Mum Guilt; What is it and How can you avoid it? 

Mum guilt is prevalent in today’s society. There are many causes of it, and though these feelings can help us make better decisions for our children, they can also become a problem. Let’s take a look at some of the causes and what we can do to overcome these guilty feelings.

Introduction

Most mums will experience mum guilt. Whether they are at work, worrying about not spending enough time with their children, or they’re at home, worrying about not giving their children the attention they need. Mum guilt is a natural emotion to feel, and there are many reasons for it, but the root of it stems from wanting to be the best mother you can be for your child.

We all know, however, that trying to be a perfect mum is unattainable and can lead to disaster. Though mum guilt is common, if the feelings continue to build in our quest for perfection, mummy guilt can become a problem.

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mum guilt
Most mums will experience mum guilt at some stage – if it becomes too frequent or problematic, be sure to speak to a therapist or your GP for professional help, so it doesn’t escalate or negatively affect your mental health.

What is mum guilt?

Mums can feel societal pressure to be “the best,” to be “the perfect parent”. Alexandra Frost, writer for Healthline, explains mum guilt as “that pervasive feeling of not doing enough as a parent, not doing things right, or making decisions that may “mess up” your kids in the long run.”

Is it normal to have mum guilt?

Mum guilt is very normal. It doesn’t matter if you’re a working mum, single mum, stay at home mum, or stepmum, the pressure to make sure your child not only survives but thrives is front and center on your mind. It is not necessarily a bad thing to have mum guilt.

In fact, in Sarah Allard’s article Do you suffer with ‘mum guilt’? This is how to tackle it, for good, she quotes Dr Claire Halsey, a parenting expert and Clinical Psychologist, who “believes that mum guilt is just one of the many ways our brains keep us focused on doing a good job for our kids.” https://www.goodto.com/family/mum-guilt-4212 There are ways to identify mum guilt and ways to cope with it.

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Sometimes, being a good mum is about stepping back, practicing some self-care and self-compassion, so you can be a better mum! Remember, the oxygen mask in the plane scenario?? You have to take care of yourself before you can help others!

Does every mum experience mum guilt?

Dr Zali Yager, author of Tips for Dealing with Mum Guilt for ABC Everyday, assures us that “Mum guilt is universal, and it’s our constant companion — present throughout the micro and macro-level components of ‘mumming’.” https://www.abc.net.au/everyday/tips-for-dealing-with-mum-guilt/100143828 The important thing to remember with mum guilt is you’re not alone.

What causes mum guilt?

Mum guilt is caused by any number of factors: worrying about the “should I…” scenarios, comparing yourself to other mums, social media’s influence on parenting, and choosing to work, or having to work. These are only a few examples of what can cause mum guilt.

The questions we ask ourselves: Should I breastfeed or bottle feed? Should I have bought this car seat instead of that car seat? Should I be on the floor playing with my child instead of doing the laundry? These questions that make us doubt ourselves are constant and never-ending. Our biggest critic is ourselves. But another critic that we have very little control over is social media.

Perhaps that mum you see on Instagram is looking a lot less harried than you or perhaps one of your friends is posting pictures on Facebook of the wonderful family holiday they have just taken. “Social media makes it easier than ever to weigh ourselves up against our peers and strangers with ‘perfect’ lives.” https://www.raq.org.au/blog/what-mum-guilt

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Social media can play a huge part in mums feeling mum guilt – try not to compare yourself to other mums! We all have our own battles and our own unique motherhood journey!

Another big cause of mum guilt is the balance or lack thereof between a career and time at home with your kids. Lo Constantinou started her own business, Good Copy, which helps others, especially mums, return to the workforce with a killer resume and cover letter. She says of being a working mum, “I like to call working motherhood the ultimate paradox. They want us to work like we don’t have children, but parent like we don’t have a job.” – Forbes.com.

On top of workplace expectations is our own guilt about being away from our children to pursue our own identity. All of these causes, plus many others, can drive our mum guilt to an unhealthy level.

How do you let go of mum guilt?

Let’s be honest, mum guilt will probably never go away completely. You’re always going to be wondering if you should have done something differently. But you can still learn to feel confident in your decisions, and the best way to do that is with self-care. “Kids don’t want a perfect mum – they want a happy mum.” https://www.raq.org.au/blog/what-mum-guilt

Ways to manage your guilt can include: being present and in the moment instead of tackling multiple tasks at once while also trying to give your children some mummy time, limiting social media and “friend” groups that might add to your feelings of inadequacy, surrounding yourself with people who understand you and support you, and “knowing that there will never be a ‘perfect’ work-life balance and that whatever you decide on in the best interest of yourself and your family is good enough!” https://www.marieclaire.com.au/working-mum-guilt

How do you know if you’re a good mum?

Bottom line, you’re a good mum if you care about your kids. Is your child mostly happy, healthy (to the best of your ability), nourished, and loved? Then you’re a good mum. Usually, if you’re worrying about being a good mum, you’re probably getting most of it right anyway! The fact that you’re thinking about it means it matters to you.

Is there some mum guilt we should really pay attention to and address?

Mum guilt becomes a problem when it inhibits our day-to-day lives. Frost advises, “If you feel your mum guilt is creating high levels of anxiety, it’s worth bringing up to your doctor, as it may indicate a more serious mental health condition such as postpartum anxiety or depression.https://www.healthline.com/health/parenting/mom-guilt#effects

In order to be the best you can be for your kids, you have to make sure you’re being the best you can be for yourself.

If there are specific things that are concerning you regarding your parenting decisions, discuss them with friends and family, or another option is to talk to a family therapist.

As mums, we tend to have pretty good instincts most of the time, so if something is really bothering you, chances are, you may need to change something or make some decisions regarding that, but if you’re finding it hard to make those decisions, you may need a therapist for professional advice or guidance.

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In my opinion, if you’re worried about being a good mum, you’re probably getting the important stuff right anyway!

What can happen if we don’t learn to let go of mum guilt?

If you can’t learn to let go of mum guilt, it might be time to seek professional help. Jill Wojslaw, author of Managing Mom Guilt, reiterates that “if guilt continues to plague your days and prevents you from enjoying your life, you may benefit from talk therapy with a mental health professional.”

https://www.whattoexpect.com/family/7-ways-to-deal-with-mom-guilt

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When mum guilt isn’t handled, it not only affects the mum, but also everyone else in her life. And that’s the opposite of what mum guilt tells us to do, which is protect, love, and nurture our children with every fiber of our being.

What do I personally have mum guilt over?

Personally, as a single mum for the past 9 years, I have experienced guilty feelings for many different reasons. I do know however, that most decisions I make are in the best interest of my son, Andy and I also know that I usually put his needs above my own. Most mums do I think!

Here are some of the things I have felt mum guilt over:

  • Not spending enough ‘quality’ time together when we’re together – playing games, going for bike rides, going out for lunch, cooking together.
  • Not cooking enough of a variety of healthy, nutritious meals – sometimes I just get tired or uninspired and it ends up being eggs on toast, fish fingers or takeaway.
  • Not taking him on enough holidays, to see the world, experience the culture of different countries, in my attempt to live quite frugally.
  • Having to work full time.
  • Yelling and losing patience when I’m tired or frustrated.
  • Allowing too much screen time instead of putting more limits on it.
  • Only paying for one to two extra curricular activities per year.
  • Not organising enough play dates for him, considering he’s an only child (with a 23 yo stepbrother not living with us).
  • Not planning big birthday parties for him – but rather small gatherings with 2 or 3 kids.
  • The fact that Andy’s father and I are no longer together – Co-parenting can be very difficult – even though I know that I’m happier now that we are no longer together, and this is the better alternative.
  • Loving my time alone!
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I deal with mum guilt by looking at the bigger picture!

How do I deal with mum guilt?

How do I deal with my mum guilt? I look at the big picture!

When I look at the big picture, I remind myself of the following:

  • Andy is doing well at school – his teachers and his school report reflect that.
  • Andy is mostly a happy kid! He has friends, makes friends easily, and treats people with kindness.
  • Andy is a healthy weight, he does daily exercise, eats fruits and vegetables and is in good health.
  • Andy has a safe place to live, he has family who love him, he has access to healthy food, a warm bed and plenty of clothes.
  • When I get my time alone, it meets my mental health needs, making me a better mum anyway. You can read my article HERE on ’10 Tips to Thrive, not just Survive as a Single Mum’.
  • Kids don’t need ALL the extra curricular activities! I wrote a whole article about it which you can read HERE.
  • Sometimes the easy meals are more about my mental health and I mean, SOMETIMES I cook a big batch of pumpkin soup or Canneloni, or grilled fish and veggies, but I am a working single mum and I just can’t do it all.
  • I do enjoy spending time with Andy on weekends and in school holidays – I make an effort to take him out, play board games, go on bushwalks or go to the movies, but I also can’t be extravagant about it and again, I can’t do it all.
  • One last thing.. do dads ever experience dad guilt? After speaking with some family members, friends and others, it seems.. not so much! They do what they can, they get on with their life and their parenting tasks, and for the most part, they accept how things are! So, as mums, are we just overthinking things? Maybe…

Summary

The facts about feeling guilty as a mum is that it’s real and it plagues most mums. But the good news is that it doesn’t have to be a negative feeling. Guilt can drive us to make better choices for our children, which is the ultimate goal, right? We just have to remember that being perfect isn’t possible.

It’s vital that as mums we learn to practice self compassion for our own mental health (and physical health), and ensure that a little feelings of guilt don’t turn into mum shame.

Frankly, kids love us best when we’re in the mud or the water with them, when spills are not made out to be disasters, when we make-up words and get silly, and ultimately, when they feel safe, secure, supported, listened to and loved.

As a mum, do you feel guilty a lot of the time? Or only occasionally? Let me know your thoughts on this!

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