Mum guilt. Before having children, you might have imagined that you would just side step the whole issue.
But the arrival of your little one likely coincided with the arrival of guilt.
There’s a reason that Google reveals over 18 million search results related to mum guilt. It’s experienced by virtually all mothers from all walks of life, cultures, parenting approaches, personalities and ages.
So, what exactly is mum guilt?
Guilt is the feeling we get when we don’t meet the standards we’ve set for ourselves. When our thoughts or actions don’t align with who we want to be. And in this case, it’s specifically related to our role as mothers.
What do we feel guilty about?
As mums, we feel guilty about all sorts of things, big and small. I felt crippling guilt leaving my son at day care and when he fell off a park bench and grazed his head on the concrete. I feel guilty when I need him to sit in a shopping trolley for much longer than he can happily handle.
Have you ever felt guilty about any of these?
- Taking time for yourself
- Having to work or choosing to work or wanting to work
- Being distracted by technology
- Wishing for a break
- Getting angry
- Not breastfeeding
- Holding your baby too much, or not enough
- The state of your house
- Letting the kids eat unhealthy food
- Too much screen time
- Leaving them in pyjamas all day
- Not playing with them enough.
We hold ourselves to such high standards as mums.
I know your intentions are beautiful and loving. The fact that you feel guilt shows that you actually care about being the best mum possible for your children. If you didn’t care and love your children so much, you wouldn’t feel guilty about all those things.
You know what you ARE guilty of?
- Being human and imperfect
- Having limited energy and getting tired
- Needing a balanced life, and
- Having emotions.
That’s not so bad, is it?
Why do we feel guilty?
Remember, guilt occurs when we don’t meet the standards (including our values) that we create for ourselves.
Sometimes that happens because we messed up (which is inevitable).
Other times, we don’t meet the standards because the standards themselves are the problem.
There are two main reasons for this:
- The standards are unrealistic
For example, if you’re a perfectionist, you’ll tend to always find yourself falling short of your extremely high standards.
If you feel like you’re entirely responsible for your children’s wellbeing and happiness, you may even feel guilty for things that are out of your control. You wish you could’ve made things better.
If you feel like you should always put your children first, no matter what, it can be extremely difficult to make a choice for yourself. For example, you might feel reluctant to order takeaway even though you’re way too tired to cook or you may feel terrible missing out on their activities or events because you chose to go to work.
- We don’t really believe in the standards
We apply other people’s standards to ourselves all the time. They come from family members, friends, mothers’ groups, general societal expectations, comparisons with others, social media and all the ‘shoulds’ that exist in the world of parenting.
The problem is, those standards aren’t necessarily right for us and our families. And if they’re not right for us, we won’t really believe in them.
For example, some people believe that their child should be sleeping in their own bed, in their own room, from the very beginning. Others co-sleep for years. Some people believe kids should participate in lots of scheduled activities. Others prefer none.
There are countless examples of other people’s standards that we don’t believe in ourselves. There’s no point holding yourself to standards you don’t believe in. You’ll struggle to meet them consistently, or at all. It’s important to set your own standards based on your own situation, family, values, intuition and research.
Is guilt bad for us?
Guilt is often seen as a negative emotion, but it can motivate you to do better, be better and do things differently. It can also be an opportunity to acknowledge and fix your mistakes.
Research has shown that guilt strengthens attachments between people, because guilt is based on the ability to feel other’s pain and maintain connections (Roy Baumeister, PhD at Case Western Reserve University, Psychological Bulletin, vol.115, No. 2).
That’s the helpful side of guilt.
But at it’s worst, guilt can hold you down and change what you believe about yourself.
If the guilty thoughts keep playing over and over in your mind they can eventually turn into feelings of shame.
You see, the more you repeat a thought, the more your brain believes it (that’s why positive self-talk is so important).
In her book ‘I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn’t)’, Brene Brown explains that when you feel shame, you no longer focus on the action (I did something bad), but instead, you focus on who you are (I am bad).
If you’re feeling shame, you’ll continually beat yourself up for not being a good enough mother (or something similar).
Unfortunately, when you believe you’re a bad mum or you’re failing, you’re more likely to live up to that belief, as your actions and choices will be aligned with your feelings.
None of us want to end up there!
So, since it’s virtually impossible to avoid mum guilt altogether, it’s best to work out how to make it helpful and then let it go. You can do this by examining the standards you’re imposing on yourself.
How to work through mum guilt
When you feel mum guilt, first remind yourself that you don’t need to be perfect and then with that mindset, work through these steps:
Here are some other things that might help when you’re dealing with mum guilt:
- Don’t compare yourself to others. Stay on your own path.
- Talk to other mums to help you remember that no one is perfect (even if they appear that way)
- Don’t use social media as a standard (it’s only the highlights)
- Be present in whatever you’re doing. When you’re with your family, be with them completely. Then, if you need to take time away, you’ll know you’ve had quality time connecting.
- Remember life is full of compromises and choices. Be guided by what’s important to you.
- Let the little things go.
- Talk to someone you trust to get another perspective.
- Use your journal to work through your thoughts and feelings.
Your action plan this week is to try out the steps above when you’re struggling with mum guilt. You can download and print out the flowchart and tips here as a handy reference.
I’d love to know how this post has helped you. Leave a comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Keep going mum, you’re doing an amazing job!