In this blog post, I explain my journey as a young mum who felt mummy guilt and I share some ways that I overcame it. Apply the strategies – they may work for you too!
Let’s face it, every parent feels guilty about something…and everything! Don’t they? When I was a new parent, I felt so judged by others, it seemed like everyone had an opinion about what motherhood “should” look like…and about everything in my life in fact!
Was I breastfeeding or not – and why not?
Whether I’m a ‘stay at home mum’ or a ‘working mum’.
What did I do to get my daughter to sleep?
How have I dressed her?
How she behaves – too loud, too quiet, too clever, too well-behaved…and the list went on!
I remember, as my daughter was growing up, I felt so guilty:
- because I believed in giving home cooked fresh foods but felt judged for not buying pre-packaged baby food.
- I became a ‘stay at home’ mum, then didn’t have the money for luxuries.
- My heart hurt when I heard her cry to get her used to her new bedroom and I felt pressured to listen to the midwife.
- That she didn’t have the latest toys because I borrowed them from the local school toy library.
- That she didn’t have the latest designer clothes. Instead she wore the stylish clothes I made for her.
- That she had to become my carer at age 11 when I had a breakdown.
- She told me that her friends didn’t do as much housework as she did and it wasn’t fair…I felt terrible.
- …The list is endless…
And…whatever I did was wrong! Suddenly I felt self-doubt, I felt de-skilled, and a bit ashamed, if I’m honest. I felt not good enough.
Those kinds of judgements are enough to make any new mum feel guilty, but the guilt continued even when she got older.
These judgements negatively affected my self-esteem and actions and I shouted a lot and I used manipulation to get my way as a parent. I felt like a bully sometimes because I was bigger, I had more control than my daughter…but I didn’t know that was what I was doing and how I could be affecting my child.
Guilt is what you feel when you’ve done something wrong, whether it was intentional or accidental. It tries to tell us that something needs to be corrected. It is related to your moral code and your own belief system, which is determined in your own childhood.
I also started to feel ashamed.
Shame is a deep and general feeling that something is wrong with us, and it can develop into a feeling of worthlessness and a negative sense of self.
I later learnt that this is because when I felt guilty, I didn’t correct it, or face it, or put it right…and so I turned it inward and I felt shame. I didn’t know that this is what was happening.
However, now, as a therapist, I see parents like you who feel that same deep sense of guilt or shame. I can help you to get to the root of those feelings, understand why they persist and guide you to address them if you are struggling with feelings of guilt or shame.
Some of my clients have said they have felt the “mummy guilt” – here is what some of them said:
- “Because I dropped my son off to nursery and went shopping instead of going home to do the housework and cooking”
- “Because I binged on Netflix and the house is a mess”
- “Because I shout at my kids all the time, and I just want them to listen to me and do as they are told”
- “Because I can’t afford the latest gadgets for my son and his friends all have one – and he tells me what a terrible mum I am…”
- “My girls want to talk to me when I’m juggling 4 pans and I send them away because I’m busy cooking…but later when I go to them, they tell me to “forget about it”
Let me just say from the get go, if you care about your kids and you care about being a good mum, then you are a good mum already.
4 steps to reframe your mindset to overcome feeling guilty
- Historically, the evolution of parenting only started to grow in the 1960s and 1970s so remember that collectively we are all beginners trying to heal our own childhood struggles, while creating a new model for conscious parenting. When your own parents made you feel guilty, it was a disguise for love. Forgive your mistakes and learn from them.
- Something to be aware of is that if you had a painful childhood, you may be falling into the trap of making it all better so your children don’t have to suffer. Be kind to yourself and your past.
- Parenting does not have to be perfect. Remember, our children are learning from how we are modelling our behaviours…they learn from our mistakes. They also need some challenges to function as independent healthy adults.
- Have a balance of empathy and healthy boundaries and open lines of communication in your family. Guilt only works if you allow it to affect you. Guilt isn’t about you, it’s about the other person that is making you feel guilty – intentionally or accidentally. Have open conversations about what they are experiencing, talk about what you are experiencing and find a way forward.
- As soon as you realise you are beginning to feel guilty, STOP and BREATHE and tell yourself Oh, I am beginning to feel uncomfortable/guilty etc By doing this, you are creating some emotional distance.
- Think about what the inferred issue is. Don’t tip-toe around what is being left unsaid. Guilt is about looking inward so don’t let that guilt land on you. Bring your attention out of you and into the situation.
- Address it, redirect it and talk about the real issue. For example “I can see you have something important you want to tell me, but I’m busy cooking right now. Would it be OK to talk about it later so you have my full attention as I am interested in what you have to say?” Guilt is something about the way the relationship is going that you/they didn’t expect.
- If your child tries to send you on a guilt trip when you have already stated your boundaries or said “No”, it’s because they want to gain control. They will make you feel wrong for standing up for yourself. Be aware that they might make some coercive remarks or give you something nice so you give in to their way of thinking – then this is how the cycle continues – go back to No.1.
We are all doing the best we can. Remember, if you care about your kids and you care about being a good mum, then you are a good mum already. Focus on compassion, kindness and open lines of communication. Mistakes happen, be OK about them but also be open to correct them with a problem-solving process and open lines of communication so your relationship stays intact and strong.