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Reverse Mom Guilt and What To Do About It

Reverse Mom Guilt and What To Do About It

by Spencer Lee, LCSWA

      Whether you’re a mom or not, you’ve probably heard of the term “mom guilt”. It is most often used to describe the guilty feeling mothers experience when they do things directly outside of being a caretaker. Some activities that might induce mom guilt may include: working, resting, catching up with a friend over coffee, or going back to school. There is nothing inherently wrong with any of these mom-guilt-inducing activities yet mothers often feel guilty about stepping away from their children anyway. And we don’t want this to be the case. Mothers are fabulous people who do so much for their kids- they deserve to take a break. Better yet, they deserve to fulfill the facets of their life outside of being a mother, the parts that become fulfilled through self-care, a day off, or working.

But what about reverse mom guilt?

 The idea of reverse mom guilt was inspired by a post on Instagram I saw that read, “You are not your mother’s rescuer”, where @breakthecycle_coaching explained how natural it is for children to be concerned with their mothers and want to help them. Think about that for a second. It is just as natural for us to think about our mothers as it is for them to think about us. We spend our early years learning everything from our parents, with mothers often playing a more active caretaking role so it makes perfect sense we would lean on them.

 After reading that post, I spent some time thinking about how this reverse mom guilt shows up for us as adults. Because as an adult, we probably aren’t sharing the same household as our mother, we may not be talking to or seeing her every day, and we aren’t relying on her in the same ways we were as babies. So what does guilt as an adult child look like?

Here are some possible examples:

  • Your mom texts you to let you know she is coming into town for the day and wants to get lunch. You already have plans

  • Both you and your mom (as well as other members of your family) have struggled with substance use. You are sober and seeing positive effects in your life. Your mom is still struggling

  • You decide to spend your first Christmas with a significant other’s family, by yourself, or with friends

  • You are your mom have a rocky relationship so you choose to spend less time with her compared to other family members

  • Your mom asks for financial help and you either cannot or do not want to contribute

  • Your mom was a teacher and so badly wants you to follow in the same path but teaching isn’t for you

As you can see, there are both small and big ways where we might feel guilty when it comes to our mothers.


Now, what can we do about this crappy feeling?

  1. Decide on your game plan
    • I think a really helpful tool in any situation is to stick to your values. Sit down one day and decide on what is most important to you. After figuring out what your values are, deciding on what to do may become more clear.

        2. Set boundaries as needed-this one is for you, people pleasers!

    • One of the biggest challenges we face is learning to balance doing things for ourselves and doing things for others. This is also where the connection to values comes in. What can you do that you will feel the best about? Maybe that is telling your mom you’ll get coffee with her today or letting her know you’re not available. Acting in line with our values directly limits feelings of guilt.

      3. Investigate the origin of your guilt

    • When is the first time you felt reverse mom guilt? What happened before, during, and after that situation? Has there ever been a time where you thought you’d feel guilty but didn’t? How come? Has feeling guilty been beneficial for you? Has it been beneficial for anyone else?

      4. Reconsider what feeling guilty may mean

    • Most of the time feeling guilty sends a message that we did something wrong and we have to reconcile that wrong for the guilt to go away. But, did you do anything wrong? Maybe this guilt is just a message that you love your mom and want all the best for her, rather than a call to action.

Guilt can be an important feeling that sometimes pushes us to do things differently or make amends. The important thing to remember here is that we are talking about reverse mom guilt and just like with regular mom guilt, nothing inherently wrong has been done. You are not, and have not, been acting with malice or ill intent. Recognize that, just like a mother, you can be a perfectly good daughter or son while still honoring your values, setting boundaries, or changing what guilt means to you.

This blog post is not to say that we should stop caring for and about our moms. Rather, it is an invitation to rethink guilt and find a healthy space from it. This is a reminder that sons and daughters have “mom guilt” too and that we can find a way to live with it in a way that works for us.

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