne: No. Sometimes if they have a fun day planned with the nanny, they’ll even be like, “Mom leave, leave, go to work.”

Carol: Because they know what’s ahead.

Anne: You know, I’ve teased that I go to work just so I can come home from work because my kids are so excited to see me when I do come home. And, it’s worth that little moment of joy, that I’m like, “That’s why I go to work.”

Carol: Well, give us two more tips on your day-to-day management that supported you, and then, let’s talk about the key question she had was, “What self-talk can she develop that supports her in staying on the positive side of this?”

Anne: So, I work Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. So, I’m at home Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday with my kids. And so, when I am at home, I am at home and I choose to not look at work emails. I don’t even get on social media because that can be a distraction. And so, I just really spend time with my kids and doing the family thing. I’ll do laundry. I’ll do meal prep. I’m also mindful about where I put my other resources. I have a cleaner and we just up that to once a week. I think that’s really important. You’ve always been a really big proponent of a house cleaner.

Carol: Well, I knew if I was working I didn’t want to spend my family time cleaning. I wanted to spend them in parenting and relationships, not in really deep cleaning. You’re always, you know, taking care of your home. Just, I didn’t want to be cleaning toilets. I didn’t want to make sure everybody else was. So, I invested in a cleaner since a very early age in your life that I still have.

Anne: I would say another tip is with meal prep. If you’re coming home from a busy work day, don’t plan to do a big meal prep. I still will, you know, I get home at 5:30 and I will just have to make sure that the meal that night is going to take 30 minutes or less. And then, the days that I’m at home I can spend a little bit more time in the kitchen doing meal prep for the other days. One other tip would be make sure you don’t only use childcare for when you’re working now that you’re working. Still use childcare for date nights, for time for yourself, otherwise, you’re only going to be doing work and mom time, work and mom time, and that can get really monotonous. And so, you need to have those other outlets for yourself in time to connect with your spouse as well.

Carol: Those are great tips, Anne. A tip for your self-talk, self-talk that turns negative is always in a mom’s world connected to, “I should be doing something different than I’m choosing to do.” So, the “shoulding” becomes the setup to go into guilt. Guilt is a byproduct of an assessment that you think you’re off.

Anne: Thinking it should be different.

Carol: Yeah. It always involves a should, “I should be doing this instead of that. Now, I feel guilty.”

Anne: “I should be with my kids more. I shouldn’t work. I should work. I shouldn’t be home all the day” or whatever. If you’re comparing yourself to someone else down the street or just, like, what you think it should be, like, from a cultural viewpoint or…

Carol: On the world of Pinterest moms, and Instagram moms, and mommy bloggers, there’s a lot of exposure to what people’s worlds supposedly look like, that are very, just, social media stamp life pictures. They’re not really the day-to-day grit and grind of their world. There’s a lot of comparison. And so, in this process of self-talk whenever you go down the should path you’re never going to end up in a happy content place. You’re going to question yourself. That’s the path to guilt. Guilt is a byproduct of a self-talk experience. So, if you want to avoid guilt, stop “shoulding” yourself. And, that isn’t just necessarily something a working mom needs to consider.

All moms can benefit from this by understanding that that get’s you nowhere. Change the word should to is there anything that I meant to do that would be correct for me and my family? Is there anything that would be inspired? Is there anything that I’m not seeing or knowing that would be smart for me to become aware of and to make that correction? That’s a very different process than I should do this, I shouldn’t do that. Make the correction come from a place of self-observation and in a way that’s uplifting so that you can make changes that are supportive and timely rather than miring yourself in guilt thinking there’s a lot of “shoulds”.

Because most likely, the corrections that I’m meant to be doing this, this is what is correct for our family, I’m inspired to make this change. They’ll come to you crystal clear. They come through a different sensory mechanism of an, “Aha,” a knowing. It hits you and you’re like, “I have clarity on that,” versus the other feels like a burden, a heavy that weighs you down and makes you feel less than. So, distinguishing the difference really valuable, and respond to the positives, and any promptings you get, inspirations you receive rather than trying to direct your life from the should side of things. That’s just ineffective. You don’t get clear answers from “shoulds” and guilt.

So what are you “shoulding” in your life? What are you still, “I should, I should, I should?” In fact, you could write this down. Write the statement, “I think I should,” five times and finish the sentences as fast as you can and see what comes up for you. Then, step back look at those and go, “Really?” You know, is there even any value in any of that? There might be a little trickle of, “Well, maybe there’s something there,” but let’s look at it from a different position of what’s the inspired action from this versus trying to motivate yourself from guilt.

Anne: Yeah. Guilt should only be there long enough to motivate you to a positive outcome. But, it doesn’t serve you when it’s just constantly nagging at you.

Carol: This week’s practice is to list five times, “I think I should,” fill in the blank for each of those statements and notice how many of those actually have validity. And, in thinking them to be necessary, do you feel good about yourself or do you feel guilty? So, make a commitment then to stop the “shoulds” and to come from that other place of, if there’s anything I meant to be inspired to do differently I’ll know.

Anne: Then trust yourself in that decision.

Carol: Yeah. Right. Trust the decision that’s been made. Moms are the hardest on themselves. You’re doing an amazing job. You’re doing an amazing job, Anne.

Anne: Thank you.

Carol: You know that too. I know you know that.

Anne: Yea, I’ve come to a better place now as I have done exactly what we’re talking about.

Carol: And the moms that are listening, they’re doing a much better job then they’re giving themselves credit for. There’s any should in your world that says, “I should pat myself on the back more and appreciate how great I am.” That’s the only should you should do.

Thanks for listening. For more support, go to the where you can purchase the book, subscribe to our weekly Parenting Practice email, and find a transcription and audio of the Child Whisperer broadcast.

Anne: If you’re listening on iTunes, thank you for leaving a review. If you have a parenting question, please send it to [email protected].

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