Ah mum guilt, a constant companion on our motherhood journey or something we can let go of and skip off into motherhood nirvana?
So often we feel guilty for going to work and leaving our children, guilty for not working and not contributing financially or being independent.
Guilty when we don’t see our friends, guilty when we do see our friends.
Guilty for not playing with our children enough, guilty when we spend time playing with them and leave everything else undone.
Sometimes it feels like we can’t win.
Many people believe that feeling guilty is a natural part of motherhood and we need to just learn to live with it, but I don’t subscribe to that - in fact I’d like to call BS on that - I believe we all deserve to feel good about ourselves, especially with the most challenging and incredible role we’ll ever have.
Feeling guilty is often what I call a ‘trigger’ feeling - there is usually something more going on underneath, something bigger that is making us hold onto guilty feelings and buy into the feeling as if it’s the whole truth and nothing but the truth. With mum guilt I believe that’s fear - and when I work with clients to get the core of that fear, it’s often some variation of ‘I’m not good enough’. Which nearly makes me cry everytime I hear it come from an amazing mum.
Not a good enough mum or boss or wife or friend.
It’s not surprising, that in one of our most significant roles as a mother, our fear is triggered. It’s often a sign of how much we love our children and desperately want the best for them.
My favourite acronym for fear is False Expectations Appearing Real. We may feel that we’re not good enough, but it’s not real - you are absolutely good enough. The good news is that we can learn to let go of the fear and reconnect to the truth of who you are - a perfectly imperfect mother doing her best.
So what can we do about mum guilt?
It’s totally normal to feel some event specific guilt, just as in any area of our lives when we do something that is out of line with our values (such as forgetting a friend’s birthday). But feeling a constant or nagging sense of guilt is not ok. So here are some of the ways I work with clients to help them let go of the guilt:
Make friends with it - knowing where your guilt is coming from can be really illuminating and helpful - especially if you’ve never investigated it before and have been running from it or accepted it as part of mum life, so making friends with your guilt is the first step to transforming it. Jot down when and why you feel guilty - you might start to see a pattern, or see how unbelievably hard you’re being on yourself. Accepting without judgement how guilty you feel is the foundation for change, because we can’t change what we don’t first accept as our reality.
What we focus on expands - if we focus on feeling guilty it will grow and grow in our heads until we feel all-consumed. Conversely, by focusing on what we’re doing right (however small) that will grow and grow. It’s up to us what seeds we choose to plant and therefore what will grow - so make the conscious effort to choose feeling good about yourself and if guilt comes up, balance it out with a positive - so you were late for nursery pick up, but remind yourself you’re planning to put your phone down and fully connect when you get home.
Embrace your imperfection - so often we expect perfection from ourselves, which is not only totally unrealistic and can never be achieved - it also stops us from demonstrating to our children how we love ourselves despite being imperfect - one of the most important lessons we can impart.
Self-compassion - following on from embracing imperfection, self-compassion and kindness is one of the most vital muscles we can flex as mothers. We are so hard on ourselves, yet often so understanding and kind to those around us. A good exercise is to look at a picture of your younger self (aged 10 or under) and speak kindly, encouragingly and gently to that little girl, especially about your feelings of guilt, then know that the little girl is you. Or you could imagine how you would talk to a friend feeling guilty, how kind you’d be, how you would tell her all she’s great at and then turn that kindness onto yourself.
Quieten your inner guilt gremlin - yup, we all have one. That little voice that tells you’d be a much better mum if you stayed at home (if you’re a working mum), or went to work, (if you stay at home). Learning to see this little voice for what it is, not your reality or truth can be incredibly freeing - they are just thoughts and are you are so much more than your thoughts. If you manage to catch your guilt gremlin in action, see if you can stop mid thought and replace it with a kind, loving phrase such as ‘i’m doing my best’.
Stand by your choices - by getting clear on what you value - what’s truly important to you? Make your choices based on your values, then stand by those choices. It’s totally natural to wobble once you’ve made a choice but if it’s come from a conscious, considered place aligned to your values it’s going to be easier to stand by that choice and own it when the guilt gremlins come knocking.
Perspective - it can be so easy to get lost and all consumed by the petty, day to day niggles and worries of life, but a great tool is to put guilt into perspective - you might feel guilty that you took your children to school when they weren’t 100% as you needed to work, but raise it up a level and ask yourself some powerful questions ‘Am I a loving, present parent? Am I trying my best?’ Reconnect back to the reasons why you work and watch the guilt gremlin climb back into its box.
And finally, remember that what we need from ourselves and each other is unconditional love and understanding - and that is more important than anything the guilt gremlin will tell you.
Zoe’s coaching package ‘freedom from guilt’ currently has spaces, so get in touch firstname.lastname@example.org if you are struggling with mum guilt and are ready to reconnect to the truth of who you are - a perfectly imperfect mother doing her best.