Expert editions vol 12: Mum guilt & how to stop feeling guilty as a mum

Mum guilt

Mum guilt…the scourge of all mothers. We feel guilty about all and sundry we do as a mother; we feel guilty about feeling guilty; and then we feel guilty about not feeling guilty. We have all tied ourselves up into such a hot mess of mum guilt, that we don’t know whether we are coming or going. But enough is enough. We need to break out of the guilt cycle, and today on this issue of Expert Editions, we have Giselle Monbiot, Women’s Empowerment Coach,  to help us work out exactly how to do just that…

Why is it that all mums seem to be so wracked with guilt, particularly in this day and age?

It is a big problem currently with more and more women feeling overwhelmed, stressed and guilty about how they mother and what they are offering their children. Parenting has turned towards a child centred approach, which often means the mother believes she is responsible for the happiness of her child at every moment.

Whether it is doing crafts, taking them on another outing or having the best birthday party they’ve ever had, the mothers these days put immense pressure on themselves for their children to have happy and fulfilled existences. We are bombarded constantly by social media, psychological studies and well meaning advice which often makes us feel inadequate and that we are not doing a good enough job.

Images and articles show celebrities losing baby weight within five weeks; magazines tell us we can have it all – fulfilling careers, children that we need to focus on completely to ensure they are successful adults, happy relationships with our partners and time to spend on ourselves. The reality often turns into a frantic life of rushing from activity to diary appointment. Rarely living in the moment or enjoying anything, which can make women feeling like failures and guilty they aren’t living up to expectations.

There is also the added complexity of the working mother which adds extensively to the guilt. Working mothers feel guilty about leaving their children and question the time they are away from home. On the flip side, stay at home mums can feel guilty that they are not working. Ultimately, the guilt is coming from the immense pressure and high expectations mothers are putting on themselves.

What are the main things that mums seem to be feel guilty about, and where do they stem from?

Guilt seems to spread out to all aspects of motherhood. It starts from conception, then to the birth, onto the early days of coping with the first months and continues on. A lot of the mothers I speak to, feel guilty about not being able to remain calm more often. They hate the way they end up shouting at the children when they feel stressed and tired. They also feel guilty at not spending enough quality time with their children due to their busy lives.

One thing that really strikes me is that a lot of women feel guilty that they don’t really want to play that much with their children, finding the playing boring.Their guilt can be that they actually feel happy about going to work and having a break! There are the other obvious things about relying on screens to entertain the children; whether they are offering healthy food; and whether they are being patient enough.

These feelings of guilt stem from our own expectation of what we are achieving and what we perceive as being a successful mother. It’s amazing how many women don’t believe they are good enough and are always believing everyone is doing a much better job than they are.

Why shouldn’t we feel guilty about the things we feel guilty about?

Guilt is a very disempowering emotion. A little bit of guilt is fine. But when it starts to rule our lives and our decisions, life loses its joy and flow. There is no rule book to parenting. Look how many books are in the shops on this subject!

What is right for your family will not suit your neighbour. It has been found time and time again, in psychological studies, that the most important thing for raising happy children is to create a loving and caring environment, especially in the formative years. When you embrace this fact, all the other things you feel guilty about fall away.

What can we actually learn from the guilt we feel as mothers?

Guilt is present because we love our children and want to make sure we do the best for them. Guilt is our way to reflect and amend our behaviour if needed. In the uncertain world of parenting, we need to be constantly assessing our choices and the effects these choices are having on ourselves and our families.

If we are feeling guilty, it is our chance to alter anything that isn’t serving us or our family positively. However, we need to ensure that we are using it as a reflective tool and not one that steers our life and feelings.

How does feeling guilty affect our parenting?

It depends on the level of guilt. If you experience guilt occasionally and at a low level, this is fed by your natural drive to love your children and you want the best for them. However, this natural instinct can develop past a level that steers in a positive way. If you feel the guilt too strongly it can create unnecessary stress and anxiety, which can exacerbate the situation. It can make you feel inadequate, stressed, disconnected from your children and find it very hard to make appropriate choices and decisions.

Ultimately, you the mother will suffer if your guilt grows too much. If you are able to recognise that the guilt is not serving a good purpose you will notice yourself feeling more relaxed and calm. This always makes for happier mothering!

What are the steps mums need to take to make peace with their guilt and move on?

When you feel guilty, ask yourself “What is that about? What can I do with this?”. Take a moment to reflect on whether there really is anything to be concerned about or is the guilt triggered by an inner belief that you are not doing a good enough job or perceived external expectations?

Are you being realistic in your expectations? If it is you being unrealistic, acknowledge it and allow the guilt to flow away. However, if you recognise it is something that needs addressing, act on it. There are always choices to be made. Just keep them realistic and simple.

If you could only give one piece of advice to a mother who was feeling guilty it would be….

It’s easy to be a good mum. Impossible to be a perfect one. So please be kind to yourself. You are only human.

Any other tips you would like to share on dealing with mum guilt?

I have 3 children and each one has different needs and ways to be parented. I’ve had to learn afresh with each one. We make mistakes. So try to learn from them and move on. Your children flourish with love and the love starts with yourself. So be as understanding to your own actions as you are towards others.

Find other women going through the same experiences and be honest about how you feel. A group together has a wonderfully healing impact both physically and emotionally. Disconnect from the relationships that make you feel bad and guilty – you don’t need those people in your life. It’s OK to say you’re struggling and that you need help. Reach out to those that love you. And remember to give yourself a big pat on the back because you are doing an amazing job!

London based Giselle Monbiot is a highly experienced Women’s Empowerment Coach and mother of three. Giselle works closely with women and mothers both in group settings and individually to enable them to firstly discover what a balanced existence means to them. For more information see her website here and connect on Facebook here and Twitter here

Get more expert advice and insight on the challenges of being a parent over on the dedicated  Expert Editions page here.

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  1. Mum guilt is poisonous – it feeds into every aspect of life and well being if it can and causes a vicious cycle. It is so hard to let go of the guilt at times but it is so liberating when you do. The love and positivity then feeds itself and creates a healthier, happier cycle! Thank you for a great article. So important.

  2. I can so totally relate with mum guilt. It’s real. It affects mothers. Why? Because of society’s expectations. So, what I did to free myself was to block all those expectations from my mind? I decided to parent on a clean slate, not based on what others think. I used to feel guilty about having time for myself. All that has changed now. I have my ‘ME’ time and I always feel energized as a result. I also love myself. I’m kind to myself. Because I cannot give what I do not have. I can only love the children to the level to which I love myself.
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