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11th Apr 2024

Mum Guilt: What it is and small ways to overcome it

Jody Coffey

The fact you feel any guilt just proves you are an amazing mamma

All parents want to raise happy and well-adjusted children, but a parent’s mental health matters just as much.

Mum guilt refers to feelings that arise when parents convince themselves that they aren’t fulfilling their role as a ‘good mum’ or ‘good parent’ or meeting their children’s needs. These feelings often result in parents feeling bad about working or having a very understandable desire to have some time to themselves away from their kids.

The first thing to remember is that thoughts are often not reality, and, luckily, there are ways to silence that monkey on your shoulder who says you aren’t doing enough.

According to Choosing Therapy, there are a number common reasons why a parent may experience guilt.

Acting in anger or aggression towards your child is one way mum guilt can be triggered. And, listen, we know it’s not always possible to remain calm and avoid reaching boiling point.

However, often parents will feel intense emotions of remorse or guilt after responding to their child this way, and one licensed clinical social worker, Lena Suarez-Angelino recommends, as the parent you should take responsibility and learn how to manage anger in a way that is healthy.

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This benefits not just you, but also your child. Kids are little sponges and will model positive behaviour, meaning your slower and calmer approach to a heightened situation will promote healthy well-being for your child in the long-run, as well as kicking the mum-guilt.

Working parents may also fall victim to feelings of guilt. Up until your first child, you’ve spent your entire life focusing on just you, your career, and relationships, and as you adjust to the role of being a parent, it’s okay to want to maintain some semblance of who you were before you journeyed into parenthood.

Don’t be afraid to “loosen your grip or shift how you show up in other parts of your life in order to manage all the stress you’re under,” Lena says.

Earning an income is part of the role of a parent to provide for your children and if anything, it is something to be commended.

However, if you find that being at work is causing undue stress and unhappiness, she suggests reevaluating priorities and addressing any turmoil this shift in perspective has caused. At the end of the day, you know best when it come’s to your family.

If you have more than one child, preferential treatment may be evoking a sense of guilt, especially if you feel your time with each is uneven. This can be particularly prevalent if you have welcomed a new baby or have one sick child.

Carving out some one-to-one time with each of your little ones will simmer the mum-guilt and allow each child to feel equally loved and valued.

There is a misconception that mum guilt is situational, but this is not the case. A stay-at-home mother can develop depression and also feel this guilt, while a working parent may experience the same feelings being away from the home.

Mum guilt actually stems from cultural expectations about being constantly loving, never being angry, and being ever-attentive – which is an impossible ask of anyone.

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Overcoming Mum Guilt

According to Lena, practicing self-compassion is one of your best bets to nipping mum guilt in the bud. You are human and, like everyone else, make mistakes.

Practicing self-compassion allows room for you to forgive yourself for these mistakes, love deeper, and it opens opportunities for healing and growth.

Meditations geared towards self-love are powerful for forgiving yourself and learning. Lena recommends the Ho’oponopono Prayer, a Hawaiian prayer or meditation for self-love.

The method is simple and requires only you, your willingness, and your time.

Take a deep breath in and out through your nose and repeat the following about 7-8 times, or until you feel better: “I’m sorry. Please forgive me. Thank you. I love you.”

The same applies to gratitude. If you practise it, it only grows.

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No one would blame you if you have resistance towards asking for help or admitting these feeling of guilt or shame. However, it is crucial for addressing the issue. As the saying goes: “A problem shared, is a problem halved.”

Lena says one of the most common problems when it comes to dealing with mum guilt is the inability to communicate or share how you are feeling with others.

People will likely assume you are doing fine unless you tell them. Whether that is a night to yourself, a small break, a shoulder to cry on, a cup of tea and a chat, and so on. Communicating what you need will only serve you in a positive manner.

You are allowed to have some time to yourself, and what’s more, you’re allowed to enjoy that time alone.

Lean on your supports; your partner, friends, family, workmates, employers, mental health professionals etc. You never know, many, if not all, may be willing to help and offer some assistance.

Credit: Getty

Arguably the most helpful thing you can do for yourself is to let go of expectations. There is no such thing as the ‘perfect’ mum or dad, it does not exist.

Once you part ways with these impossible standards, family life will feel a lot more carefree. This can look like a social media detox or limiting your time with people who make you feel like you’re doing it wrong because you’re doing it differently to them.

We all know that social media can trigger feelings of self-comparison, which can snowball into guilt if you feel like you don’t have time to mimic the 15-second reels online that actually take upwards of an hour to put together in real life.

You know your kids, when they like to eat or sleep, how they like to play, and so on. It doesn’t have to look like someone else’s version to be right. Dance to the beat of your own drum.

And remember, every time your little one smiles at you or laughs, that’s confirmation you’re doing something right.