Every decision that parents make seems to come with a heaping dose of doubt and uncertainty.
Are their kids eating the right foods? Are they doing the right activities to be successful? If I do this too early or too late for my child, will their lives be worse down the line?
Other parents talk about the achievements of their own children. Social media feeds reveal seemingly perfect lives of friends and family: perfectly dressed kids, incredible crafts, picture-perfect meals, a spotless home.
All of it can build into a tidal wave of guilt.
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“There are lots of unknowns in parenting. It’s on-the-job training, everyday,” said Ann Clute, a Center Grove area mother of two and the childbirth education coordinator at Franciscan Health Indianapolis’ Center for Women and Children. “As soon as you think you’ve figured something out, something else changes.”
In the modern parenting world, guilt is an constricting part of seemingly every day. Parents of all kinds — though overwhelmingly mothers — feel pressure to give their children the best of everything.
Trying to balance work and home life, while trying to live up to the unrealistic ideals of cooking perfect meals, organizing original activities and maintaining a spotless home, can cause undue stress for moms.
Erin Neu and Ann Clute, both nurses for Franciscan Health Indianapolis, know that strain in their patients, and have experienced themselves with their own families.
That motivated them to create a new program, “Mommy Guilt: Don’t Take That Trip,” to relieve some of the maternal burden that can overwhelm moms and have negative impacts on the family as a whole.
“You have to stop judging yourself. You cannot put yourself in the place of that other mom you think is a ‘super-mom,’ because she’s probably isn’t,” said Neu, a southside mother of 10 and an nurse navigator in obstetrics at Franciscan Health Indianapolis. “A little guilt makes you healthy, because it keeps you on your toes and wanting to be a better parent, but there’s a fine line.”
“Parent guilt” or “mommy guilt” is a term that refers to the feeling that you’re not giving enough time to your children, regardless if that is true or not. Moms, and sometimes dads, can feel like they’re not doing enough for their families, that their decisions are the wrong ones.
According to the Pew Research Center, 26 percent of mothers feel that they are doing an OK or poor job as parents. A study done by the baby-care company NUK in 2013 revealed that 87 percent of women experience feelings of guilt at least once per day, while 75 percent feel stress about whether they are doing a good enough job.
“As parents, you feel like you set their paths for life. All parents want their kids’ lives to be better than their own, and not have the struggles that they had,” Neu said. “So there are always those ‘should have’ moments in your thinking.”
Neu is a nurse navigator for the Franciscan Health Indianapolis obstetrics department. But the southside resident has had to balance her career as the mother of 10 children, ranging in age from 29 to 8.
With each of her kids, that mommy guilt cycle has continued on.
“When you have more than one child, people come to you thinking that you’re an expert and that you must have figured this parenting thing out,” she said. “But I tell them I absolutely am no expert. My mommy guilt is just as much as yours. I only have more laundry and dishes to do.”
Moms who have careers or work outside the home feel guilt that they’re not spending as much time with their kids or helping at their schools. Stay-at-home moms express doubts that they’re not contributing to the household budget.
Moms also often live in fear of being judged by other mothers for their decisions, Clute said. The kinds of food they give their kids, the activities they have them involved in and their approaches to discipline can invite criticism and judgment from other moms in their social circles, Clute said.
Social media such as Pinterest and Facebook has only made that stress worse, Neu said.
“You get on there and it talks about all of these perfect birthday parties and perfect recipes and ways to get your kids to do this or that. Mom and dad puts every grand thing their kids do online,” she said. “But that’s not how people’s lives really are. Online media lies.”
Clute, the childbirth education coordinator, has two children ages 24 and 22. Social media wasn’t pervasive then like it is now, so she wasn’t bombarded with the unrealistic portrayals of other families she knew.
Still, she remembers during her daughters’ sports practices or games, just sitting around talking to other parents who made her doubt if she was doing things right, she said.
But even though these feelings of guilt are normal and common in everyone, moms can often suffer with the stress alone, Neu said. Resources helping mothers and fathers work through those doubts are rare, and it can be intimidating to approach other moms, even your friends, to admit that you’re worried you did something wrong.
“There’s a lot of other moms that you associate with at kids’ activities, they appear to be the perfect mom. So I’d feel uncomfortable going to them and saying I think I messed up something,” Neu said. “They’re going to think I’m just awful.”
The Mommy Guilt program came to be when the organizer of the hospital’s Inspiring Women program, WHAT DOES IT DO, was searching for a unique workshop for families. She came across some research on mommy guilt, and approached Neu about doing a full-fledged program for Franciscan.
She enthusiastically agreed, and Clute was recruited to help as well.
“We thought it was important to bring it to moms’ attention,” Neu said.
As Neu was preparing, she was struck by how little expectant mothers and fathers ready themselves for the process of parenting after childbirth.
She pointed to a simple observation online with the popular search items for parents.
“The top five things have to do with pregnancy, childbirth, newborn care, breastfeeding and labor and delivery. Nothing on there talks about parents,” she said. “It was way down on the list of websites and books that people search for.”
Neu has a theory as to why that is: By searching out this advice and reading different perspectives, it will make parents realize they’re doing something wrong.
“We’re afraid of that, so we avoid it,” she said. “I think sharing with moms in the workshop that everybody goes through these feelings, will be helpful.”
The two-hour program will guide participants through the mommy guilt issue, with discussions and shared experiences helping to illustrate just how pervasive these feelings are among parents. Though currently planned as a one-time workshop, the hope for Neu and Clute is to implement aspects of it more and more into their work at the hospital.
“I’m really hopeful that we can do it a few more times after we do this,” Neu said. “We want people to know that this happens to every mom; you’re not alone, and you’ll go through this at every stage.”
“Mommy Guilt: Don’t Take That Trip”
What: A two-hour workshop focusing on the fear of not doing enough for your children or not being “present” — whether literally or figuratively.
Who: The workshop will be led by Erin Neu, obstetrics nurse navigator and Ann Clute, childbirth education coordinator, both from Franciscan Health Indianapolis.
When: 6 p.m. Thursday
Where: Franciscan Health Indianapolis’ Center for Women and Children, 8111 S. Emerson St., Indianapolis, Entrance 2
Cost: Event is free and open to the public, though registration is required.
More information and how to register: Go to FranciscanHealth.org/InspiringWomenIndy or call 317-528-5865.