Mum guilt is totally a real thing, and the weight of that sucker could wipe you out if you let it.
It may help you to tell yourself that you aren’t crazy, and you aren’t alone. But it will probably help you more to work out some strategies to deal with this constant feeling of guilt.
This is the first of two articles on School Mums Corner covering mum guilt. In this article, we talk about what mum guilt is, and how to recognise it when it’s happening to you. And how to recognise that you are definitely not alone when you are going through this.
The second article will talk more about tips and strategies to help you deal with that horrible feeling.
What is Mum Guilt?
Research shows that almost all mothers feel mum guilt, many to almost crippling levels. According to the UK Telegraph, an online survey by baby brand NUK found that 87% of mothers feel mum guilt, with 21% reporting they felt that way all of the time.
Mum guilt is that horrible little weasel voice in your head that tells you that whatever you have done, you need to do better.
Mum guilt is basically that feeling that we should be equally as awesome at everything we were doing before we were mothers, as well as being amazing mothers at the same time. It’s a feeling that whatever we are doing, we aren’t doing enough, we should be doing more.
There is an awesome quote from Annabel Crabb which says, ‘The obligation for working mothers is a very precise one: the feeling that one ought to work as if one did not have children, while raising one’s children as if one did not have a job.’
If we are at work, we feel guilty for not spending time with our children.
If we take a day off because one of our kids is sick, we feel guilty for not being at work.
And if we tumble into bed exhausted at the end of the day, we feel guilty for not finishing folding the laundry, or doing our pelvic floor exercises, or being intimate with our partners.
Why do we feel Mum Guilt so deeply?
Since becoming mothers, we have a greater level of empathy and stronger ability to put ourselves in other people’s shoes, so we feel even more how we might be affecting others if we let them down.
And there is nothing that we feel more strongly than our own children’s pain or emotions.
Somehow any perceived failure or inadequacy has an extra ability to stab us in the heart, because of that added weight of mum guilt.
What does it feel like?
Mum guilt can show up in a number of different ways, according to clinical psychotherapist Nicole Grocki https://www.mindfulreturn.com/mom-guilt/. Does any of this sound familiar?
- Constant feelings of depression and anxiety such as worry, fatigue, hopeless and low self-worth
- Negative thoughts, such as ‘I am a bad mother,’
- Excessive time spent on social media, or too much focus put on its worth
- Overworking and overscheduling yourself to the point of exhaustion
- Addictive behaviours such as drinking, overuse of prescription drugs, excessive online spending
- Constantly aiming for perfectionism, or trying to appear as though you have everything together.
- Unwilling to let anyone see your reality or failings, or unwillingness to let people help.
While any mother can feel mum guilt, it particularly prevalent for new mothers, working mothers and single mothers.
The heaviest weight is often our own judgement
It is easy to feel as though you are trying to be perfect because you don’t want other mothers, friends, your own family or your partner to think badly of you. But the heaviest judgement you are placing on yourself is most likely your own.
Most other people are too caught up in their own problems to be overly judge-y about what you might be getting right or wrong.
And yes, there will be certain random strangers that will dish out unnecessary criticism, such as Karen at the school pick up gate, or Shirley, the elderly lady who lives down the street – but anyone who truly loves and supports you is not out there judging.
And anyone who has been a mum for more than say, five minutes, knows that you are doing the best you can, and you’ve got deeper stuff going on that they don’t know about, so they are unlikely to judge.
You are not the worst mum in the world
How often do we say, ‘I am the worst mum in the world,’ or ‘I am totally screwing up my kids,’?
Whatever you are doing on this one day, it is your best. You are not affecting your child anywhere near as much as you think.
The simple fact that you are feeling guilty about not being a good enough mum is proof that you are an awesome one. Your children are on your mind and you always want to do better for them – therefore they are loved, worried about and given the best that you can, all the time.
In fact, some psychologists recommend that our child only needs 30% of a mother’s time to be ok, rather than the 90% which we think they need.
If you are worried about your child’s welfare, then you have this mum thing already down. Our main problem is that we catastrophise every little thing that we do.
When you worry about a child, you aren’t just worrying about today – you are projecting forward to their entire future. You are already blaming yourself for everything that might go wrong in their life.
We need to take a very good reality check about how our actions on this one day really affect our child. Bring this back into a real perspective.
Children don’t get screwed up by being hugged to sleep, or too much screen time or sugary treats in their lunchbox (not in moderation anyway). They get screwed up by consistent patterns of neglect or abuse.
The simple fact that you are even reading this article means you are not a bad mum, because you care.
And if your child knows that you care about him, and that you are doing your best for him, and that you are there for him (even if you aren’t physically present all the time) when he needs you, you are in fact an awesome mum.
Make sure that you check out the second part of our article to look for tips and strategies to deal with mum guilt.