Your mom guilt isn’t Pinterest’s fault.

play with meI’m standing in the kitchen, doing dishes. The beginnings of a crock-pot dinner are strewn about the counter. While I scrub, there are seemingly endless tasks swimming through my mind:

Call the kids’ doctor. Switch the laundry. Email the class mom. Follow up with the potential new client. Do I have time to run to Target before Annie’s bus comes? Don’t forget to sign Annie up for gymnastics camp.


Both my mind and hands are racing as I rinse a pot. I plot how it’s all going to get done in the next four hours.

Then a small hand tugs at my yoga pants.

“Mommy, will you play with me?” Gracie pleads.

I look at my four-year-old, who is still sporting bedhead and her nightgown at 11am. “Honey, mommy is trying to get stuff done. Can you play with your animals for a little while?”

Her hopeful baby face falls as the corners of her mouth turn down, and she sulks off to the playroom.

And as the hot water washes over my hands, my mommy guilt washes over me.

Every day that Gracie is home with me she constantly wants me to play with her. And every day, at some point – at most points – I turn her down. I say “no” to playing more than “yes.” I want to say yes more often, but I am being pulled in two directions.

I could put the pots and pans down and go play, as many moms would admonish me to do. They’re only little once. They’ll grow up before you know it. The chores can wait. Play with them!

Or I could expect Gracie to be happy to entertain herself, as another camp of moms instructs. Kids can’t depend on their parents for fun all the time. You are not her 24/7 entertainer. Our parents didn’t spend every second doing Pinteresting crafts with us! We entertained ourselves!

More often than not, I am in camp #2 and I lean toward expecting my kids to entertain themselves without me. I tell myself that it’s good for them to be bored and figure out how to have fun on their own.

So I send them off to play by themselves with promises of playing together later when I’m done with my tasks.

Then I feel guilty about it. I fret that I’m ignoring them and they feel rejected by me. I worry they’re going to end up in therapists’ chairs someday, lamenting that if only their mom had paid more attention to them, their lives would have turned out better.

(Actually, that’ll probably happen no matter what.)

Where is this crazy mommy guilt coming from?

Honestly, I look back at my childhood and I don’t remember my parents playing with me all that much. I didn’t even have siblings to occupy my time. I played with the neighborhood kids. Played in my room. Read books. I have fond memories of times with my parents but they weren’t my constant playmates, for sure.

So why do I feel pressure to be MY kids’ constant playmates?

Well, I’ll let you in on a little epiphany I had recently. And it’s may not be one that you expect.

People love to blame the perfection of Pinterest and societal expectations and peer pressure for the excessive mommy guilt in our culture.

But I’m going to say something totally, completely radical:

I think it’s me doing it to myself. I create this guilt.

I’m LETTING the world around me guilt me. And it’s my own responsibility to let it go.

Because really? I’m doing just fine at this mom gig and I need to chill the F out with the guilt. And so do you.

When I start feeling like I’m doing a crummy job, I need to take a deep breath and look around me. My kids are happy and healthy. My house is not falling apart. Sure, I have an overflowing inbox and an endless list of to-dos, but if those things sit for a while while I play outside with my kids, will the world come crashing down? No.

And if I tell Gracie I can’t play with her this very second and she gives me the look that says I just won the “least likely to succeed” mom award today? She’ll survive.

We’re doing just fine, mamas. And we need to stop blaming the world around us for our guilt and just let. it. go.

Now go finish that laundry. Or play with that kid. Whatever floats your boat. Just don’t feel guilty about it, okay?

Are you a guilt-monger? Or are you good at letting it go?


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49 Replies to “Your mom guilt isn’t Pinterest’s fault.”

  1. I agree. I am a guilt monger. When I do play with them I am short tempered sometimes or not as into it as they want me to be. I can’t win because I’ve made it that way.

  2. I always felt guilty, because I am from the midwest and that’s what we do. However, when my kids were little I tried to find a middle ground between “drop everything” and “let them entertain themselves”. My solution was to ask them if they would like to help me finish my chore so I could play with them sooner.
    Of course they didn’t know that their “help” often made the chore take even longer than it would have if I did it by myself. All the knew was that they were helping Mama, and they were getting stuff done so we could play.
    Also, my hope was that they would learn how to do the chores themselves too, so one day they would be able to accomplish those things without micromanaging. They’re both teenagers now, and I can tell you that part of my plan absolutely did not work.

  3. My children are ages 27 to 36. Obviously, there was no Internet when they were young. Yet, I was plagued with guilt then, too. We do it to ourselves.
    I still have guilt — and they are in therapy. My fault? Maybe.

  4. This post really hits home for me. Here’s the way I look at it. I work from home, so I am available for my kids 24/7. Can I play with them whenever they want me to? No. Someone has to cook, do laundry, and keep the domicile somewhat presentable (Please note I said “somewhat presentable”. “Clean” would require a whole other level of committment.) But staying home means I can also say yes a lot, and I spend way more time doing stuff with my kids than my parents ever spent with us. So I try not to ever feel bad about the times I have to say no.

  5. I’m a total guilt monger and I hate it. I feel like such a jerk when my kid wants to go to the playground AGAIN and I turn on the TV to distract him. Argh. Thanks for the reminder that we’re doing just fine. And thanks for hosting the linkup!

  6. I come from a Catholic Italian-American family from Brooklyn. Guilt is our calling card. Having said that, I have worked really hard to shed that part of my heritage. My husband is a big help. I can’t always beat back the guilt demon, but I try. Good post.

  7. You’re right, but I find my guilt doesn’t end with my kids. Have I paid enough attention to my husband today? Have I called my dad enough times this week to check in on him? Have I called my sister to make sure she’s okay and her boyfriend is still behaving himself? Why are these even things I need to worry about? Trying to pave the perfect road is like trying to rake leaves in hurricane force winds. Very. Tiring.

  8. Wow, you’re right! You nailed exactly how I feel whenever my kids want my attention when I’m in the middle of doing something. I’m so busy feeling guilty, I never think about the other side of things – my parents weren’t expected to play with me all the time, and I never felt neglected. Thanks for the reminder. 😉

  9. Total guilt monger! Everything you wrote has been going through my head lately. I just tell keep telling myself I’m doing the best job I can. If I can’t play because I’m doing chores around the house, I remind myself that this is still sending her the right message. It’s important that we do chores before we play. Then, I get her to help me and make a game out of it. Always a balancing act. Great post!

  10. If you’re a pleaser (yup) you’ll have guilt. At least I do. I can intelligently tell myself I need to let go, but I think every mom, in every time period, in any culture has moments. Whether it’s online or face to face, people share successes. It’s still hard for people to share “failure”. And when they do it’s always justified. At any rate, no one can “make” you turn the guilt on or off, but feeling like you are doing YOUR best to balance your life is a win.

  11. Love this! I was just guilting myself over the exact same thing the other day. I work from home and so I feel like I say no a lot when my purpose of staying home was to be able to spend more time with the kids. I feel like I need to leave my house in order to really break free of all the other distractions and reasons to say no.

    1. I work from home, too. Two of those days my 4yo is at daycare but still – work is always there and sometimes I have to do something while she's home. I do find it easier to play with my kids more when we're not home b/c work is always home – so I get what you're saying!

  12. I love this. I love you saying, “Go finish that laundry. Or play with your kid. Whatever floats your boat. Just don’t feel guilty about it.” My girls (17 &11) used to beg me to play barbies back in the day and I hated it. I did. So I rarely played barbies with them. People would say, “…oh they’ll grow so fast and you’ll regret it…” but you know what? I don’t. Own your choices, right??
    Thanks for the link-up! 🙂

  13. Wow, such a successful link up JD. I love your post too because it is so true, it’s easy for me to blame other things but really it’s the pressure I put on myself that makes me feel like I’m not doing a good enough job.

    1. I've often blamed outside forces like work, but never stuff like pinterest or facebook. It's not a website's fault I spend "me time" there. And it's OK that I spend "me time". 🙂 This post was very good and totally on point, lady.

  14. I love this and it’s clear you’ve touched a nerve. I agree with you, both about the conflicting messages (play with them! this goes so fast! and let them entertain themselves!) and about their source. The problem, at least for me, is that even understanding this doesn’t necessarily take the air out of the guilt! It’s always here … alas. xox

  15. JD, I do the same thing to myself. Sometimes I play with my kids. Most times I don't. When I give more in one spot, I get behind elsewhere. Sometimes I'm ok with it, and other times I'm not. But your message about not beating yourself up is spot on.

  16. I feel guilty when I yell at my kids and when I lose my temper, but not when I don’t entertain them. Great topic, great point of view! Thank you, as always, for the link up!

  17. JD, have you had a secret camera in my house the past few days? I am feeling awful about not playing with my kiddos. The past week and a half has been really, really tough. I’ve been sick. My husband was sick. Then my 2 year old was sick. Yesterday, my 4 year old was sick. We’ve been in the house for days and days and days. Playing is so far down on my list of things to do that I can barely breathe. Well today, I took the kids to the park (and took a good, long breath). The sunshine on all of our faces did wonders. It’s hard letting go of this guilt but I’m trying, I really am. Perfection: I don’t need or strive for but a loving connection with my family is always something I want to foster. As always, I love your writing and perspective. Thank you.

  18. Speaking for myself, I am more likely to feel guilty when I am. If something triggers that feeling of guilt, I need to look at what I’m doing or not doing and decide whether something needs to change. Blaming the trigger is the least helpful thing to do.

  19. Wow I love this post. I find myself arguing with myself internally all the time. You really hit the nail on the head we are all responsible for our own guilt. If I let go of the guilt I could probably get more stuff done 😉 I’m kidding! Thank you for the reminder & for the link up.

  20. I run a similar internal dialogue. I get it. I also have to play to my strengths. I’m not a good playmate. But, I can make a mean puzzle and I’m always happy to talk movies, books and music. We all have our parenting strengths and sometimes, it’s cooking a kick-ass meal and not being the overthrown Barbie on the cruise ship. Great post, JD. Love, B

  21. I do guilt myself, I’ll admit, but it’s really only with one kid, the middle one. And it’s not necessarily societal — it’s ME. I will say no to playing even if I’m not doing anything that I need to be doing. And then, I guess need is relative. I am lazy. I tell myself I’ll play with her tomorrow or we’ll do something just the two of us next weekend but then psh I’ma nap. But you’re right; it’s not anyone else’s life or craftiness that’s creating the guilt. It’s that bitch Shirley in my head.

  22. Yep, I’m terrible with the guilt. It’s one of my biggest parenting struggles – how much time should I be playing with my child in a given day? I just want someone to tell me the answer? Sometimes it feels like no matter how much or how long I play with them, they’ll always want more and I’ll have to say no because I’m doing something else that probably also involves taking care of them, yet I feel guilty!

  23. this is the one time when I am actually thankful to have twins – they play together 90% of the time, so the one time a day they do ask me to play with them, I can stop what I am doing to play. Of course, half the time they are playing, I am refereeing and teaching them how to take turns.

  24. This EXACT situation happened to me this afternoon. And I had the exact reaction as you. That guilt is horrible. I want to spend time playing with her, but I also feel it’s necessary to get stuff done every once and a while. Like you said, it requires balance, something I haven’t quite figured out yet.

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