Mom Gut vs. Mom Guilt

Mom Gut vs. Mom Guilt

Everyone knows about these two major mom phenomena. You may know about them in theory, or you may know them as dear, dear friends. Or enemies. But if you’re like me, you might sometimes have some trouble identifying them as two separate entities.


Sleepy Happy Reese

Mom Gut

AKA mother’s intuition, mom skill, the Spirit, etc. Mom Gut is the natural skill of knowing, sometimes, what your kid needs. It’s knowing instinctively that one cry means “I’m hungry” and another completely identical cry can mean “Here comes poop!” while that other similar cry means “Swaddle me or I’ll scream!” It’s knowing something’s up before there’s a temperature to support your conclusion. It’s being able to understand toddler jabber that is completely garbled to anyone but you – MOM.

I think mom gut can develop at any point from pregnancy to delivery to infants to the first time you’re up with an inconsolable baby at 4 am. The first time I felt mom gut was knowing that Reese was definitely coming late and it was gonna work for her. There were times I knew she didn’t want to be swaddled, and times I knew she did. Times I knew something was up, or that she needed an extra nap, or was going to drop one.

Were there 1,000 times that I had NO FREAKING CLUE what was going on? Times when I just held a crying Reese and stared at The Beard with wide-eyed incompetence. The time when I turned off the cold side of the sink and accidentally let the hot water hit her tiny little arm for a few seconds before I realized. The countless times I realized her diaper had been wet or blown-out for an hour or two (or MORE?) without me noticing. Forgetting to put socks on her when it was cold. Last week when she licked the frosting off a billion cookies before I realized. Mom gut isn’t 24/7.

Mom Guilt

Mom Guilt gets a bad rap, and for a good reason. Mom guilt is the ever-present ache that you’re not doing as good a job as you should be. That you’re screwing her up. That every other mom is trying harder and doing better, and you’ll never measure up.

Mom Guilt says things like “You’re not a good mom if you don’t breastfeed.” “If he’s crying you’re doing something wrong.” “Hold her more/hold her less.” “You have to do this perfectly or it won’t work.” “Nicole only feeds her baby organic, with baby-lead weaning. You hand your kid a processed food pouch. Nice.” “You let her cry-it-out? What an unfeeling monster.” 

Mom Guilt sucks all the joy out of being a mom. It keeps you from enjoying your kid. And I sincerely believe it can drown out the whispers of your Mom Gut. Mom guilt thrives on comparison, one-sided internet articles, and terrible mom forums on Facebook (seriously. Those are the worst).

Mom Guilt *DOES* serve a healthy purpose sometimes, though. For example, I was feeling some serious Mom Guilt about giving Reese the iPad or Netflix so often while I worked or “worked.” And you know what? Yeah. It was justified. Just like our real life guilt can spur us to make productive change and progress, so can Mom Guilt. It’s about understanding what’s justified. It’s about saying “You know… I’m not a perfect mom, and that’s ok. But I probably feel bad about giving him so much candy because I need to try a little harder to feed him veggies.” I made a concerted effort to get work done before Reese woke up and spent more time playing with her one-on-one on the floor. And you know what? It was awesome.

Mom Gut vs. Mom Guilt

My latest showdown between Mom Gut and Mom Guilt was a doozy. It was all about Reese’s schedule. We’ve never really had a schedule, and I never really felt like we needed one. I like that sometimes I can sleep in late with her. I like that sometimes I can wake her up and take her to the gym. I like that she naps in the car, or in her crib, or with me. I like that we can go out at night, get dinner, party with friends, and Reese can hang with all of it. She was taking a 2ish hour nap every day, and sleeping 11-12 hours a night, going down well for each.

So why did I mess with this?? Mom guilt! I saw lots of moms talking about their toddler’s schedules, strict naptimes and bedtimes. People would give me weird looks or strange comments when we were out past 10 pm with Reese, or that we rolled into an 11 am appointment late and sleepy because I had to wake Reese up. On days when she didn’t nap or sleep well, or she was sick, or anything else went weird… I thought and heard and found online that sleep schedules were what “good” moms did. I also felt like “Oh you’re having another baby. It’s time to be one of those moms who has routines and schedules. It will help me and Reese adjust to a new baby.”

At first I tried the generic toddler schedule I found on an “expert” parenting website – 5 hours awake/2 hour nap/5 hours awake. Surprise Surprise, it didn’t really fit Reese’s mold. Can you imagine? My living, breathing toddler tornado didn’t fit an equilateral mold I found online. But the mom guilt told me I just needed to try harder, do better, come at it a different way.

I decided to wake her up earlier, try to tire her out more, stick to a set nap time, and a strict bedtime routine. Yeah, it might be tricky for a bit but with some ~consistency she would surely make the switch eventually. We’d have a solid routine. We’d be more ~normal.

It was a complete, utter, bona fide disaster. She fought waking up worse than a teenager and would be grumpy all morning. I’d take her to the gym, grocery shopping, to the park, to lunch, anything to tire her out but she just wasn’t as into it. I’d put her down for scheduled nap block (2-4) and she HATED IT. She’d fight me, cry, yell, defiantly play. Sometimes I’d go play with her for a big longer, try to get her to nap with me, or let her cry-it-out for 20-30 minutes until she eventually fell asleep. Then I had to wake her up at 4 pm for ~consistency, or else she wouldn’t be ready to go to sleep around 9!!!! That’s what they said!!!! Don’t worry, she’d scream like h*ll every time we’d put her down at night so we had another choice – cry-it-out or let her fall asleep in our bed (fairly instantly) and try to transition her to her crib.

I hated every day of it for about 2 weeks. The first couple of days she rolled with it, because she’s flexible. But by the end of the first week it was just a consistent pain in both our rears. I was pregnant and exhausted and constantly close to tears that this WASN’T. WORKING. Reese was confused and mad at me and overtired.

“You need to try harder.” “You waited too long.” “You’re just doing it wrong.” “You’re lazy,” Mom Guilt chipped away at me. Finally one night we both reached our breaking point. Reese was falling asleep in our bed (the only way she would fall asleep at that point) and I was exhausted and grateful the day was over. We were just waiting for Reese to get deep enough that The Beard could transfer her without waking, when it happened. We think, based on online research and talking with some friends, that it was a night terror. It started with a panicked cry, then screaming and panting, some flailing, and cold, clammy sweating. Through all of it (about 4 minutes) she wasn’t awake or responsive. We tried talking to her, soothing her, distracting her, everything. Eventually I just had to hold her while she screamed, acknowledging my lack of control, sobbing and shaking as much as she was. It was one of the worst mom moments of my life. I was done.

This wasn’t working. Deep down I had known it all along. But it took a scary midnight moment, drowning in ineffective mom guilt, to really break. I found that night terrors in toddlers can be caused by stress and loss of sleep, and finally… FINALLY, Reese fell back into calm sleep and my Mom Gut shouted louder than the Mom Guilt.

“The internet doesn’t know what’s best for you and Reese. What you were doing was working. You liked it. More importantly – she liked it. She was happy and cooperative and getting plenty of sleep. You don’t need to do this. Go back to what worked.” 

I held her all night and spent much of it reading on my phone and praying. What is wrong with me? Am I caving? Am I weak? Am I indulgent? Or am I just a psychotic mom who gave my kid NIGHT TERRORS? Why am I such a control freak?!

Slowly I calmed enough to pray and feel some comfort. Heavenly Father was so gentle with my crazy mom heart. He knew I was genuinely trying my best. He knew what the internet and Super Moms said. Most importantly, He knows me and He knows Reese. And He made me feel it in my Mom Gut – what I was doing was ok. What I was doing was working. And it doesn’t need to look like what everyone else was doing.

My Mom Gut should have won out. I should have looked more closely at the Mom Guilt. I should know that the most important thing is Reese, and me, being healthy and happy. If we’re both of those things, who even cares? Why does it matter if Reese goes to bed at 11 pm? She’s sleeping 10+ hours a night. Why does it matter if her nap is different every day? She’s averaging close to 2 hours, and she’s ~happy. Everything about Reese is perfect. The internet can just STFU.

We both slept in and woke peaceful and happy. From that day to this one I’ve gone back to our old, flexible routine. Unless we have plans, Reese sleeps as long as she wants. Naptime is when she’s tired, so sometimes it’s in the car, sometimes its in her crib, and sometimes, like on Thanksgiving, it’s not at all (lol yikes). Sometimes we’re in bed at 10. Or it’s 11. Or it’s midnight. But we adjust and we roll with it and we like it.

Reese is happy. She’s getting enough sleep. She goes down for naps and bedtime like a champ. She eats anything. She’s fun. She’s learning rapidly.

And my Mom Gut is telling me that it’s working. So Mom Guilt? Bye Felicia.

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6 thoughts on “Mom Gut vs. Mom Guilt”

  • 1 year ago

    AND she gets the magic of frosting. She’s like the best girl ever.

  • 1 year ago

    I’m glad you stuck it the man and kept your routine!! You’re a great mom, and if you are both happy, then what you’re doing is definitely working. I’ve had my fair share of these unjustified “mom guilt” moments and it has ALWAYS ended in frustration and defeat. Most of them happened when Addison was under 6 months and I didn’t know what I was doing EVER, so I would turn to the stupid internet. Trying to get my baby to fit the “perfect” infant mold never worked. (shocker!!) I’ll definitely have a different approach whenever baby #2 comes along. This is such a good post for every mom (especially new ones) to read!

  • 1 year ago

    Omg freaking mom guilt. I really hope I’ve never accidentally made someone feel it by not knowing how to respond to something different. Mom guilt made us move k to a toddler bed and take away his nap WAY too early even though I knew he still needed both. It also caused us to give him major anxiety by doing what everyone else was doing to get him to sleep and trying to get him to eat. I’m sure I’m failing still but I’ve relaxed on those two things and found what makes us both happy. Thanks for being so real and honest. It helps the rest of us be that way too. You do you momma!! I think most people are probs just jealous that your kid sometimes sleeps till 11. Gimme some of that magic!

  • 1 year ago

    It’s ironic to me that you strove for a routine whereas I’m wondering how I could get my kids to be more flexible! I think the grass is always greener and there’s pro’s/con’s for everything, but by far the most important part is to quit comparing ourselves to others. That’s tripped me up so often! Reese is happy, healthy, and loved and that’s all she needs 🙂 You’re doing great!

  • 1 year ago

    I think it’s a thing all first time parents feel–I definitely felt it with Rhys a lot…and the latest mom guilt vs mom gut was potty training…he was MENTALLY ready but not PHYSICALLY ready. I wanted to keep going because he was 100% successful with pee, but 0% successful with poo. It stressed both of us out. And, I felt like a failure because we decided to quit…much like I felt like a failure stopping nursing him at 4 months because I wasn’t producing enough for him to actually grow. But, that’s just because we want to be the best moms ever to our little kids because we love them so much. But, I’ve surprised myself. When I was pregnant with Rhys, I diligently read ALL the books and ALL the forums and ALL the articles determined to be armed with as much knowledge as I could….this pregnancy, I’ve picked up What to Expect MAYBE once. So, it’ll be interesting to see how I parent Evelyn differently than I did Rhys.

    And, to be honest, I was one of those who kind of gave a screwy, eyebrow lifting face whenever I’d read or see your schedule for Reese…but then a second later, I’d shake my head and say, “Reese is healthy, she’s happy, she’s getting the recommended sleep, and she is learning…Danica is a great mom, a positive mom, she just has a different schedule than me.” So, don’t worry about what others think. I know you…you are very extroverted. A “strict scheduled nap time” wouldn’t work for you or your children. And that’s ok. Don’t let others tell you you are parenting wrong…the only way to parent wrongly is when it harms the mental or physical health of the child…and that is definitely NOT the case with your girl!

  • 1 year ago

    I can’t even tell you how many times I have read this post because it is ALL THE THINGS I NEED TO HEAR. Mom Guilt can be so cruel and leave you feeling terrible, its a real victory when you can zero in on the Mom Gut instead. I’m glad you and Reese have a system that works for you guys and that she’s a happy, healthy, cute little thing. Thanks for this post Danica.

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