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What Makes a Bad Mom?

As a mom or stepmom, how do you feel most of the time? Blissful? Confident? Successful in your role as mom? Or are you overwhelmed and discouraged? Do you feel like a worried, worn out, and confused parent doubting yourself? Many parents feel alone as if they are the only ones with problems. The subtle sense of failure and the weight of feeling like … okay I’m going to say it, “a bad mom” is so discouraging. As a parent coach, I often hear, "Am I a bad mom?"

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

An upset toddler clinging to a mom's legs

Is There Such a Thing as a Bad Mom?

So let’s talk heart-to-heart about what makes a bad mom or bad mothering. Here are a few examples that come directly from real-life situations.

Your daughter climbs into your lap excitedly to show you her newly painted picture. Oops, her hands are still fresh with finger paint and onto your blouse, it goes. After you’ve calmed down and your daughter is down for a nap, you begin to revolve the situation in your mind. “I got so angry. All my little girl wanted to do was share her precious artwork! What a bad mom.”

We feel like a bad mom when our child criesOr your toddler screams because he doesn’t want to get in his car seat. You’re late for work and just don’t have time to deal with his outburst so you forcefully strap ‘em in! He screams all the way to the preschool!

After dropping off your little guy, you notice a knot in your stomach. “Why can’t I get my toddler to cooperate? And why do mornings have to be so darn hard? He’s only two… what am I going to do when he’s a teen if I can’t even handle him now! I’m such a bad mom.”

Your four-year-old dawdles as the evening gets late. Finally, you get so frustrated that you shriek “No story tonight!” But in truth, it’s not his dawdling so much as your exhaustion that blurts those words out of your mouth. Later as you check in on your little boy before retiring and see his angel-like face resting on the pillow, it all rushes back. "I should have been more patient. He deserves a warm, fuzzy feeling before bed. Am I a bad parent? I scared him and made him cry... what a bad mom I am.”

Your teenager is an hour late for curfew. She walks in the door and you go berserk. Yelling in full voice, you ground her, which then escalates into an ugly fight. Finally, she stomps off to her bedroom and you follow her, making a snarky remark at her.

Mother arguing with her teenage daughter.Later after cooling off, thoughts are revving and keeping you awake: “I didn’t even let her explain, I just lit in! Why can't I stay calmer? What I really wanted to say was how scared and worried I was! And I wanted her to understand how her actions affect others. I totally blew it again… am I a bad mom?"

"How to Apologize for Being a Bad Mom"

If you feel you hurt your child's feelings or reacted in a way that caused you both to feel pretty rotten, you may want to apologize but wonder how. Some schools of thought believe that a parent should never apologize to their children because it deflates their authority. I wholeheartedly disagree.

Why? Because everything a parent does is modeling and teaching a child how to honor relationships in their life. When we apologize with humility, we show our children that we are human and make mistakes. We give them an opportunity to practice forgiveness, too. Most importantly, we restore the relationship and repair the breach caused by our unloving actions.

When feeling remorse for how you may have reacted to your child, it's common to hesitate to make an apology. Some of the reasons that I've heard over the many years of supporting parents:

  • They feel an apology undermines their authority (as noted above).
  • It can seem like their inappropriate behavior is magnified and highlighted to the child.
  • A parent doesn't know how to apologize.
  • Their parents never apologized to them while growing up, so it feels unnatural and awkward.
  • They're afraid of losing the child's respect.
  • It requires humility and can just plain be hard.

However, apologies are vital when cultivating an authentic relationship with our children through conscious parenting. Admitting that you erred in your reaction shows that the child did not deserve the treatment received. It also repairs the relationship and creates a deeper understanding between you. A bonus when you apologize is that both you and your child will feel better and be able to move forward with ease and greater closeness.

However, there is a caveat. Sometimes parents can overdo it and grovel when apologizing. When we exaggerate or distort our error disproportionately, we diminish our role as a parent and can create confusion for the child.

Your apology should be sincere and from the heart, but not with a black cloud of guilt and shame. Keep it simple and model how you would want to be apologized to. 

An apology can be an incredible opportunity for meaningful dialogue, especially with older children and teens. The younger, the simpler your apology. And, of course, make an apology a rare occasion of true contrition by working on your self-control. If you apologize multiple times a day, the apologies become meaningless and can seem like excuses for behavior.

Deep Dive: "Empathy and the Empathetic Apology: the New and Improved "I Am Sorry."Mother helping her preteen with homework

Empathetic Parents Feel It All!

Parenting is a complex, challenging, and full-time job. As a mom, we feel our kids’ pain and their every struggle. We also share the joys of each success toward their budding personhood. It doesn’t matter if they’re a toddler learning to walk, an elementary child getting substandard grades, or a teenager not being challenged enough. We feel it all. These empathetic feelings have a lot to do with how our brains are wired—science shows we're hardwired for parenting. Even so, that doesn't make it easy!

Related reading: "How to Be an Empathetic Parent, Even When It Feels Hard."

But back to our main question: "What Makes a Bad Mom?"

Seriously, are there bad moms?

I would answer with a resounding NO!

Parents are simply human. There are tired moms. There are frustrated moms. There are worried moms. There are moms who are ill-equipped for this tough job, moms who are still rebounding from their own painful childhoods, but bad moms? Nope!

Try Self-Compassion and Empathy for Your Parenting Challenges

As a mom, we deeply want what’s best for our children, so we strive to be our very best for them. We go the extra mile, running on empty for days at a time. We’ll squeeze into an already maxed-out day just one more way to show them we care. Heck, I remember staying up all night when my daughter was young to make tissue paper leis for a looming Hawaiian birthday party. Working moms have it tough; being a mompreneur is a major juggling act and stresses our already challenging job of parenting.

No matter how much we do as parents, we can still feel like we’re coming up short or not doing enough. Being a parent is a 24-7 job that can feel like it’s being squeezed in between everything else you already do.

Each day has its own personal avalanche burying us! There are phone calls, texts, emails, getting to work on time, picking the kids up from school, making meals (and shopping for meals!), school events, playing taxi multiple times a day for basketball games, drama practice, or attending a sports banquet… on and on.

Balancing work and family isn’t easy either. And along with all of the rest, the vital goal of teaching and building character in our children weighs on our hearts. Whoa, no wonder we’re stressed!

Yet amidst our heroic, well-lived lives is a gnawing feeling that somehow we could be doing it all so much better.

You’re human, and you may wish you could do it better but whipping yourself with guilt or criticism helps no one. This inner critic aggravates the problem because self-criticism stresses us even more.

Relax. Sink into your partner's arms and appreciate the small things.

Flex the muscles of gratitude and enjoy the ride. Let your kids know that we’re all human and our best—their best—is good enough. Each day as we do our best, we’ll also strive to exceed yesterday’s best.

Related reading: "Why Selfie Care Is Vital for Parents!"

Therefore, it is imperative to have self-compassion and turn some of that empathy towards yourself!

Stop thinking you're a bad mom and start loving yourself as much as you desire to love your kids. Family relaxing in the living roomHere are a few things that have empowered many parents to feel more peaceful inside and assisted moms on the journey of conscious parenting. This parenting advice will enable you to be more consistent and loving!

TIPS for Peace of Mind and Conscious Parenting

Schedule regular self-care (and even occasionally pamper yourself).

The better we care for ourselves, the more patiently and lovingly we can show up for our children and live more fully.

Related reading: "Parents Need Self-Care to Be Their Best Self"

Take 15 minutes each week to get in touch with your core values as a parent.

For example, you might have the desire for your children to be kind or to learn emotional self-control. Define what is needed to model and teach the values that are important to you. I call this visionary parenting.

If we’re screaming at our kids and then expect them to learn how to self-calm or be kind, it’s not a great model, right? (Maybe self-care will radically move up in priority when you see the discrepancies between what behavior you want from your children and what you are actually modeling. It did for me!)

When feeling stressed, bring to mind happy and fun experiences as a family or with your child.

Bring these experiences to mind frequently; talk about them and tell stories to relive the fun. Savor the laughter and the pleasant memories. Let them replenish you. Trust me—you have time! It takes only 60 seconds.

And make memories, too! Have fun with your children in daily, simple moments, like bath time. It will help your children feel loved and will uplift your mood as well.

Mom having a bubble fight with her sonIt’s not the fullness of our lives or the stress of work that wears us down. It’s not our children’s misbehavior or our tight schedules. What wears us down is expecting ourselves to perform perfectly while not making ourselves a priority.

How can we possibly perform at our best when we neglect ourselves?

It’s simple—we can’t!

Remember that while you love your child, and you might choose to stretch for them, your needs are important, too. When you ignore your needs, they begin to compete with your children’s needs and the quality of your parenting will decline.

So be kind to yourself, Mom.

There really are no bad moms, only human moms. And when you are feeling like “a bad mom,” stop and check in.

What do you need to return to serenity and give love freely? Make this a daily practice and just maybe we can eliminate the phrase “bad mom” from our vocabulary altogether.

For parenting help and more tips on conscious parenting, check out our parenting resources.

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Jennifer A. Williams / Parent CoachJennifer A. Williams / Parent Coach
Jennifer is the Heartmanity Founder and a parent coach and behavioral consultant with two decades of experience. She is a Parent Instructor and Instructor Trainer for the International Network of Children and Families and author of several parenting courses, including How to Bully-Proof Your Child and Hacking the Teen Brain. Jennifer is happily married and a mother to 3 fantastic grown children.

Posted in Perfectly Imperfect Parenting

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