Mommy Guilt: A Western Influence.

Our grandmothers didn’t suffer from Mommy Guilt. These liberal ideas about children’s rights and child psychology are not a part of our ancient history.

Our grand dads had no such complexes either. In my dad’s time it was perfectly normal to beat children and lock them up in dark rooms without dinner.  Mothers beat them too, sometimes simply because they needed to vent.

Parenting was about sacrifices then – give birth, keep nine months in the womb, feed mother’s milk, plan their future, always want the best for them.

In return they wanted only that you do as you were told.

The guilt belonged to the child not the parents.

Ours is the land of Sravan Kumar. And Dashratha. And Ram who exiled his unborn twins.  Not to mention Bhishma, who swore celibacy to repay his father’s sacrifices.

Raja Harishchandra sold his son as a slave, a teenaged Kunti was given the responsibility of taking care of Durvasa known for his temper. No over protection in those days.

In more recent times Rani Laxmibai was married at 9, to a 45 year old King. Childhood didn’t matter then.

We sent child widows to vidhva ashrams. We gave girl children up as devdasis.

These were the norms then. Parenting was easier before Mommy-Guilt.  Even in the west.

One of my maids told me her mother had sent her away to be adopted by a couple who agreed to pay for her – but she cried so much she had to be brought back. Who felt guilty? The inconvenient child.

We haven’t changed much, but now modern ideas of child rights, control our expectations from our children. Like one hears, “If it goes on like this, we will find children calling 911 every time we raise our hands on them.”

Before Mommy-Guilt mothers left babies in cradles hanging from a tree and worked in fields, fetched water etc – if the baby cried an older sibling took care (still does). Children worked in the fields too. Babies fell in wells and ponds. (still do). Richer babies had nannies and nurse maids while mothers took care of whatever was their priority. No momma-guilt.

Then women became westernized, started earning and becoming selfish. Children started being neglected. Mothers (and fathers also) started wondering if they were doing the right thing. And thus was born, Mommy Guilt!

It isn’t such a bad thing though… read all about it here 🙂

66 thoughts on “Mommy Guilt: A Western Influence.

  1. Loved your perspective on this…didn’t know whether to feel sad for the guilty children or happy that mommy guilt is making a difference. Will comment later in detail. Tks for linking 🙂


  2. Interesting view point…hhhmmmmm…..

    The guilt belonged to the child not the parents – Wasn’t it so true ???? And from that thinking, we have managed well into shifting the guilt onto the mothers…But, why shld there be a Guilt game ???? Cant we enjoy the motherhood just for the sake of it ???

    I think there is a hell a lot of difference from what we (you and I) did while we were young, compared to what our children are doing at that age. But times have changed…its better to accept that.

    Punishment to children – OMG !!! It was quite normal na, in those days ??? But things have changed…

    Why when children were neglected, during the good old days, was there no guilt feeling ??? Why is it when women started working, should they feel guilty ????

    Me – //Why when children were neglected, during the good old days, was there no guilt feeling ??? Why is it when women started working, should they feel guilty ????// I guess because earlier one didn’t really care, the thinking was that ‘they are kids they don’t understand..” or they will forget.


    • Uma I didn’t mean guilt game – it’s just that earlier one didn’t think of children as individuals. In India children have never been respected. They have had the elders wishes forced on them right from babyhood.

      Now if parents feel guilty – it’s only because they realise that the children can’t do anything if they are neglected, abused or made to feel like they owe something to their parents for giving birth to them 😐


      • Even now most people don’t think of children as individuals…R their wishes taken into account when marriages are fixed? Often, their choice of career is also forced upon them…Children are viewed as possessions – they belong to the all sacrificing parents…

        Me – Absolutely agree. My next post is about this Sraboney.

        And good to see you back 🙂


  3. Ah well.. I dunno if my mom ever felt this guilt.. may be she did.. but i wonder why there shud be any guilt? we all are as we are..

    Me – Winnie mothers feel they should be spending more time, reading more, feeding better meals, being more patient, showing more affection, being more strict, being less strict, … it’s endless and I think all mothers go through it. I did too 🙂


  4. Ours is the land of Sravan Kumar and etc, etc 🙂 Good example.

    But like one hears, “If it goes on like this, we will find children calling 911 every time we raise our hands on them.”

    I think we will find kids calling ‘100’ not 911 in the land of etc, etc. 🙂

    Me – LOL true Natasha 🙂 … actually I was quoting what I heard 🙂
    Aren’t we even today, totally indifferent towards children as a society. While discussing Domestic Violence, this man asked me, “Today, if you think wife beating is wrong, then next you will say beating children is wrong too!” 🙄 These are the kind of people who worry about children calling the police 😐
    What do you say to him?


    • i loved ur take on this.. this shld go out to all those guradians of Bhartiya Sanskriti..

      and well.. i think that too much tilt on any side is not good.. tend to agree with Uma that it shld be a journey.. be fair to the child and respect them..but dont take their “rights” for granted, and for sure dont assume that these rights are over and above your right to remain an individual.

      me – absolutely… but the problem is children can be taught they have no rights. Mommy Guilt makes sure this doesn’t happen.
      Ideally the parents (and the society) should ensure that lack of guidance does not pass off as ‘loving and pampering’ 🙂


    • It looks like many people who are loyal to patriarchy and the ‘old social order’ feel lawmakers and police have no business ‘interfering’ in how a man controls his wife and children. The way that statement is framed itself says that.

      Does any of these people realise women and children are human beings with rights and feelings? Not objects and possessions to be moulded (errr…pounded violently) into obedient puppets?


  5. i hvae seen indian parents profusely apologising to their kids if they drop their toy, or they have left the cookie is in the car –

    sometimes for no rhyme or reason – a 4 year old boy literally yelled mom by her name because she was taking time to warm the bottle. children seems to be imitating from cartoons and childrens shows these days.

    each parents have their own style of parenting – right or wrong – there is no correct answer. other adults can only make assumptions and have opinions. It also depends on the culture where the kid is raised and the culture at home. it also depends on the parents vs child’s personality.

    Guilt or Tough love – Parenting is a sport. But Abusing on different levels is a definite NO-NO.

    Me – Anrosh why would a parent profusely apologise for dropping a toy? Did the child throw a fit? Did the toy break?

    I think children learn to see yelling as a normal way to communicate when they see yelling at home. TV can create that impression too – I think TV should be monitored. It can be a blessing or a curse!

    //each parents have their own style of parenting – right or wrong – there is no correct answer.// – Anrosh, I feel there are some basic rights and wrongs, like violence and inconsistency can not be right no matter what the parents feel. Not showing affection, not communicating, not listening, not playing with – will always be wrong. At the most one can adjust how much time one can give for each of these.


    • So true anrosh. Many people can’t fathom that parents can abuse their own children emotionally, verbally, physically, and yes…sexually.

      And even more can’t accept that children can abuse their parents too. Kids need to learn to respect their parents, but parents also need to respect their kids.


    • no toy breaking – just fell down from the sofa to the floor. the mother and the father are extremely insecure that the boys won’t take care of them when they get old – they have voiced this verbally to us. And telling this right in front of the kid who can understand every single word – common on, do they think that the kid is dumb not to understand. the kid is 5 and i know a 5 year year who is now 9 year who will repeat the same rules to me which i told him when he was 5.

      so i think it is their insecurity that the parents are overapologising even when their is no real need. i am of the view that children should be respected, but kids also know when to manipulate parents. if we respect our children, we won’t treat them as dumb and that they don’t understand – they do.

      children are human beings too, and behave like one.

      Me – Anrosh I feel it’s the parents who are manipulating the kid here – kind of spoiling in the name of loving, and that too only like a bank deposit today, with expectations of returns in future. 😐


  6. One day my mom called me after watching “Tare zameen pe”. In a tearful voice she apologised for leaving me , as a child, with servants while she had to go to office so that the family could be run. I was speechless.
    There was nothing much she could do, she had a duty to perform and she did it in a way which makes me proud of her. I just told her she is the best mother in this world and should never feel guilty for anything. Today whatever I am is because of her sacrifices, and can never repay her debt.
    This is what Indian mothers are like. Hope they never change.. a whole culture will come to an end.

    Me – That’s what mommy guilt is 🙂 But why call it a sacrifice Rebel, I am sure it was a pleasure for her.


    • Oh.. My mom too feels guilty for the same reason! Being in a typical 9 to 5 job, she wasn’t there at home when we returned back from school. But honestly, we never missed anything!! It made us (me and my sis) strong, independent people, the kinds who never get ‘bored’, who always have something to do, unlike many other kids of our age! I have tried explaining that to her.. But of no use. I guess when she sees me handling work/household chores while being at home with Diya, she feels as if she missed out on something (But she didnt have the option of work from home, did she?!).
      I guess this is just something she would have to live with for the rest of her life. Sad, but true. Because no amount of explanation/pep up talk is helping 😦


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  8. The basic thing of “spare the rod and spoil the child” is very true.
    But at the same time, I have seen parents taking out their “ire” on the kids which is not fair.

    Me – Why do you think spare the rod spoil the child is true Joe Zachs? I feel GUIDANCE and being consistent works… I wrote about this too, I feel beating a child is simply an indication of the adult losing control.
    What makes parents so angry that they beat a child?
    Should fear of beating make a child eat his veggies, not play in the sun, not lie, not steal, etc or the logical explanation for each...? Think about it…


    • Just one question – Does spanking on the bums amount to physical abuse ??!!!

      I believe that some amount of strictness is essential to discipline a child. It need not be harsh and ‘real’ beating though. A child who is not eating his veggies would continue throwing tantrums if not handled strictly. And if he is not of a reasonable age, I dont think any explanation or guidance would help.

      Me – Puja , do you think being strict will make a child eat veggies? I feel if a child is offered an apple and an orange – the right choice will be made. But if we offer an ice cream and an orange – then who is to be blamed?

      Second – if he child is not eating could there be a medical reason or will it result in a medical problem? Doctors are always finding paranoid parents force feeding their children. Then consider this – do all adults eat everything and are they perfectly disciplined – no junk, no aerated drinks – we know they/we aren’t 🙂 Children are small-sized individuals – we can explain or try a new recipe or a new veggie or switch multu vitamins – punishment is a short cut and doesn’t really work.

      I don’t like the idea of spanking on the bum… 😦


      • Well.. it did work in my case (me being the ‘victim’)!!

        I find it difficult to believe that ‘absolutely no beating’ works. Food is just one of the reasons. I am facing issues with my daughter misbehaving with other kids. And no, we don’t beat her. An occasional spank on the bums may be. And no, we don’t beat each other too (not in front of her 😉 !! ok, that was a bad joke!). Taking her away from the scene of ‘action’ is not always an option and ‘talking it out’ doesn’t work! A little strictness, and she understand that this behavior is NOT acceptable. You have any other idea/suggestion? I would welcome it! But for now, this light spanking is working fine 🙂


        • We’ve been there Puja. Ultimately, we found

          spanking and yelling shrinks the child’s spirit.

          Changing was hard, but now it’s time-outs, consequences, ignoring, light humour, re-direction, and keeping the child always busy and occupied that have replaced spanking as discipline methods. The kids are thriving now and we’re much less stressed out.


        • And regarding food, be strict, yes, but try innovations, hiding the fruits/veggies inside favourite foods, insisting on just one taste of healthy food, mixing junk n good food and best of all, keep trying (even a 100 times, ultimately the child will accept it), and let it go when the child refuses.

          We learned the hard way that if you make food a battle, the child wins. My daughter is still a poor eater at age 8, because we made it such an issue. My son eats well, but not healthily, but all the above strategies worked and he will eat his veggies and fruits now quite freely. The biggest tactic that works with him is talking about how his favourite Hanuman eats fruits 🙂 Sorry if I sounded preachy!


      • Another thing that works is involving the child in food prepration. Even if the child is two ask them what they would like to eat vege X or vege Y. Offer them choices, children love them. Give them age appropriate responsibilities. Lunch time lets cook together. Take a bite and say how delicious is the food (name of the child ) prepared. Tell dadyy or grandparents over the phone how good a job your kid did in prepration.

        Play a food game. Child has to collect points. Each finished plate wins them a star and five stars wins them a treat, may be an ice cream or what ever.

        Offering choices instills feeling of control that is a prerequisite for feeling secure and incharge. Goes a long way into adulthood…

        Lots of praise instills confidence in children. But after one task gets established as a habbit move to another one and reduce the praise on the first. Over praised kids become approval junkies.

        If children are 5 and above ask them to sign a contract. Even if they do not know how to sign ask them to put a cross. Children feel very proud when they take ownership of something.

        I will eat my breakfast. I’ll finsh everything on my plate. or what ever is reasonable… I’ll keep my room clean. I’ll clean my room on Sunday…

        Moderation is the key word.

        We do it all the time at abused women’s shelter. Because women are usually abused by fathers of the children, the children have learned to manipulate and disrespect their mothers. Also abused women loose confidence in parenting and disciplining kids.

        We don’t have spanking option and we don’t allow that here. If a woman does that we have to give her a warning that she’ll be thrown out or reported to law enforcement.

        Try it, it works…


        Desi Girl


        • That ‘signing’ the agreement and star/tick-off charts really work ggts, makes kids feel grown-up and responsible! And oh yes, getting them to help ‘cook’ makes a huge difference! In fact, my daughter has her own recipe books and my son pretends to read out my recipes and orders me on ingredients and procedures!


  9. loved your take. there are times i feel my mum should feel a little more guilty than she does (or doesn’t at all :))

    Me – LOL UmmOn 🙂 My mom and I have lots of discussions and now sometimes I tease her and tell her to acknowledge that she (blatantly) favored my brother 🙂 🙂


  10. hmmm.. quite a moot topic.. I would say the ancient generations were not as enlightened as we are 😀 Ignorance is bliss and so was for them 🙂 I dont think I would have beaten and locked children in dark rooms even then.. there is example of Yashoda Maiya.. she never used to beat Krishna though he was extremely naughty.. 🙂

    Me – Yashoda Maiya tied him to a pillar Vineeta, he dragged the pillar with him… remember? 😉
    I think as a child, he needed to understand that he should ask for what he wants – not take it or steal it… 🙂


  11. IHM, I wonder if mommy guilt comes from having children one wants to have after planning for them, while the child-guilt part comes from having children as they happen- no planning, – one marries, one has children- there is no thought in the older ways- and so the sacrifice is all too real- for a child that was not planned.

    Me – Allytude never gave this a thought… still not sure. I guess when one has children one has planned for, there is already an awareness about children as little people. In the past children were treated like one treats puppies, one of my maids said about my cat, that she feels like teasing him when he is asleep, just like people feel like teasing a little sleeping baby awake! I have seen people make faces at babies – why not just talk to children?

    Basically momma guilt is partly a result of thinking of children as little people.
    Maybe when babies are born without the parents or mothers having any choice in it – and there are many of them, there is little or no time or energy left for momma guilt…


  12. An interesting insight. I think we can go one level deeper and see that

    in those days, being old was in and of itself enough to put you on a higher pedestal. There was no mommy guilt only because a parent can never be wrong by virtue of age.

    Also, wives were always substantially younger than their husbands and so by the same logic, husbands were able to guilt their wives into anything. This wouldn’t be possible if she was 10 years older than him!

    It’s also the reason why the khap panchayats expect to be obeyed. They’re probably the oldest in their village. This is changing slowly, but very surely. And I’m enjoying it!

    Me – Oh yes!! I am enjoying it too 🙂 And Khap Panchayat petition has been turned down by the high Court, and they have been told not to waste the court’s time 🙂


  13. We are more suffocated by Yayati complex.

    Have no idea about Mommy Guilt. Thanks for the basic information.

    Me – Yayaver -(What does your name mean? I have read it somewhere, just can’t remember where!)
    Mommy guilt is a feeling that mothers have of not doing enough for their children, a working mom feels her children are neglected, a stay at home mom feels they would have been proud if she was working (and better finances, role model for them etc), all mothers feel they should play with their children a little more, talk to them, read to them, be more patient with them… all mothers (me included 😉 ) feel this guilt. When I started blogging I felt that time should have gone to my kids… momma guilt is almost endless but it also makes mother take an objective look (or not so objective) at how they are bringing up their kids. It isn’t a bad thing, but sometimes the feeling can prevent them from having a life of their own, if they make ‘sacrifices’ they might have high expectations from their children – that’s not fair to the kids. … phew!! long response!

    PS – Adding the Yayti complex link to this post.


    • Yayaveris a Hindi word, meaning an avid traveler.Oh man that was a long response. Now I understands it crystal clear. One more small question is there anything like as ‘Dad Guilt’ in Men as ‘sacrifices’ made and not giving time to childrem is more…

      Me – Yayaver thanks for explaining 🙂

      I think some daddy guilt is there, but there is no term for it. Starry has mentioned it in her post (I linked it) – the simple fact is dads are not expected to contribute in child care, which is why we see lonely retired men who have no communication with those they call their family 😦 A lot of men miss out on the joys (and pains) of day to day caring of their children… men who bathe, feed, change nappies, tell stories, bake with, play with their children are lucky because they are building precious relationships and friendships.


      • Oh, my daddy has too much guilt. Every time I call him or he calls he apologieses for the strictness he used on my brother and I. He says he was wrong and did not know any better then. Now he is a full time grandpa and he is discovering a whole new side of himself I guess that is bringing this guilt out.

        No matter how many times I tell him dad I’m fine you did a great job with your given knowledge, resources and circumstances. You made me reselient and strong as steel… I owe it to you. But he still feels sorry and closes it with I love you baby…


        Desi Girl


  14. ‘The guilt belonged to the child not the parents. ‘ – That is so true, IHM. All our epics and mythology point to this ‘ideal’ state where a child has only one job – to obey the parents/elders.

    Me – It was drilled into the children …

    As for mommy guilt 🙂 every mom is probably guilty of it 🙂

    Me – In small amounts, it’s a healthy guilt 🙂


  15. It is the changing face of has become faster and even mothers are working and supporting families financially which was not the case earlier. They had time for their children..and today mothers do not have that luxury.
    I am not a mother so would not be able to contribute much on this topic…

    I feel beating children is not good…I was never thrashed by my parents..and I turned out all right 🙂
    Beating kids harms a child’s self esteem…

    Me – Lazy pineapple did mothers have time for the children? They did everything manually, milked the cows, made quilts, cooked on chulha, worked in fields, cleaned huge blackened dishes…
    I think earlier children just grew up. My grand dad used to say in their time they were told, “Padho.” (Study) – nobody saw what they studied, what their interests were, did a teacher’s negative attitude hurt them – the kids never thought of complaining because the adult was always right.

    I too was never beaten or even scolded much – I turned out right too 🙂


    • I agree, IHM. I do think that mothers today take out more time for the children than an earlier generation mother. More so , because families have shrunk, and the mother has the freedom to decide how to spend her time. Of course, this is not true everywhere, but I see it all around me.

      In a previous generation, where a mother has so many more responsibilities, esp while living in a joint family, I think she had far less time, even compared to today’s working mother.

      In fact, there is one punjabi lady, a mother of a child in Poohi’s school. She is not very educated, and she lives in a joint family, with all her husband’s 4 brothers living with them – here in the UK. And she says that she has no time for her children. One of them hurt his leg – when despite the fact that there are so many people in the house, nobody was actually keeping an eye on the child. While for me, even while I blog, I always keep an eye on my daughter. We spend a lot of time together, I volunteer in her school, go on school trips and I am sure that I would not have been able to do all this in an older generation. Of course, time is saved by all our automated washing machines, and dishwashers and stuff..

      Me – I agree.


  16. Interesting perspective..But isn’t Mommy guilt also the byproduct of having only one child or two at most to lavish all their carefully studied parenting skills on? And the fact that in nuclear families today, the number of issues running through your head with respect to people tend to be limited to your husband and your children as against an extended joint family? I also see Mommy Guilt as the outcome of a certain set standard of expectations that peer pressure places on you to behave and mould yourself in a certain way as a ‘model Mom’ ( much like ideal wife…


    • Journomuse I feel Mommy Guilt is born out of women finding the time to focus on their children, lesser children, smaller families, more gadgets (generally used while the child is around) – mommy-baby get a lot more time together. Earlier we were a society where children didn’t matter, they were not respected – anybody could yell at a child or criticise a child ‘for their own good’ – their feelings or opinions didn’t matter.

      Once mothers had the time from their other responsibilities realised what they could do more, more time, more patience, more story telling, more fruit, and no matter what mothers do, they feel they could do more. Working mothers feel they are not spending enough time, SAHMs feel they could make their kids proud if they worked…

      You will love this comment,


  17. I think the change in thinking that led to mommy guilt was this: People used to believe in destiny. You were born and grew into a destiny that was already predetermined. Then came the idea (from Freud, maybe?) that children were “blank slates” and that what mommy does or does not do creates who these children turn into.

    When Duryodhan was born, jackals howled, Vidur recommended Gandhari kill him to prevent the evil he would unleash. Nowadays, Gandhari would be scrutinized, “What did you do to him when he was little? You obviously weren’t as good a mother as Kunti was.”

    Me – Yes! LOL that’s exactly how one reacts – we blame the mothers 😦

    I studied psychology in college and when my first son was born, I was scared to death because I believed in the “blank slate” theory. But I no longer do. Each of my sons is different and I did not create their personalities.

    I now believe that children do have some bit of destiny. Like, you can raise great tomatoes or you can do a really bad job and have your tomato crop turn out terribly. But all the “Baby Einstein” videos and mother-hovering and flashcards and guilt will not make your tomatoes into oak trees. They either have it in them or they don’t.

    Me – I so agree Deana. My mom used to tell us, if she was responsible for how we turned out, we would all have been the same. But no way are we the same … though we all love cricket and support the same political party, our religious views aren’t exactly alike, we even raised our children with different priorities (career oriented or let them follow their hearts…).


  18. I am not too sure what to say, since I’m not a parent yet and I’ve seen my friends go thru both extremes – of having and not having the “mommy-guilt”. Some say, its good in small doses, it helps you respect your child and listen to them.
    Some say its all nonsense introduced by the western world and parents do their best in bringing up their kids in the best way they know!
    Of course, they do listen to their kids and trust them and all that..

    So, I’m a bit confused…
    I did however like the way you have put it across. 🙂

    Me – Pixie basically today’s mothers feel they should do more – in the past children were fed, clothed and told to go out and play. Today mothers do much more and still keep feeling they aren’t doing enough…

    In the past, parents expected the children to fulfill the parents’ dreams – now parents make an effort to help their children fulfill their own dreams 🙂


  19. Looking at it from this point of view IHM, it looks like the earlier generations of parents should feel big-time guilt!

    Parenting earlier was for the parents! The child was supposed to fulfil their destinies, uphold the family’s honour and reputation and be devoid of feelings, thought, ambition or dissent.

    Parenting should be for the child. Of course some moms go overboard and forget their own needs and lives are important too.

    The whole problem is that women (most of whom are moms too) now have a voice, a life and can fulfil their dreams…and the rest of society is still catching up. We dump multiple roles on mothers and then blame them for messing up. And let the men off the hook by saying “men can’t multitask” 😯

    Think about it. When we say ‘mothering a child’, we think ‘nurturing’. When we say ‘fathering a child’, we think ‘fertilisation’, and stop there.


    • Stars, you said it! Your comment scores a 10/10 from me 🙂

      I have something to say about ‘multi-tasking’ . John Medina in his book ‘Brain Rules’ says that multitasking is a myth and is technically not possible for humans. 🙂

      me – Shail, I know I can never multi task 😐


  20. Wait wait…dont stop!!!
    Damn ur post came to an abrupt end…

    It started beautifully and I loved the tone and way it was carried forward… but somewhere along the way it seemed to have stopped before it shud have..
    I want to know more of that strain of thought!!!

    Me – I read the post again Ashwathy 🙂 It does end abruptly 😦 I was basically trying to say, today we pay more attention to our children’s needs than we ever could in the past, but we feel guilty.

    I feel guilt can be a positive, it can make sure we rectify any errors, it takes away the smug feeling that as parents we own our children, or that children don’t matter.
    Earlier children’s emotional needs were always overlooked…


  21. “The guilt belonged to the child not the parents. ”

    What you of the older generation is so true. And to a large extent it holds true even today when we see parents reminding their children, every single day about how much their little ones owe them for all their sacrifices. A married-son is made to feel guilty if he pays more attention to his wife, a daughter is made to feel guilty for falling in love with a boy from her own community or of a lower caste.

    Me – true… it seems more like we have absolute power over little children’s lives and we can each them whatever we like, we can brain wash them about all our sacrifices and ask them to repay with their happiness, freedom, individual rights… a very one sided concept.

    As for mommy guilt, it is one influence from the West that I’d welcome. I hope it reaches out to parents who force their expectations and dreams on their children thereby crushing their own little ones’ dreams and desires.

    Brilliant take on the subject, IHM. Loved your post 🙂


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