Mother guilt: In this new way of life…

Mother’s guilt is only natural and is the consequence of wanting to be a good mother to your children. However, in the end it won’t do us any good..

The summer term is well under way and it is different for all of us. Life now has brought so many new and unexpected challenges including having our children at home to home-school whilst juggling the other million things we have to do. This can cause lots of anxiety and stress, and of course self-doubt especially with the perfect picture of ‘lockdown life’ out there on social media… Having said this the summer is a time when I tend to reflect on the past year, how much my children have grown emotionally and physically and how proud I am of what they have achieved. But with this comes my own internal battle am I a good mum?

I truly believe that being a mum is the hardest job in the world, children don’t arrive with an instruction manual, just as you get over one ‘phase’ another one arrives to surprise you and we are constantly faced with enormous expectations from society, media, family and friends about what mothers “should be like” and what we “should do.” Then there is the ‘mum guilt’

Maternal guilt is the feeling of guilt, doubt, anxiousness or uncertainty experienced by mothers when they worry they’re failing or falling short of expectations in some way.

As a mother of two boys and with my own experience of serious mental illness I know only too well what mothers guilt is and what it can do to our self-confidence and self-worth. There are many issues I have felt guilty about with my own children but by sharing my concerns with close friends and talking to a counsellor I have learnt to accept that some things are just out of my control, and that my kids are wonderfully happy and secure with the choices I have made. 

I believe that all mum’s at some time will experience it, the feeling that we aren’t good enough, or that we are not doing the best for our children. Whether it is the choices we make for them, going back to work, not being able to attend a school play or event or even serving fishfingers and chips for tea instead of ‘freshly made home grown food’, it’s the constant battle we have to be the perfect parent and this is exhausting for us all. 

We wonder if choices we have made, such as what school to send our kids to, have not had far-reaching negative consequences, if a different path would have resulted in happier, more well-adjusted and secure kids. The choices we make are often very considered, but it still doesn’t stop us worrying about them. 

The truth is that no matter what we do right as parents, we tend to more often focus on our failings. Mothers then become their own worst critics.

The guilt and resulting feelings of shame drive feelings, thoughts, and behaviours and can show up in some of the following ways:

  • Depression and anxiety
  • Negative thoughts. 
  • Massive amounts of time and/energy focused on social media.  
  • Overdoing, overworking and overscheduling.  
  • Addictive behaviours.  

Counselling can help with understanding these feelings and finding the root cause of the ‘guilt’

If I am realistic I know that mother’s guilt isn’t going anywhere in a hurry, it is part of being a mum. When I think about my own mother, she has shared her memories of parenting and what she believes she could have done differently, so she stills has her own mum guilt and I am 46 years old! Maybe embracing it is the way forward? Or trying to ease it might be a better solution.

So here are my top tips for easing the mum guilt :

  • Be realistic– being perfect isn’t achievable, we all make mistakes and this is where we get the best learning experience. 
  • Look out for the ‘should’s – these often come from other people’s expectations or what you believe society thinks is right, they are usually not your own views, that why they make you feel guilty if you don’t do them!
  • Pick your battles and don’t stress over the little stuff.
  • Stop judging yourself – your best is good enough- don’t compare yourself to other mums either, the chances are that they are struggling with mum guilt too!
  • Acceptance of what you can’t change and learn to laugh at things when they go array 
  • Be honest with your children, explain why you feel guilty. They will appreciate your openness and it will keep that all important communication open between you and your children.

It’s also worth remembering that guilt can also be positive, a catalyst to stop a damaging pattern of behaviour. As a Counsellor I often see women who wouldn’t instigate change for themselves, but will for their children, out of a desire to be a better mother than their own.

Finally remember that guilt means you care and that you are a good mum, all children really want is to be loved and supported – remember that you are trying your best and this is good enough. We’ve got this!

“It’s not about how much you do, but how much love you put into what you do that counts.” – Mother Teresa

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