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Kiss Mommy Guilt Goodbye

Amy Gebler Ashkenazy admits that she dreads having to play Barbie Shoe Store with her 4-year-old. "I know I should engage with her, but I often have so much to do," says the Seattle mom of three. "And honestly, I find it really boring. And I like shoes!" So Gebler Ashkenazy finds ways to put her daughter off -- and feels bad about it.

Guilt. The one accessory no mother is ever without. "You become conditioned to think that you should be able to do everything because you're the mom. And when you can't do everything, then there's something wrong with you," says Christina Bess, a mom of two in Maplewood, New Jersey.

That feeling can sap precious energy, which is in short supply for moms anyway. "When guilt starts to take the enjoyment out of your day-to-day life with kids, that's when you know it's time to address it," says Devra Renner, a mom of two and coauthor of the book Mommy Guilt.

How? Here's what makes moms around the country feel guiltiest -- and ways to cut yourself some slack.

Guilt Trip: Yelling

When Renner and Aviva Pflock set out to write Mommy Guilt, they surveyed more than 1,300 moms about what made them feel most guilty. Number one? "Yelling, by a large margin," Renner says. "And that surprised us because you hear it's not spending time with our kids that makes us feel most guilty."

Give yourself a break: Yelling is as much a part of motherhood as changing diapers and making mac 'n' cheese. "But if the decibel level in your household is always high, it's time to examine the tools in your parenting toolbox," says Pflock. "Counting to five works for me," says Jhoanna Wade, a mom of three in New York City. "If I get close to five, they know they may lose a privilege. And they really don't want that to happen.

A code word -- something you can say that lets your child know you're about to really lose your temper -- can be very effective. This works for the child, too. "If a kid senses a parent is losing control, then the child can use the code word and the parent will understand that 'Hey, I need to back up and get a grip,'" says Renner. That way, you can reset the situation to a calmer note.