Mention mum guilt to my husband and he looks at me blankly. Mention mum guilt to any other mum I know and she gets it.
Most of us try our very best as a parent but there is a pressure to get things right and the invisible bar is set very high and it’s not based on the reality of family life.
Many of the mums I know struggle with the idea of getting it wrong, with not always being calm and measured in their responses, in needing time away from their children, in getting the balance between family and work right, with giving their kids too many fish fingers.
One mum told me: “The list is endless. I worry so much about the impact my choices and parenting style will have on them as a person and their futures. Constantly feel like I’m messing them up and huge guilt associated with that!”
The issues to feel guilty about are long and varied and each mum has their own issues to feel guilt about - something that happened during pregnancy, how birth went, struggling during those early days, weeks and months with a baby, not breastfeeding, going back to work, not enjoying every second, not always feeling grateful. Or simply because the reality of parenting is so very different to the expectations. The list really does go on.
And when you look at society’s expectations on mothers, its all very contradictory…
You were with your babies/children too much or not enough
You went back to work or you stayed at home
You had too many children or not enough
You became super mum or you asked for help
You were always cuddling/carrying your baby or not carrying them enough
You co-slept or you did sleep training
You were too focused on your children or you were too focused on your career
You breastfed for too long, or not long enough.
You are too busy or you are not busy enough
As a mother, you can’t win.
My eldest daughter turns 21 this year, my other daughter has just turned 18 - I was a responsive parent who also got stressed and possibly shouted too much as they got older. I juggled work and home with school runs, meeting their needs and dealing with occasional challenging behaviour. Like us all, I always tried my very best - still do - and the learning curve is constant. I also feel guilt about the impact my own mental health had on them as they grew up, even though I tried to shield them from that as much as I could. I suspect I will wonder about this for the rest of my life.
So, how can you manage the guilt?
I don’t think there is a simple or straightforward answer to this but it’s important to give yourself a break. Babies and children develop at their own pace, with their own need for comfort and reassurance and there really isn’t a handbook for parenting, despite to shelves full of books.
You are also not a robot - at times, you are going to feel frustrated, irritated, exhausted, overwhelmed, bored and hassled - this is okay. But it’s also worth checking with yourself to make sure you are not too stressed and over-stretched. Parenting might be a challenge but something probably need to change if you are struggling.
A bit of perspective is always good - you won’t get it right all the time. Reflect on your family situation - what do you think you are getting right and why?, what do you think you are getting wrong and why? what could be done differently and why? And is this realistic, how can you make change happen?
Use your breathing to stay calm and handle any stress
Book sessions with me to focus on you, to help you parent the way you want to as well as to manage the challenges
Write stuff down so you can be reflective when you need to, so you can focus on what is going well and what could be changed - it can be important to keep doing this as your children grow and the challenges change
Please stop comparing yourself to other families, especially the imaginary ones who set the bar for getting everything right
If possible, invest some time in you to talk, to have a break, to do something for you
Make time to be present with your children, when you are connected and listening and not juggling other things
Of course, there’s also the bigger issue which is what does getting it right actually mean? I think I’ll focus on that in another post - although I would love your thoughts.
I hope this has been interesting and useful - please do tell other parents and please do leave a comment below.
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