Relaxing Without the Guilt: How to Unwind as a Mom

As moms, we’re so used to doing things for our kids that we find it hard to sit down and do something for ourselves. How can we overcome mom guilt every time we try to relax?

I sat down on the couch the other day while my husband was doing dishes in the kitchen. Within 5 minutes, I felt this wave of mom guilt.

I thought,

“I should be spending time with my kids”

“I should be helping my husband clean up”

“I shouldn’t be so joyous about sitting down to watch The Crown when I still have SO many things left to do!”

Immediately, I asked my husband, “Is this ok?”

“Yes,” he said, “It’s ok to relax.”

(How is dad guilt so less pervasive in our culture?)

When I sit down, all these negative emotions and personal insecurities come into my brain and feed my mom guilt.

How can I overcome mom guilt and relax?

We typically feel this mom guilt when we’re not productive. Whether you’re a stay at home mom or working mom, we all experience it.

When you’re a stay-at-home mom, there’s this constant feeling that it’s your job to handle EVERYTHING in the home. The truth is that the home encompasses so much that it’s unrealistic for one person to handle it all.

Working mom guilt comes from this unrealistic expectation that we should be spending more time with our kids and feel guilty about anything that takes that away.

When tackling the complicated issue on how to deal with mom guilt when trying to relax, its good to think about the root cause.

Some of it comes from this constant pressure to be a “good mom”.

In the United States, we have a productivity focused culture where hard work is ingrained in us from a very early age. We’ve learned to associate relaxation with being idle instead of relaxation as a form of self care.

Many women feel that they’ll be characterized as lazy or a bad mom if they’re relaxing.

Mom guilt also comes from our negative self talk.

A study from 2021 found that moms with higher levels of depression also used more negative words and assumed more responsibility for their kids difficult emotions. The continued use of this blame contributed to increased maternal depression a month later.

The fascinating part? How big or small these effects were depended on the mom’s observations of happiness or frustration in her child.

Mom’s guilty feelings were a result of how she interpreted the emotions of her kids. Do you ever feel that your kids mood should be under control? This might be a factor in how guilty you feel.

Being unable to relax without mom guilt may also be from committing to way too much

We tend to balance a lot of things as moms. Many times, we even design our work schedules around kid pickups, drop-offs and extra-curricular activities.

Also, we’re not given credit for the work of caregiving. Instead, we feel mom guilt when we become resentful about spending time around our kids.

But guess what mama, it’s work! And you need a break from that.

We need to relax. It’s important for our physical and mental health. So how can we do it without the mom guilt? Here are some tips.

1. Prioritize Time for Yourself Every Day

In a recent coaching session in our Balance VIP group, we discussed how at the end of the day, our patience grows very very thin.

Like, “everyone needs to go to bed right now else mom is going to lose it!” thin.

And that’s understandable, because your body budget, the amount of sensory stimulus you can handle is at it’s max.

If you experience mom guilt, you probably feel guilty giving your self periods of rest and relaxation during the day to calm your nervous system down.

You deserve alone time.

Ask yourself, what is one thing I can do for myself each day that will help me relax?

Perhaps its:

  • having your older kids watch the younger one in the afternoon so you can have 10 minutes by yourself, or
  • arranging a “don’t bother mom” time with your partner so that all questions go to them within a certain time span. (Pro tip: Ask for 2 hours)

2. Find a phrase to recite when you have feelings of guilt

When you’re feeling overwhelmed, anxious, or guilty about taking time for yourself (which is totally normal btw) grab onto a phrase to remind yourself to take the break.

Some of my favorite mantras are “Rest counts as work” and “The best mom is a happy mom”.

This helps me to remember that taking a break and resting is part of my job as a mother and a person. It is NOT something I should feel guilty about.

3. Acknowledge That You Deserve Rest and Relaxation

Sometimes we have difficulty taking time for ourselves because we think that it’s selfish and unimportant.

It’s the underlying message of mom guilt – that some how when we do something for ourselves, we’re not doing it for our kids. We’re not the “perfect mom.”

And – oh my goodness – what will our kids do when we relax? Not screen time! They already have too much screen time!

(Pssst… screen time is ok. We have some suggestions for managing screen time in a podcast episode here.)

An angry, stretched-too-thin parent is way more detrimental to kids than having time playing their favorite game or watching an age-appropriate YouTube video.

4. Practice feeling relaxation in your body

If you’re someone who takes a deep breath and yet still feesl every muscled tensed, you might need a little practice with relaxing.

Take a quick body scan right now. Start at the top of your head and work your way down.

For example, as I type this and pause to body scan, I find that I feel tension in my temples, so I direct my attention there and relax it.

My shoulders are also pulled up to my ears, so I relax those muscles.

What does it feel like to go all the way down your body and consciously relax those muscles that are tense? Do you feel a greater sense of well being?

5. Beware of comparisons to other people

Another reason moms feel guilty when they try to relax is because they compare themselves to other moms who seem like they have it all together.

Try to avoid scrolling through social media to relax. That’s a surefire way to get caught up in comparing yourself with others and feeling not good enough.

Just think about your typical scroll through instagram and feelings of mom guilt in can bring on:

1. Looking at pictures of other people’s pristine, put-together homes and think that your own isn’t picked up.

2. See perfectly composed family pictures and then compare your parenting skills to others and feel like you’re not doing enough.

3. You may compare your body to others and feel like you’re not thin or fit enough.

It’s a lot… and definitely not good for relaxation.

The truth is that no one has it all together—we are all just doing the best we can with what we have.

If you’re stuck on how to relax without scrolling through your phone, try:

1. Watch a movie or TV show – One that you could never watch around your kids. Currently, I’m digging The Crown, The Partner Track, Uncoupled, or Russian Doll which are all on Netflix.

2. Read a book – Curl up in a comfortable spot with a good book. I prefer thrillers with a glass of red wine by my side.

3. Take a walk outdoors – Enjoy nature and fresh air while getting some exercise at the same time.

If you find yourself feeling guilty when you try to relax, know that you are not alone!

Many of us struggle with this issue because we are so used to being busy and taking care of others that we don’t know how to slow down. But relaxation is important for our mental and physical health—we need it in order to be our best selves!

Try implementing some of these tips next time you want to relax but feel the mom guilt creeping in.

What can I do now to overcome mom guilt?

  1. Sign up to get No Guilt Mom emails. If you need someone to lift you up and empathize with you – while pushing to grow in all the best ways – welcome to No Guilt Mom. Plus, I send you a free gift when you sign up that will immediately reduce your stress.
  2. Enroll in Calm & Happy Parenting. Serious about changing the way your family communicates and deals with conflict? After taking our signature course, you’ll get more cooperation from your kids and WAY less pushback. Plus, you’ll create a strong family bond where your kids come to talk with you about issues instead of hiding them.

JoAnn Crohn

CEO/Founder at No Guilt Mom
JoAnn Crohn, M. Ed is a parenting educator and life coach who helps moms feel confident in raising empowered, self-sufficient kid while pursuing their own goals & passions.

She’s an accomplished writer, author, podcast host of the No Guilt Mom podcast, and speaker who appears in national media. Work with her personally in Balance VIP

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