Motherhood transition coach Stepha LaFond explains how parents can be weighed down by society’s expectations, and shares many ways for parents and parents-to-be to dismantle that “mom guilt.”*
How are you dismantling what it means to be a “good mom”? We’ll unpack them at @birthfulpodcast on social media.
*A content note, Mighty Ones: We at Birthful recognize and honor all birthing persons, parents and caregivers, and their unique identities and the roles they fulfill. While this interview on “Letting Go of ‘Mom Guilt’” speaks to a very specific experience— motherhood— please know that we embrace all parents and strive to provide content that explores diverse identities and backgrounds. We’re always open to learning more about what content is relevant to you, so please e-mail us at email@example.com to share what’s on your mind.
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Related Birthful episodes:
- How You Can Balance the Mental Load
- Cultural Ideals That Impact Your Birth
- [Best of Birthful] How to Navigate the Identity Shift of Becoming a Mom
- Guest Stepha LaFond’s website
- 5 Ways to Detach from Hustle Culture, mater mea
- A Year Into the Pandemic, I’m Still Trying to Be the Best Mom I Can Be, mater mea
- 11 Questions to Ask Yourself for a More Intentional Year, mater mea
- How to Let Go of Working Mom Guilt, Harvard Business Review
The one thing you can do for the rest of us is to help chip away at hustle culture by encouraging others to set boundaries around their availability outside of their work hours, so they can feel more supported in finding that balance between the doing and the being. For example, a really good friend signs off her emails with a couple of sentences that say, “Are you receiving this message outside of your normal work hours? I welcome you to set this message aside until it makes sense for your own family/work balance.” Whenever I read it after getting one of her emails, it’s such a good reminder and permission to answer it when it makes sense for me, and not necessarily in that very moment.
Letting Go of “Mom Guilt”
Adriana Lozada: Welcome to Birthful, I’m Adriana Lozada.
Stepha LaFond: If you did your best, even if it’s not what you aspire yourself to be, but you did your best for that day, let it go. You do not need to hold onto that guilt. Give it back to whoever it came from. It’s not yours to hold anymore.
Lozada: That’s Motherhood Transition Coach Stepha LaFond. Stepha and I will be taking a closer look at how that mom guilt can easily turn to shame. What to do with the manufactured expectations, that society hustle culture, and even you yourself place on what it means to be a quote unquote, “Good mom.” And the steps you can take to get rid of that guilt, whether you’re pregnant or right in the thick of postpartum. You’re listening to Birthful, here to inform your intuition. Welcome, Stepha to the show. I am really happy to be having this conversation with you today. Before we get into it, because I think it’s going to be juicy, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you identify?
LaFond: Yeah, thank you. Thank you, Adriana for having me. I’m so excited to be here. So my name is Stepha. I am a Coach for moms and what I call myself as a Motherhood Transition Coach and it all started kind of like what my story and my own quest for reconnecting to my identity and feeling like I was also being nurtured as a caregiver and having this conversations with women, feeling like they had completely lost themselves and they did not know where to go. Most of them had careers, had full life before motherhood and have been sucked into this belief that society told them, that motherhood is only to be done one particular way. And we’re having a hard time with that. So where I come in is I really help them reconnect to what matters to them and their own version of motherhood, so they can thrive while taking care of their loved ones.
Lozada: Oh, and I love that you mentioned the identity shift that happens and that having to rethink who you are, and really it’s a very messy time, while you’re dealing with the messiness of a newborn.
LaFond: It’s a very messy time. There’s that saying, and I know we’ve seen memes, right? “When a child is born, a mother is also born.” Right. But what do people ask about when they come visit you? “How’s the baby?” They call you, “How’s the baby?” And rarely, I think folks are starting to get it now, but it’s still very much baby-centric. We live in a very baby-centric culture and just like, “Well, what about the woman?”
Lozada: Personally, I called postpartum the pregnancy hangover, because when you’re pregnant, it’s all about you. And you’re glowing and how beautiful and it’s all centered on you. And then you have the baby and it’s like, you are the baby’s mom.
LaFond: Yes, yes.
Lozada: You’re not even… You get a second title that’s defined by the baby.
LaFond: It’s very absurd. It’s very absurd. I remember to points where I didn’t have the bump and the attention that the bump gets. And after my first being like, “Huh, I kind of missed the bump.” And I’m wondering now a lot of times, I wonder if I actually missed the attention or not in a kind of self-centered way, but wow, people were listening. They saw me being seen rather than, “Oh, well, you’re old news. Let’s move on to this child now.”
Lozada: And I think that kind of sets us up really nice for the conversation that I was looking to have today, which is to talk about mom guilt. And why do we feel this mom guilt? And why is it so entrenched?
LaFond: So really mom guilt is the idea, for most people, right. That if you do anything that is deemed pleasurable, anything outside of your role as mothering, that is deviating from what is quote unquote, “Norm,” you should feel guilty about it, right? You’re doing something wrong and it’s very pervasive. It just sucks into every little piece of your soul as a mother and what I’ve came up with over the years, even after battling very early on some of my own mom guilt, is that a lot of it is manufactured. It is manufactured from the expectations, societal expectations of what a mother should be. And when you start getting these inklings that, “Oh My God, I am inadequate. I am failing. It’s not working.” That’s when mom guilt really kind of gets you. And it’s important to understand what is really happening here. I love to use Brené Brown’s example of what’s guilt versus shame.
LaFond: And guilt is like, “I have these standards. They’re very much my own standards. And I did something outside of that. Maybe I made a mistake, oops.” But you can move on. And our mom guilt is, a lot of times based on again, what we think is expected of us. And then it seeps into shame. We just repeat that cycle like, “Something is wrong with me.” It’s the, between the, “I did something wrong.” Versus “I am wrong.” That’s how Brene puts it. And I think a lot of times a mom guilt is a slippery slope like, “Oh, everything I did is wrong and now I am wrong. I am a bad mom. I’m not good enough.”
Lozada: And I feel also that through the years, the definition of what quote unquote, “A good mom,” has become, there’s been more and more attached to it and it’s become harder to reach. So then that guilt seeps deeper and deeper. I see it with the new moms that I support as a doula. I can remember it in myself. It goes so deep that if you even think of, “I am going to do this for myself, I am depleted. I need to sleep. I’m going to have somebody hold the baby while I sleep.” Then they can’t sleep because they’re worried. The mind and the thoughts of, “I’m not… This is wrong, I shouldn’t be doing this.” Or, “Is the baby okay?” Or, “I should be the one taking care of…” Not giving them permission to have other people help raise this child. Then creates it so that they can’t do the thing.
LaFond: They can’t. Yes. It’s this unrealistic expectations. And for the life of me, Adriana, I can’t figure out kind of where we went wrong with this. When was the exact point where people were like, “Well, mom should do everything.” Because I was born in the early eighties, right. And I shared a bit about my background before, but being born, my parents are Haitian, it was very common to have everybody around. We just had a culture that folks were around to hold the baby, to spend time with the baby. When I lived in Haiti, I wasn’t even living with my parents, I was living with extended family. And while my parents were kind of setting everything up for us in the state. So it’s just like, there was a village aspect. I had aunties around. I had that. And not only have we moved so far away from that, we live and the U.S. particularly, but I would say most Western cultures, very individualistic, the nuclear family. And now we’re expecting mom to show up and be the village.
Lozada: And also for many of us to work outside of home. To also like…
LaFond: Everybody’s working. Yeah. It’s nuts… It’s insane to me because I have girlfriends that are, they’re directors, they’re this, they’re really climbing the ladder in their careers and they’re all business owners, whatever. And they’re still expecting themselves to do all these things. And I’m just like, “Well, how do you think that’s possible?” That is completely unrealistic and not sustainable. For me, when I’m working with folks is, “Where do you get to that space where it’s sustainable for you? What works for you?” Not what your family did. Because, there’s a lot of that. There’s a lot of guilt because in our heads we think, “Well, the generations before me were able to do it and they had way more barriers. Why can’t I do it?” And when we sit down and actually talk about it, is like, “Did they really have more barriers?” And even if they did, you don’t have to make yourself suffer, right.
LaFond: So how do you get to that sweet spot? Understanding, I love to talk about season. We do not expect the Earth to remain in the same season, right. We know there are life cycles. So why are we expecting ourselves to be productive? To be doing all the things, especially in a major phase of transition. When you have a child, when you’re raising your child and they’re going through a different phase and you have to adjust, life is going to look different. Can you give yourself that space to be like, “Okay, I’m good at this thing, but not right now.” Or, “I don’t even like this thing. Why am I forcing myself into a box that says, ‘I have to do this thing’?”
Lozada: Well, and it’s so multilayered because you have those beliefs in your head about how you were brought up and what your family did. And those, we tend to remember in nostalgia.
Lozada: So we really remember the great things and kind of forget about the nots so great. So there’s that idea of wanting to provide, maybe for our kids, that nostalgia, when the support systems and the realities we live are very different from the ones that we grew up in.
LaFond: I do find that there’s just a whole lot of pressure of what your kids should be doing. For example, I live in Brooklyn, my kids are in school until four o’clock, right. So to me, that’s just like, that’s a full day. I’m able to end my day early enough to go get them. But then there are so many parents, like, “What are you doing for afterschool? What are you doing for this activity? Are they in sports?” So there’s this constant voice, right, within the communities that we live in. Like, “You have to be doing more, this is what you have to do with the children.” So, if you don’t do it or if you don’t do it, how you seeing everybody do it, there can be like, “Am I doing enough?” And, again, it goes through our culture. I often talk about capitalism and just this mindset of people are like, “Well, how does that have to do with motherhood?”
LaFond: I’m like, “It’s all around us.” We go to school and everything is like, “You have to be… You have to sit this way. You have to do this to be excellent.” Right. So, we have been trained from very young to understand that there is a hierarchy to something and something is either right or wrong. We’re now, just now beginning to see things outside of the binary, but everything is either this or that. It’s either black or it’s white. And that falls into our motherhood. How do we get to that radical acceptance that, “Good for you over there. You do you, I’m going to be over here doing me. And that’s all, okay.” We’re all very different people, right.
LaFond: So why aren’t we all expecting ourselves to mother the same way? And I talk about, when I talk about village, I talk about like, “Who is that friend? You’re not a good crafty mom. You don’t have to force yourself to be crafty. Is there somebody in your circle that’s crafty?” So rather than trying to force yourself to be crafty and compete with them, when your kid has to do this project, why not ask for the help? Like, “Hey girl, I’m not crafty, but you are, how can we get together?”
Lozada: Oh My God. And I think that gets right to the root of it. As you were talking, I was like, “Oh, that does light bulb of the inherent competition.” That we’re always comparing ourselves and trying to be quote unquote, “Better.”
LaFond: Yes. Oh gosh. There is just the… There’s always a competition. There’s always more. There’s this idea that you have to keep striving rather than being content, right. What is wrong with just spending an afternoon, just relaxing? But we don’t, we feel that we must strive. We must get to the next thing, and the next thing, and that is the hustle culture. And how do you allow yourself, give yourself permission to detach from that? I always say, “The hustle will kill you.” I no longer want to hustle, right. There are so many ways for you to find contentment and joy and tap into your own gifts without feeling that you constantly have to overextend yourself or you’re not doing enough.
Lozada: And in terms of that competition, I found, also for me, the importance was to give myself grace and permission to not compete because I realized I was competing with myself.
LaFond: Yes, yes. So good. And then that’s where the expectations come in, right. Who are you competing with? Who said you had to do that? So you’re competing with this fictional version of your mother self. “I am going to be this mother that does these.” This list of things. You have this long list. And then because you’re falling short of this unrealistic, like a fictional mother that you thought you would be, you’re judging yourself. So it’s just like, how do we scale it back to be like, “Okay, those were the expectations. This is the reality.” And to be okay with that.
Lozada: And be okay with that. To me also, it had the component of one of the ways, back to the identity, right? One of the ways that I define myself was being an overachiever. So if I wasn’t an overachiever, if I wasn’t the overachieving mom, then who am I? If I’m taking that …
LaFond: “Who am I, Outside of this?” Yes. Whenever I do exercises, talking about identity, I’m always just like, “Who are you outside of the things that you do? Take away all the things, take away the titles, your job title, your work, et cetera. Who are you? What is the essence of you? Can you tell me that? And if you can’t, how do we really get to connect with that? So when you could no longer do that thing. When you no longer have that job. When somebody is not depending on you for this thing that you were good at for them, how can you still feel good about yourself and know who you are outside of those things?”
Lozada: And I think just realizing that the hustle is a construct. That mom guilt is a construct. All those things have a purpose, I think, in terms of power dynamics. Can you speak more about that?
LaFond: No, absolutely. I think when you think about power dynamics, how you prove yourself, right. Even, we go down, back again to school, through our workplaces, how we prove ourselves is how we produce. And how do you give yourself the permission as a human being, not a machine to not be producing. And oftentimes as mothers, we feel like not only we have to be good at whatever it is, our job is, because if you’re a stay-at-home-mom, you are expected to do all the things, right. And that’s not even considered the job. So you’re expected to be just good at everything, don’t complain.
LaFond: And as a working mom, most of my friends are moms who are working outside of the home and they’re expected to still do excellent, excel at their jobs. And, don’t complain. Don’t leave early. Don’t talk too much about the children, right. And come home and be perfect moms. So there’s this constant idea that you must be going and going and going. And my thing is, where do you get to the equilibrium? Where do you get to the point where it’s like, “This is me. I enjoy this and I want to push myself to do it.” Versus like, “I am exhausted. I can’t even push one ounce of energy. Why am I forcing myself to do this?”
Lozada: So for people that are pregnant and haven’t gotten to that part of… They’re still in the pregnancy glow.
Lozada: As they prepare for this identity shift that’s to come. What are some ways they can start doing some work right now to minimize that mom guilt and get ahead of it.
LaFond: I think it’s really kind of naming your values, understand what’s important to you. So, setting the expectations really early of what do you think motherhood, especially the first year or two, the first few months, what are you expecting from it? How will you give yourself grace, when things are not going as expected? How do you set up support system? So you don’t feel that you have to be perfect and you have to be the one doing all the things, right. There are some things that, you know what, you do have to be the one doing it, or you want to be the one doing it, and that’s okay. But is that everything? Do you need to be the one doing everything? I love to ask the questions about, who taught you to mother? What did you see as mothering? And because some people have very different definitions and it may not be the same way for you.
LaFond: And how will you reconcile that? Is it going to really break your heart and how are you going to handle it? If you have those moments where you’re like, “Oh my God, I’m crying. I feel like I’m failing.” Is there somebody you can talk to? Do you feel safe saying that? Those are the conversations I want moms, pregnant moms to have before stepping in to the postpartum period or that, really that first year where everything gets thrown at you and you don’t understand what’s happening, who you are, et cetera.
Lozada: Yeah. And knowing that you’re learning something new that you haven’t done ever. Part of the work that I do is trying to get people. Then I really live in the space of birth. So try to get people to unlearn the skills that they usually go to. And that we value as a society, such as producing, goal-oriented, task, achievement, being on time, organization, all of these things that we’re really good at, but have no place in birth.
LaFond: No place in birth.
Lozada: And if you try to birth using those skills, it’s going to hit you hard.
LaFond: Yeah. That’s surrender.
Lozada: Same thing for postpartum, right?
Lozada: Yeah. You need to surrender. You need to lean into the messiness, ask for help, let go of your ego, all of these things. And, just knowing that you get, like you said, giving yourself a lot of grace.
Lozada: So, Stepha, for the moms, the primary care givers that are out there right now in the thick of it that are like, “Everything goes wrong. I am a failure. I’m not being able to do work or my kids.” And just having no real… Every interaction is one of hardship. Because they’re so in this whole of this guilt and shame, what are some ways they can start moving towards being?
LaFond: Firstly, is to think about, what seems to be going wrong? Right. And what are the expectations of how it should be? So I think when you look at the expectations versus the reality, you can really see, is it far off? Is it close, but I’m not getting it? And then secondly is looking at where those expectations come from. Are you having realistic expectations of yourself? Are you talking to other mothers about what’s happening? Do you have a support system? And then communicating with somebody you trust, not anybody that’s going to judge you because we know that there are friends and family, right. If you communicate with them, it’s not going to help, but who can you trust to actually provide real support for you and help you with some of these expectations?
LaFond: So I think adjusting expectations, really getting support, because you are not meant to do any of this alone, at all. So how do you have that support come in when you do have somebody say, can they help you and really finding space, whether it’s 10 minutes a day or more, right, just for you. A cup of tea, something, communicate to your husband, your partner that, “Hey, I need some space.” And the sooner you can just have time to be, steal away that time and give yourself that permission. I think the better.
Lozada: A sentence that got to me once on helping me make that shift was saying, when I realized somebody told me, “Just like, you don’t want to be with the same person all the time, your baby also get sick of you.”
Lozada: And that was so freeing and liberating of like, “Oh right. I don’t have to be everything for this kid. It’s actually good if I’m not.” And that was kind of what I needed to give myself the grace to let go of baby, because somehow I managed to switch it, that it was actually good for baby to do that, right.
Lozada: Because, it’s so entrenched in us that we have to be these supermoms. Those thoughts are insidious. They’re deeply rooted.
LaFond: They’re deep. They’re very, very deep.
Lozada: And they’re deeply rooted in us, in our partners, in our family, in our society at all levels. And to an extent, this binary, traditional structure that we’ve got going on where birth givers tend to be the primary caregivers. And then the partner is support system. That I think is a relationship that really needs to be questioned.
LaFond: I always say that, “Look at your husband or partner, right. What is their idea of what motherhood supposed to look like?” This is why I said before birth, let’s set some expectations, what are your expectations of yourself, what are expectations of your partner, husband, support system, talk about it. And I think it can be frustrating because you’re like, “Why do I have to tell you what I need?” But they didn’t see it being displayed. So this is a whole new language for them too. And the sooner you can get them on board with, “Hey, you don’t just get to play superhero, right. Or support system. And just step in when you’re needed. We’re both doing this. Even if I’m breastfeeding, right. That’s the only thing you literally can’t do. Everything else you can do. You can hold the baby. You can move the baby.”
LaFond: Whatever it is. But understanding what your own unique dynamics are in your household and making it worked for you so that you don’t have to be the one carrying all of the load while somebody else gets 10%. And you’re just like, “Well, that’s how it’s supposed to be.” No. And it doesn’t have to be.
Lozada: Move that needle.
LaFond: Exactly. Move that needle as much as possible. It doesn’t have to be that way. And we first have to give ourselves permission to understand that. And then we have to bring our partners on board.
Lozada: And remember that it’s a process. That it’s going to take time, but keep at it, keep your pushing.
LaFond: Keep at it. Keep talking.
Lozada: Set your boundaries. Keep moving it.
LaFond: Yes. I absolutely agree because I do, I talk to people, and it’s like, “Well, he’s not used to…” I’m just like, “Okay, help him get used to it.” Or that they feel like that’s more emotional labor having to tell the partner. And I’m like, “I’m not going to deny that it’s not labor, but you’re either going to stay in that same cycle and keep complaining, or you’re going to unfortunately do some of this labor because that’s what we’ve had to do. But get him on the other side.” And I had, I saw it in my own marriage where it was hard the first two years, having kids back to back, and then, now people are like, to my husband, “Oh, he’s so great. He does this…” Yeah, because I set expectations and boundaries.
Lozada: Was there anything else relating to the topic that you wanted to make sure people heard?
LaFond: Yeah. I think really when it comes to guilt, when you feel yourself spiraling, when you feel yourself like, “Oh My God, I can’t believe I did that. It’s so wrong. I feel so bad. I’m such a horrible mom.” When you’re going through that negative self-talk, right. Is stopping and asking yourself, “Is this true? Is this true?” You can also ask yourself, “Whose voice is it?” That’s always a powerful way. Like, “Is it my mom, dad, family member, somebody in my community, that’s a little judgy? Is that their voice in my head? Or is that my true voice?” Right. When you figure out what that is, ask yourself what the truth is, what are your intentions? Did you do your best? Right. Did you do your best? That’s it. If you did your best, even if it’s not what you aspire yourself to be, but you did your best for that day, let it go. You do not need to hold onto that guilt. Give it back to whoever it came from. It’s not yours to hold anymore.
Lozada: Oh, I love that. And I love the permission, it gives to also understand the context and the nuance of the moment. So lots of grace.
LaFond: Yeah. And always remind ourselves that our children think we’re superheroes. It’s the littlest things, because they haven’t been conditioned yet to have all of these expectations and this… They think, I will share this, it was when we went to this, like, ice cream museum exhibit, whatever it was. And I was miserable. I was just like, “Oh My God, this is so boring. It wasn’t what I thought it was.” We’re leaving and I’m feeling bad. I’m just like, “Oh, I should have done something more fun with her. I could have done this.” My daughter gets in the car, and she’s like, “This was the best day ever.”
Lozada: Oh, right? Like, “Oh.”
LaFond: Like, “Oh.”
Lozada: “It doesn’t take that much, okay.”
LaFond: To your four year old self, this was amazing. How do we run with that? So, when I get in my head about what’s perfect and what’s this, I remember that moment, that my child, and I’ve had several moments like birthday parties, et cetera, little things where you thought you had to do this big old thing and you do the simplest thing and your child was like, “That’s the best day ever. This is great.”
Lozada: Yeah. Let them guide you.
LaFond: Let them guide you. They’re having fun. They’re experiencing things for the first time, experience it with them instead of always figuring what the next thing and how can you be better? How can you compete with this person? It’s not necessary.
Lozada: Stepha, thank you so very much for this fun conversation today.
LaFond: Yes. Thank you for having me. It’s been a pleasure talking to you.
Lozada: That was Stepha LaFond who is dedicated to helping moms navigate the space between who they were and who they’re still becoming. While also taking a critical look at unjust systems and power structures to create a shift towards liberation. While also taking a critical look at unjust systems and power structures to create a shift towards liberation. You can find Stepha on Instagram @mamaslaylife. I hope that your takeaway from our conversation is that the transition into motherhood and becoming a parent is a messy one. There are many ways to navigate it. And it’s often more enjoyable, if you lean into the process with curiosity, as you figure out what’s going to work for you and your family in a way that helps you thrive, rather than spiral down into guilt and shame.
Lozada: One thing you can do for you is watch the TED Talk called “Listening to Shame” with Brené Brown, that Stepha mentioned in the episode, and then give yourself tons of grace as you explored just how to be. Then the one thing you can do for the rest of us is to help chip away at hustle culture, by encouraging others to set boundaries around their availability outside of their work hours. So that then they can feel more supported in finding that balance between the doing and the being. For example, a really good friend of mine signs off her emails with a couple of sentences that read quote, “Are you receiving this message outside of your normal work hours? I welcome you to set this message aside until it makes sense for your own family/work balance.” End quote.
Lozada: Whenever I read that message after getting one of her emails, it is such a good reminder and actually a permission to then answer it when it makes sense for me and not necessarily in that very moment. So, consider ways that you can encourage others to take the permission to set those boundaries.
You can connect with Birthful on Instagram @BirthfulPodcast, and to learn more about Birthful and my birth and postpartum preparation classes go to Birthful.com. Birthful was created by me, Adriana Lozada, and is a production of LWC Studios. The show’s senior producer is Paulina Velasco. Jen Chien is executive editor. Cedric Wilson is our lead producer. Kojin Tashiro is our associate sound designer and mixed this episode. Thank you for listening to and sharing Birthful. Be sure to subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Good Pods, Amazon music, Spotify, and everywhere you listen and come back for more ways to inform your intuition.
Lozada, Adriana, host. “Letting Go of “Mom Guilt”.” Birthful, LWC Studios, October 27, 2021. Birthful.com.
About Stepha LaFond
Stepha is a life coach, mentor, and speaker, dedicated to helping moms navigate the space between who they were and who they’re still becoming. As a mom of two young children, she knows firsthand the struggles of juggling the demands of motherhood, career, and life. She started her practice out of a desire to put moms at the center of the conversation, with an emphasis on shifting the narrative on modern motherhood to one that allows space for mamas to grow, heal and take care of themselves at all stages of their journey. Her work on matrescence (the transition into motherhood) invites her clients and spectators to explore and hold space for this common but rarely discussed phase of development, whilst taking a critical look at the unjust systems and power structures impacting motherhood and creating necessary shifts towards liberation.
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