• Dr Missy Wolfman

What everyone should know about 'mum guilt'

Updated: May 24, 2020

I recently read an article titled “Top 7 mummy guilt trips and how to handle them”, and the article cited that 94% of moms surveyed experienced feeling shame and guilt about the myriad of parenting choices they make every day.

Mum guilt is nothing new – right? If you are a working full-time mum you might feel guilty for not spending enough time with your kids. If you are at home, you might feel guilty for not being in “paid” work. You might feel guilty for not breastfeeding your baby, or using the tv or phone to keep your kid(s) or babies occupied so you have some time to yourself. You might feel guilty for giving crackers to your toddlers all the time, or the fact that your kids only eat brown and bland food, and seems to have an “allergy” to any green vegetables. Pre-baby era you may feel guilty about your own choices (e.g. not exercising enough, eating too much chocolate) but add another human being or multiple human beings that you are caring for, and guilt can metaphorize into a big ugly monster.

If you google “Mum guilt” a lot of articles talk about how to “get rid of it” or how to “banish” such feeling. It’s understandable to want to get rid of anything unpleasant – that is why we throw out dirty and smelly diapers right? When you are feeling down, it’s perfectly normal to want to feel better. Guilt, however, like any human emotion serve a purpose and it does communicate something important. Mum guilt tells us that you do care about something and you do want to do better. If you feel guilty about how much screen time your kids have, then it shows that you do care about what your kids do with their time, and point out that perhaps, there are other activities that you do want to do with them should you have more time, energy and resources. If you feel guilty about going to work then it shows that you really value time with your children. Have a think about what you do feel guilty about when it comes to mothering, and ask yourself the question -what does this mean in terms of what I really value? Guilt usually manifests when there is a gap between your values and your actions (or lack of actions). The greater the gap, the bigger the guilt monster.

It’s also helpful to think whether your guilt stems from comparing yourself with other mums and their kids, or whether it does stem from a gap between what you value and your behaviour. I hate to admit this but I only give my twin girls a bath once a week. I always feel guilty about this as I hear other parents giving their babies a bath every night as part of the bath-bottle-bed rituals. To be honest, I am too lazy and too tired by 5 PM to bath two babies. For a few weeks in the summer this year as they were trying solid food I gave them a bath everyday by myself. I think I ruined my back in the process. After thinking about this carefully, I realise that my guilt stems from me comparing myself to other mums, and fearing judgement from them or judgement they may have of my children. No one has commented about my babies’ cleanliness and I have never seen a grubby baby in public which made me think “That baby needs a bath! Quick!”. After thinking about this, I don’t feel as guilty about my choice not to give them a bath every day.

So what do you do if your guilt does come from the gap between your values and your behaviours? For example, if I really value bath-time with my babies but for various reasons I have only been able to do it once a week, and I would like to do it more often. Here are three things you can do: 1) change your behaviour, 2) change your value, 3) if you can’t do either of those two then offer yourself some self-compassion.

The first option is the most obvious choice – do more or less whatever it is that you are guilty about. Easy to say but can be hard to do. This is where mini habits may be useful – I’ll talk more about this in another article. The second option is definitely not easy to do. How do you not care about something as much anymore? This is where informed knowledge can be powerful. Perhaps you feel guilty about sending your kids to day-care because you’ve heard that kids in day-care are not getting enough attention they need to thrive or you’ve heard some studies that kids in day-care are at a disadvantaged in a number of important areas. It’s easy to google things and finding information that conforms to your belief but it’s best to find reputable sources of information. For a number of topics from the breastfeeding vs. formula debate, to screen time and day-cares, I highly recommend a book called “Smart Mothering” by Dr Natalie Flynn. Dr Flynn looks at all the scientific articles and really cut through the “BS” or what she dubbed “Bombardment Stress” of motherhood.

The last option is always available to you at any time and no matter what you do or not do – offer yourself the self-compassion you need. Mothering is hard and you have limited amount of energy, time and resources every day for yourself and for your loved ones. Depending on how your night or morning was, your energy reserve may be depleted even before 7 AM. Have your own personal mantra – something to remind you that you are doing your best as a mother. My personal mantra is “I am doing the best that I can with the time, energy and resources I have”. Be mindful and aware of what your energy level is and carve out time to do something that actually fills up your “tank”. Even if you cannot attend a yoga class, you can do 1 or 2 minutes of yoga a day at home. You will be surprised how a small act of compassion and self-care can help you refuel and recharge. Lastly, be vulnerable and share your mum guilt with your friends and family. You may be surprised of what you will learn about yourself and of your loved ones.

Got mum guilt and want to be more kind to yourself? You’re not alone! Come to one of our workshops and empower yourself with skills and strategies to manage your mum guilt better!

Find out more: https://www.empowermums.co.nz/upcomingevents

Is mum guilt eating you up? Sounds like you need one on one support or therapy. Let's chat and let me tell you how I can help so you can take control of your mum guilt. Book a free no-obligation 15 minute discovery call with me.

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