Dr. Suzanne B. Phillips

Licensed Psychologist, Psychoanalyst, Diplomate in Group Psychology, Certified Group Therapist, Author, Radio Host and Media Consultant Covering a Wide Range of Psychological Topics

Post: Being Mothers, Making Mistakes, Embracing Self-Compassion

If you are a mother, you have made mistakes. You are not alone.

If you are a grandmother, you are under the illusion that you can rectify some of those mistakes. You are not alone.

Given the early attachment needs of children, the developmental milestones, familial and cultural expectations, there is no way around making mistakes or perceiving that you have made mistakes. You are human and so are the little or big children that call you Mom.

Given our proclivity as humans to remember and ruminate far more about real or possible mistakes in our lives, than the success stories, it is likely that most moms could add to the list below.

Possible Mistakes Made by Mothers.

Maybe I held her too much – Was my anxiety contagious?

Maybe I didn’t hold him enough – Was going back to work a mistake?

Maybe I didn’t make enough play dates for the twins–They’re not that social.

Maybe I made too many play dates for the -They live in different countries.

Maybe I haven’t focused enough on cooking-No one even wants to eat as a family.

Maybe I helped her too much – She had so much trouble in college.

Maybe I was too distracted – I never thought he was using drugs.

Maybe I should have put his Dad in charge – He would have done a better job.

Maybe traveling for my job was a mistake-I should have been there.

Maybe I should have forced her to stay with the music – Now she says she regrets quitting.

Maybe I should have encouraged her to date more-Why isn’t she married?


If we add all the contributions by all the moms out there – we would have quite a list. That being said, there are some factors that fuel our feelings and fears of making mistakes.

Gender Bias

  • Notwithstanding, the major change and increase in the parenting role by fathers in this culture, for some reason if someone is going to be blamed– it is more likely to be the mother.
  • Yes, from a psychological perspective the early mother-infant bond is crucial; but, mom is not operating in a vacuum. In this culture, the earliest caregiving is often shared by dad, grandmother, or caregiver.
  • Some suggest that despite the increase in paternal involvement in childrearing, the break down of tasks for two working parents still leaves the mother more in the role of the over-seeing the tasks of house and childrearing, and Dad with more opportunities to play and have fun with the children. That reality leaves mom open to far more blame and accountability in the eyes of others.
  • Over the years, moms often remain the parent to whom even older children bring “ emotional” problems. The plus is that moms feel included. The trap is that they often feel compelled to respond and fix the situation- for which they are later blamed!

 Expectations and Findings

  • One thing that doesn’t really help mothers with their worry about making mistakes is the cultural theme of mothers being the one to blame if something goes wrong.
  • How often have you heard this line in a movie? “ What did your mother do to you?
  • Even science re-enforces this – A recent study entitled “ The New Science of Blaming Mothers” reports that a number of new epigenetic findings see mom as the one responsible for children’s later-life diseases, behaviors and emotions.

The Gift of Self-Compassion

Given that mothers are seen and actually have a great deal of responsibility in the lives of their children, let’s embrace it in a positive way.

As such, regardless of how long you have been a mom, how many children you have and what you have faced or are facing – the most valuable gift you can give to yourself is the Gift of Self-Compassion.

  • Self-Compassion is an antidote to the negativity of self-blame or blame by others. It is very effective when we are considering mistakes or dealing with feelings of inadequacy. It is actually a way to enhance your mothering and your overall wellbeing.
  • Self-Compassion as proposed and research by Dr. Kristin Neff in 2003, essentially means treating yourself with the same kindness, support and concern you would show to a good friend.

 It involves three steps: Self-kindness, Recognition of Your Humanity and Mindfulness.


  • Most of us are kinder to others who make a mistake than ourselves. Most of us would reassure a friend having an issue with her child in a kinder and less blameful way than our inner voice would speak to us.
  • Self-kindness does not mean denial, condoning negative behavior or ignoring mistakes. It means that if we can look at something we feel badly about with compassion for our suffering rather than self-blame and belittling – we will feel less pain and more potential to deal with it.
  • Much as your friend might feel better with your kind words such that she can hang in and try again – you need your kind words.

Common Humanity

Recognizing that everyone makes mistakes and that imperfection goes with being human allows us to accept and take a broader look at what is happening.

  • “ Ok, so she has never attended two of her college classes. She won’t be the first to have done that and I won’t be the first Mom who will help their kid figure out what is going on.”
  • “ Ok he refuses to go to kindergarten. I am not the only working mother. This may or may not be related to that. Let’s see what this little one needs.”

The more you recognize common humanity, the less likely you will feel shame and need to avoid others. The more open you will be to seeking help and support. It always shocks people to find out that the people around them are dealing with similar issues or related issues- someone has to start the sharing.


Self-Compassion involves being mindful or aware of the negative thoughts and emotions we are experiencing in the moment without judgment or avoidance.

“ I feel so guilty for not visiting her more at college.”

Recognizing with compassion that this really makes you feel badly, guilty, sad- frees up the inner critic. It gives you the freedom to consider that the pain you feel is understandable. It will not last forever. It is not a reason to judge self as totally inadequate. In fact, the more compassionate your self-judgment- the more sense of capability and change in the future.

One of the most consistent findings in the research literature is that the greater your self-compassion, the less anxiety and depression and the better your emotional wellbeing.

Self-Compassion Is a Gift. Mothers Deserve it!

Listen for more topics on Parents and Children on Psych Up Live with Host Dr. Suzanne Phillips