Us mums can allow ourselves to feel guilty about everything, right?
We’ve worked too much and not seen our children, or worked too little and can’t afford to buy them every toy on the wish list. We’ve not played with the kids enough, or we have been playing with them and the house is a mess. We’ve not seen our friends because we’ve been with our children, or we’ve seen our friends and spent one less afternoon with our children.
It can be never ending.
In fact a recent study, showed that working mums and stay at home mums experience the same amount of guilt. So this isn’t about whether we work or don’t work. It seems we’re living in a guilt epidemic – a Motherkind survey I completed last year revealed 80% mums feel some level of guilt every day.
Some of the rheterotic out there tells us that mummy guilt is part of the parenting package and we need to just suck it up and carry on regardless.
I think we all deserve to feel good about ourselves and our parenting choices. In fact, I believe our feelings of guilt can help us become better mothers if we can use it as fuel for self exploration.
I think we need to befriend our mum guilt. What we resist, persists. So by avoiding, denying or minimising our guilty feelings we are giving them even more power over us.
It’s important to remember that our guilt comes from a really good place, of wanting to be the best mum possible for our children and that we’re all doing the best we can. Our feelings of guilt show just how much we love our children and want the best for them.
We need to learn to give ourselves a break.
But I don’t think that means we should ignore or try to minimise our feelings of guilt. In fact looking at your guilt, head on, can be really illuminating especially if you’ve been running from it or never questioned it. Even the simple act of writing down when and why you feel guilty can be extremely powerful. We can only change what we’re aware of, so the first step is to become aware on when and how you feel the most guilt.
Then get interested in it. Through my work with many mums on helping to reframe, befriend and shed the mum guilt I’ve come to see that most guilt falls into two categories;
1. Unreasonable guilt, when we feel guilty for not living up to our own or an external version of parental perfection.
An example of this might be feeling guilty for not feeding our children organic, home made meals for 3 meals a day every day or for not playing enough with our children or for buying them a birthday cake instead of making it.
The problem is we often haven’t defined what our values and goals are for our parenting, so we end up measuring ourselves by some undefined idea of perfection and feeling guilty when we don’t meet that. It’s so easy to totally lose perspective of what’s important to us. For example how many hours would we like to play with our children a day or week? What’s realistic given our circumstances? What feels right for us? Once that’s defined, then we’re less likely to feel guilty for not playing with them all the time, as that’s not what’s reasonable for us.
Many of us who experience high levels of ‘unreasonable guilt’ need to mindfully assess what is reasonable and good enough for us. So many of us unconsciously are trying to live up to an external idea of motherhood, that perhaps we got from our own mum (who was raising us in a totally different era), books or social media which presents a totally skewed version of life.
We need to get clear on what’s really important to us and our family and then do a ‘good enough’ job on the rest. Have a go at writing down your top 5 values for your family and how you want to live them in your day to day interactions.
We also need to look inwards – it might be that you’ve always set yourself high standards and goals or often felt like deep down you weren’t ‘good enough’. You may have used control and perfectionism to mask this in your pre-mum life – keeping your life highly organised, efficient and being successful on the outside. This is often the case with mums I work with and so what looks like mum guilt is actually a deeper belief about yourself that needs to be changed.
2. Reasonable guilt – in my experience, this is by far the smallest category of guilt – normally only one or two things end up in this category. This is the guilt we feel which is reasonable – when we have done something or not done something that doesn’t align to our values or who we want to be and we feel understandably guilty (the ones I asked you to define above).
For example, if we want to be calm, connected mothers and we find ourselves constantly screaming at our children for everything they do, we would probably feel understandably guilty about that. The trick here is not to change our values but to look at what’s going on for us and what we need to do to re-align back to who we want to be.
So continuing the shouting analogy, are we shouting all the time because we’re stressed, over-worked, disconnected from ourselves, exhausted or maybe something bigger like being unhappy in our marriage?
Again we need to look inwards and empower ourselves to take action. The first step is always self kindness and understanding, you are doing your best. What action do you need to take? What needs to change?
We can also take the opportunity to model to our children what taking responsibility for our actions looks like, by explaining why we acted like we did and amending our future behaviour – this shows them it’s ok to make mistakes and how to grow from them.