Mommy Guilt No More

Freedom from the Oppression of Mommy Guilt

          “Mommy guilt” has become very pervasive in our society.  Stay-at-home moms can feel guilty for not “contributing to society” or for not enjoying every moment they are with their kids.  Working moms can feel guilty for not spending “enough” time with their children. There is the guilt of not exposing one’s children to “enough” academic opportunities or social skill opportunities, coupled with the guilt of exposing children to too many germs.

 Mothers these days can often find themselves feeling like they can’t do anything right. If you spend time on yourself, then you can feel selfish.  If you don’t spend time on yourself, then you may not be as patient with your children, making you feel like a “bad mom.” Mommy guilt is oppressive!

 Dr. Diana Lynn Barnes, Psy D at The Center for Postpartum Health, has identified a lot of myths that contribute to how a mother experiences motherhood.

Here are a few: 


1) Mothers’ instincts will always let them know the best thing to do for their children:  FALSE

Although mothers do generally have a maternal instinct to protect and nurture their children, this maternal instinct does not mean that a mother knows what is best for her child in every situation or that she has learned all the parenting skills she might need.  No one naturally knows what to do in every circumstance. Even when you do know what to do for your children, oftentimes you can’t do it alone. It takes a village to raise a child! Parents need support from others to meet the needs of their children and to learn resources and tools for how to care for their children.


2) Mothers instantly bond with their infants and love being around their children at all times:  FALSE

Sometimes mothers bond instantly with their newborns, but sometimes that bond takes time to develop and grow.  And even after a strong bond is formed, a mother will feel varying levels of connection to her children. No relationship in this world sustains a constant level of enjoyment.  Children demand a lot from parents, and various situations and feelings—like fatigue—can commonly cause us to feel distant from our children.


3) Mothers need to be a “good mom” as opposed to a “bad mom” at all times:  FALSE

 This mentality too often translates to the perceived need to be a perfect mom who isn’t allowed to make mistakes or to just have a bad day.  Who defines a “good mom” or “bad mom” anyway? Expectations can flood in from family, friends, media, and society, and these expectations can set standards for what it means to be a “good mom,” but they are unrealistic to fulfill all day every day! There are certainly specific practices and skills in parenting that are helpful and even necessary, but when our identity begins to be defined by unrealistic expectations—especially the perception that we have to be perfect all the time—we run into problems.

 The truth is that all this mommy guilt is more of the problem than any of the claims it makes of us!  Mommy guilt distracts us from being fully present with our children when we are with them, which strains attachment.  Mommy guilt can keep us from setting boundaries with our children when we need to. It can also cause us to neglect our self-care and to be less likely to ask for help.


Mommy guilt can be complex and can arise for a variety of reasons.

Here are some general ideas that could help:

 1) Write down the expectations you have for yourself as a mom. Sometimes when we see them on paper we can look at them objectively. When we recognize those that we would never expect these expectations of someone else they can lose their power over us?

 2) Speak kindly to yourself. We all make mistakes as parents. Consider how you would respond to others when they make a mistake, and try to speak that same way to yourself.

 3) Notice the many things you are doing well!  Our society, so driven by success and perfection, can cause you to focus on your mistakes, problems, and anxieties.  Take a moment to notice areas where you have problem-solved, grown in patience, learned from mistakes, and done a wonderful job!


Sometimes, however, these ideas are not enough.  Sometimes, in our mind, we are able to think I know I am not doing anything wrong. I know these expectations are too much and that I am being too hard on myself. I know it’s okay to spend time on myself.  Yet our hearts still feel guilty, and we continue to beat ourselves up anyway.

 One therapy I have found to be particularly helpful for mommy guilt is called EMDR. For instance, instead of trying to ignore the guilty feelings and repeatedly convince our hearts that we are doing our best as a parent, EMDR is a therapy that helps the mind and heart get on the same page so we can live fully believing we are doing our best—without guilt!. EMDR helps us discover where the mommy guilt messages may have come from, and it allows our brains to reprocess those memories in a way that can free us of unnecessary thoughts and feelings that precipitate mommy guilt.

 I have used EMDR (along with various other techniques) to help mothers with mommy guilt. It is a delight to see mothers feel free and to see their children reap the benefits too! Mommy guilt can be suffocating, but it doesn’t have to stay and keep hurting you and your family!

Don’t let Mommy guilt rob you of peace and joy!


Get Moving Again

Getting unstuck from parenting quicksand!

Yesterday at the park I watched my 21 month old daughter flailing her adorable little legs in the baby swing, trying to get herself moving again.  She then started crying out with the few words she has: "Help mama, swing please, swing please, help please, help please!" She has learned so much in her short life, but she still needs a lot of support, care, and help. I come up to her and say, "Hi honey, you want a push.  Here you go."  

I begin pushing her again, and then I just delight in her squeals and giggles.  I can't see her face but I know that as her pigtails are fluttering in the wind, she is beaming with joy; and I know she is smiling so big her dimples are showing—just so cute!  She was not afraid to ask for help, she did not tolerate being stuck!

As parents we can feel stuck! 

~Maybe what we are doing used to work and just doesn’t work anymore.  

~Maybe we are facing a new challenge and have no idea what to do.  

~Maybe we do know what to do but it seems like there are a thousand obstacles in the way!  

~Maybe we constantly feel like we are in a power struggle with our children and the tantrums are getting overwhelming.  

~Maybe tensions have taken over the house and it feels more like a war zone than a home?  

~Maybe as a couple it has been difficult to get on the same page with parenting styles and the same argument keeps happening over and over.  

Do you ever feel like you are flailing and think…

There must be a better way!  


I know I as a parent myself I have certainly been in many of those situations. Oh to be like a child that would never tolerate being stuck!  These situations can bring you to a point of opportunity.   This is a place of courage—to even dream that you could have a different experience.  Next, you have to take the first step-and look for someone to give you a push, to help you get moving again so as a family you can connect, play, learn, and grow together again.  

Sometimes It can be hard to ask for help because we feel like we should just naturally know what to do, or maybe it’s hard to hope things could actually change, or maybe life feels so crazy it’s just hard to have the time to actually pick up the phone to ask for help.  It can be hard to get moving again.  

Here are some suggestions to get moving again! 

  1. Parent or Family Meeting:  Schedule a time with either your spouse or the whole family to talk about what seems to be working well and what isn’t.  Together decide on a way to celebrate what is going well, and decide on what might help the areas that need more support.  

  2. Expand supports:  Find some friends and gather once a month to just offer each other resources and support.  Share some of your discoveries about what is helping your family or what you are learning. Maybe read a parenting book together and discuss what parts of the book might be helpful for your family.  

  3. Join a group:  There are groups in the area that provide parenting support.  Explore resources in your community for parenting support. One common group that focuses specifically on parenting is MOPS.  

Sometimes outside support helps get families moving in the direction they want to go.  Here at Flourishing Families I help parents get unstuck so that the whole family can thrive.  I understand that life does not come with a manual and that every person's unique family needs unique support.  I seek to identify the roots of the struggles so that I can provide means to heal wounds, empower relationships, and cultivate lasting change for families.  

Don’t tolerate being stuck!  Get moving again!


Bonding for Belonging

Strengthening Bonds in Adoptive Families

The dream has finally become a reality. After years of longing for your child, filling out ridiculous amounts of paperwork, traveling near or far, and wading through seemingly endless uncertainty, your child is finally in your home and the adoption is now final! Words can’t express the overwhelming joy, gratefulness, and exhaustion an adoptive parent experiences when they can officially call their child their son or daughter and have them in their home.

Along with this overwhelming joy, adoption also often comes with overwhelming challenges. When a child comes into a home through adoption, parents are eager to bond. Parents want their child to trust them, to let them meet their needs, to give them comfort, to play with them, to let them in! But, the attachment-bonding process can often be difficult and longer than anyone expects. Parents know their child has already been through a lot and may find themselves fearing that their child will have disruptive behaviors, physical or mental illness, learning disabilities and delayed development. Parents can suffer under the stress, and family conflict can increase. Parents can also worry about how their children will understand their own story and develop a positive sense of identity. Parents long for the kind of bond that helps their child know they belong in this family and are loved beyond words!  

As an adoptive parent myself, I was very encouraged to read the research about Filial Therapies and to utilize this in my own home. Over the past twenty years research on Filial Therapy (FT) has repeatedly proven to be evidence-based specifically indicating an ability to increase parent–child bonds and attachment. Not only can these modalities increase attachment, research has also indicated that FT decreases negative behaviors and increases children’s emotional intelligence and resilience. Filial Therapy can be done either with an individual family or in a group format. There are many great therapies that can help adoptive families, Filial Therapy is one of those great options!  

In studies that specifically followed adoptive families using these Filial Therapies, parents reported that their children experienced:

More bonding and trust of parents

Less problematic behavior

Developed self-regulation skills (ability to self-soothe)

More ability to access and express feelings appropriately

Increased ability to ask for help when needed

Developed problem-solving skills

Mastery over fears (and other feelings)

A healthy sense of control

Increased self-control

Prosocial behaviors

Increased self-esteem

Less anxious or depressive symptoms

The parents also reported that they themselves experienced:

Less stress!!!

Feeling more bonded and attached to their children!

Feeling more empowered and confident as parents

More understanding for their children


Filial Therapy was adapted from Child-Centered Play Therapy (CCPT). CCPT was developed by Virginia Axline in the 1940s and continues to show positive outcomes in research today. It is still found to provide profound relief of symptoms for children. Developmentally, play is a child’s language, and toys are their words. Instead of talking out their problems, children will play out their problems while also strengthening the bonds to their parents.  

Research shows that children who engage in CCPT:

Access, express, and accept feelings and desires

Increase locus of control and self-esteem

Develop mastery over fears

Work through frustration and/or past trauma

Are able to tolerate limits

Increase emotional intelligence

Practice problem-solving skills

In the 1960’s a therapist named Bernard Guerney was working at Penn State University, providing CCPT in the school clinic. As he walked through the waiting room, he noticed all the parents sitting there. At that time, parents were not involved in the therapy for their children. As he looked over the room, he began to think that these parents who love their children so much should be involved in their children’s care. So, Dr. Guerney and his wife, Louise, developed Filial Therapy. Years later, clinicians continued to develop individual and group models like Individual Filial Family Therapy by VanFleet, Filial Family Therapy (FFT) by Louise Guerney, and Child-Parent Relationship Therapy (CPRT) by Garry Landreth. All of these formats of FT teach parents to do CCPT with their own children, and children are able to experience the benefits faster with the involvement of their parents.  

Is it hard to learn? Nope!

The great news is, these therapies not only work, but they are also easy to do! And these therapies can be used with children as early as age 2! As a therapist certified in Filial Therapy, I have used this therapy with many families and seen bonds strengthen and disruptive symptoms significantly decrease.

While the challenges of attachment in adoptive families can cause children to struggle and parents to despair, there is hope! The benefits of these therapies for adoptive families are vast. I invite you to reach out for help in navigating these unique challenges.

A Sample of the Research

Myrick, A. C., Green, E. J., Barnes, M., & Nowicki, R. (2018). Empowering nondeployed spouses and children through filial therapy. International Journal of Play Therapy, 27(3), 166-175. doi:10.1037/pla0000071

Sangganjanavanich, V. F., Cook, K., & Rangel-Gomez, M. (2010). Filial therapy with monolingual Spanish-speaking mothers: A phenomenological study. The Family Journal, 18, 195-201. doi:10.1080.10668920050137246

Smith, N., & Landreth, G. (2003). Intensive filial therapy with child witnesses of domestic violence. A comparison with individual and sibling group play therapy. International Journal of Play Therapy, 12(1), 67-88.

Swan, A. M., Bratton, S. C., Ceballos, P., & Laird, A. (2019). Effect of CPRT with adoptive parents of preadolescents: A pilot study. International Journal of Play Therapy, 28(2), 107-122. doi:10.1037/pla0000095

Tew, K., Landreth, G. L., Joiner, K. D., & Solt, M. D. (2002). Filial therapy with parents of chronically ill children. International Journal of Play Therapy, 11(1), 79-100. doi:10.1037/h0088858

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