It started when my daughter, Samantha, was born 16 months ago. After two sleepless nights, the nurses and my husband urged me to send her to the hospital nursery so I could get some shut-eye. Deep down I knew it was best, but I felt an overwhelming sense of guilt -- how could I abandon my newborn daughter?
That was just the beginning. During the months that followed, I was ashamed letting my husband, who had work the next day, help with night feedings. I panicked that I wasn't giving Samantha enough tummy time. Even now, I feel bad if I feed her grilled cheese two days in a row.
Apparently, I'm not alone. "So many devoted moms think that no matter what they do for their children, it's not enough -- and our culture plays into that insecurity," says Susan Douglas, Ph.D., coauthor of The Mommy Myth: The Idealization of Motherhood and How It Has Undermined All Women. But you can end the self-flagellation. Here, the top reasons that new moms feel guilty, and what you can do to get beyond it.
You're more than a mom
"Moms today believe that they should be focused on their babies like a laser beam, so when they take a moment for themselves, they feel like they're being neglectful," notes Douglas. For many women, coffee with a friend or even a shower can be enough to ignite feelings of guilt. Lindsey Coffman of Springfield, Missouri, says she often puts off eating lunch until her daughter, Darby, takes her afternoon nap -- which can be as late as 3 p.m. "If Darby needs help coloring or wants me to read a book to her, I feel like it's more important to do that than to eat."
Other moms say their guilt stems from working outside the home. "I have a full-time job, so I feel terrible if I spend any of my free time without my children, even if it's just for a thirty-minute trip to Target," says Mary Beth Matzek of Appleton, Wisconsin. "There's always a nagging voice saying I need to rush back to be with my kids."
How to get over it: You've heard it before, but it's true: A happy mom makes for a happy baby. "If your basic needs aren't being met, you'll get worn down, possibly depressed, and won't be able to function as a good mother," says Bellport, New York, psychologist Eva Gochman, Ph.D. Laura Williams of Williamstown, New Jersey, used to always feel guilty about going to the gym. Now, "I tell myself that when I work out, I sleep better and am more energized to keep up with my son the rest of the day," she says.
Bottom line: Every time you go out for a girls' night, sleep late on a Sunday, or get a manicure, you're doing your family a favor. You'll be in a better mood -- and so will they.
Dina Roth Port is a mother of two in Boca Raton, Florida.