Bad Mother Syndrome: Feeling Like You're Not a Good Enough Mother

The bad mother syndrome causes many women to constantly feel overwhelmed and guilty for not fitting into the mold that society expects. However, what implications does this phenomenon have?
Bad Mother Syndrome: Feeling Like You're Not a Good Enough Mother

Last update: 22 December, 2021

We’d like to invite you to take a little test. Have a think about what, for you, being a good mother means. What kind of attributes does a good mother have? You’d probably say she’d be a kind, understanding, accommodating, and self-sacrificing woman.

You may not have added certain other things. Like the fact that she should be happy, satisfied, and emotionally healthy. As a matter of fact, it’s precisely these three latter traits that are of the most benefit to the process of being a mother.

If your concept of motherhood bears more resemblance to our first option, you may well be suffering from bad mother syndrome. This term doesn’t refer to the performance of a woman in objective terms, but to the way in which she perceives herself in relation to the exercise of her role.

Millions of mothers in the world constantly feel guilty, overwhelmed, and stressed for not fitting into the mold that they and others expect of them. This ends up having a negative impact on their health and their family life. If you want to discover more about this phenomenon, read on.

Exhausted mother thinking about bad mother syndrome

Bad mother syndrome

The bad mother syndrome reflects the negative self-concept that women have regarding their maternal role and the negative emotions that derive from it. Ultimately, it comes into play when mothers feel that they’re not doing well, that they’re not up to par, and that they’re unable to meet the imposed standards.

This is a relatively recent phenomenon, as it’s closely related to social change. Indeed, only a few decades ago the role of a woman was primarily to be a mother, educate her children, care for them, and take care of the home. In short, to sacrifice herself as an individual for the sake of family dynamics.

However, in recent times, and after the integration of women into the workplace, this conception has changed. Nowadays, a woman must be successful in her career, cultivate her friendships, stay in shape, develop herself personally, and take care of her relationship. Furthermore, she must do this without giving up her former roles as a devoted mother and permanent homemaker.

This scenario is both exhausting and unworkable. Indeed, despite the fact that men are increasingly involved in parenting and domestic chores nowadays, an unwritten rule still remains in force in the collective imagination that indicates that these are eminently feminine tasks and that men are perfectly within their rights to limit the help they provide. This creates a physical and mental overload that mothers find extremely difficult to sustain.

How do you know if you suffer from bad mother syndrome?

If you’ve never heard of this concept, it could be because you’re suffering from it. Here are some warning signs that you may be experiencing this condition.

  • You constantly worry about your performance as a mother. You try to stay informed and strive to improve every day and yet you still feel like all the decisions you make are wrong. You consider you never do it well enough.
  • You feel guilty about working and leaving your children in the care of other people.
  • When you dedicate time to yourself, your friends, or your partner, you can’t enjoy yourself, because you feel that you should be in another place. In other words, with your children.
  • The time you spend at home is spent trying to cover everything. You clean, cook, organize, take care of and attend to everything in the home. Furthermore, it’s extremely difficult for you to ask for help.
  • Guilt sometimes leads you to go against your own educational principles. For example, to compensate your children for your absences, you end up being more permissive than you would like or you try to cover their ‘deprivation’ with material goods.

Keys to avoid it

Have you identified yourself in any of the previous points? If so, for your sake and for that of your family, it’s time for you to stop and make some changes. In fact, in order to stop suffering from bad mother syndrome, you must focus on the following issues:

  • Keep it real. Analyze and understand that it’s physically impossible to cover everything and that you shouldn’t feel guilty about it. Try to lower your demands on yourself.
  • You’re more than just a mother. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to branch out in other areas of your life beyond motherhood. This isn’t selfish, it’s natural and necessary. In fact, by doing so you become a happier, healthier, and more satisfied woman. A woman who’s capable of offering her children the best of herself and proving to be a healthy example of this.
  • You have the right to delegate and ask for help. You don’t have to do everything alone. You and your partner must collaborate in the upbringing of the children and the looking after of the home in an equitable way. You must also equally distribute the mental load and not only the physical one. Indeed, it’s quite okay to hire a babysitter, enroll your children in nursery school, or employ a cleaner for help with the housework.
  • Focus on each moment. When you’re with your children, enjoy them. However, when you’re working or doing other activities, enjoy them too. Don’t beat yourself up thinking that you should be somewhere else.
  • Be clear about your educational style and stick with it. Don’t let guilt turn you into the mother you don’t want to be. Don’t be afraid to set boundaries for your children and don’t overindulge or overprotect them to compensate. This won’t do them any good.
Woman working

A happy mother

Finally, freeing yourself from the bad mother syndrome takes time, as these beliefs are well ingrained in society. For example, you might be criticized for being a working mother and cultivating other areas of your life. In addition, your own inner voice is likely to play tricks on you by trying to lure you back into the same old trap.

However, remember that you’re doing well, you’re only human, and you have your limits. After all, at the end of the day, what your children need, above all else, is a happy mother.

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  • Miller, C. L., & Strachan, S. M. (2020). Understanding the role of mother guilt and self-compassion in health behaviors in mothers with young children. Women & health60(7), 763-775.
  • Soto, I. F., Amarís, M., & Puentes, R. C. (2000). El rol del padre en las familias con madres que trabajan fuera del hogar. Psicología desde el Caribe, (5), 157-175.