PARENTING | Mum Guilt & How to Deal With It
Things I’ve felt guilty about in the last week alone, include, but are not limited to: my daughter being the first child to be dropped off at nursery in the morning; her diet not being healthy enough; too much screen time; not going to enough baby groups; the fact I’m an ‘older mother’; that I don’t always feel very enthusiastic about chasing her around the garden for the millionth time (that sounds wrong – but being chased is currently one of her favourite things in life); buying shop bought birthday cakes (not that there has even been a birthday this week) and that’s before I even start feeling guilty about whether or not I’m pulling my weight at work…
I know the sentiment is shared. Beating ourselves up for all our potential shortcomings has become an almost accepted part of our culture.
The #mumguilt hashtag has been used nearly 27,000 times on Instagram; that’s a lot of guilt floating around.
I’ve been thinking recently about why it’s MUM guilt that we talk about. Is there such a thing as Dad guilt? Are men feeling these things and just not articulating them? Or is it specific to being a woman in our society? Is it a consequence of us trying to ‘have it all’ as society told us we not only could but SHOULD aspire to?
Are the origins of our mum guilty in our upbringing?
As a sociologist, I wonder whether the origins of this are in our upbringing. Evidence shows school-aged girls are more likely to doubt themselves and underestimate their ability than boys. The argument goes that because girls underestimate their ability they actually work much harder and consequently do better on average than boys. This theme continues into the workplace. Women often have to work harder than men at work simply to justify their existence at the table. There are a well-documented pay gap and glass ceiling. Sadly, there are more FTSE 100 companies run by someone called John than are run by a woman! No wonder women are more likely to continue to doubt themselves. Have you heard of many men admitting to having imposter syndrome?
Whether it’s down to nature or nurture, perhaps women are just more prone to self-doubt? Is that why as mothers we spend so much time feeling guilty?
Perhaps it’s more than just gender? Perhaps it’s specific to motherhood… after all, do we feel sister guilt? Wife or girlfriend guilt? Certainly not to the same extent in my experience. Is the very nature of motherhood the actual source of mum guilt? Maybe because it’s all-encompassing, it’s isolating and exhausting? Maybe it’s because it’s such an important, influential role? Maybe it’s because we just want to do a really bloody good job?
Regardless of exactly why mum guilt is so prevalent – we could probably do with some strategies to keep it in check. I’ve seen lots of posts on social media recently and often the sentiments expressed are that so long as you are doing ‘your best’ you shouldn’t worry. I disagree. In fact, I think that actually exacerbates feelings of guilt. Parenthood is 24/7. Are you physically and emotionally capable of delivering ‘your best’ every hour of every day? I know I’m not. You do not need to do ‘your best’ every single day. That’s a sure-fire route to exhaustion. Aim to be ‘good enough’. Being sufficiently good, consistently is how you achieve excellence. Throw perfection out the window. It has no place. If your child is fed, clothed, feels safe and seems to enjoy life most of the time, chances are they’re doing just fine. Cut yourself some slack.
So, instead of aiming for ‘your best’, these are my strategies for keeping the dreaded mum guilt in check. Let me preface this with a disclaimer. I am in no way an expert. As I’ve outlined above I’m still very much prone to doubting myself, but I also find the following helps me keep it in perspective:
It is what it is
Acknowledge the feeling, label it as mum guilt. Ask yourself whether or not you’re being rational. If you don’t actually have cause to feel guilt then actively reject that feeling. Choose to not let it engulf you.
Trust your gut.
You know your child best. If you have a nagging suspicion something isn’t right, follow it up – be the nagging patient that insists on a second opinion etc. But don’t forget to listen to that little voice that tells you that you/your partner/ your kids are doing JUST FINE too.
Remember ‘it takes a village’
The often-quoted proverb that ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ resonates so strongly with me. Children need relationships beyond their parents. Settling our daughter into a nursery was one of the most emotional, guilt wrecked experiences I have dealt with as a mother so far but we now see it as one of our best decisions. She has come on in leaps and bounds and now cheers with excitement when we park to do the nursery drop off. Accept help. Let grandparents etc get involved in childcare if they are happy and able to. Find some good quality childcare and don’t be afraid to use it. Not only do you then get some precious ‘me time’ but your children get quality time to bond with others. Win-win.
Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand’s kick-ass Prime Minister, recently shared on Instagram the wonderful cake she’d baked and decorated for her baby’s first birthday – all whilst running a country! In comparison this makes me feel decidedly substandard about not even attempting to bake my beloved daughter’s birthday cakes. If I stop beating myself up for a second, I can just appreciate what an amazing woman Jacinda is – without questioning my own capabilities. Comparison really is the thief of joy. Someone else’s accomplishments don’t distract from your own. Parenthood is not a competition, it really doesn’t matter how other people are choosing to go about doing it. This is especially true when we are being bombarded with beautifully curated images on Instagram. Remember that most people, myself included, tend to use social media as a highlight reel and that the day-to-day reality of parenting probably isn’t pretty! Unfollow or mute accounts that don’t make you feel good.
…But do share – it’s good to talk
Motherhood has become so potentially isolating. But problems shared are often problems halved. Call your mate, organise a mum meet up or just start a conversation on social media. I guarantee you are not alone in feeling this way.
Lastly, most of us perhaps just feel guilty because we’re just trying really, really hard to do a great job for our little ones. That’s ultimately all your child needs – love. I bet my bottom dollar that your child thinks the world of you. So cut yourself some slack!
Love Molly x
I would love to hear YOUR experiences of mum guilt.
Is there an equivalent ‘dad guilt’?
What are your strategies for dealing with mum guilt? Comment below.
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I’m a primary school teacher and I’m a mum to a beautiful, bright and bubbly six-year-old. I witness the ups and downs of wellbeing in children every day. Every parent faces the same dilemma – how to ensure the wellbeing of our children – particularly from a mental health perspective in a world that is more pressured than ever in more ways than one.
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