What is 'mum guilt'?
It can be a niggling voice in your head that starts before conception, wondering are you creating the ideal environment to grow your baby. In pregnancy, some mothers feel guilt when eating foods that might not benefit the baby. Once the baby is born, a mother can feel guilty about the kind of birth that took place, her choice to breastfeed or not, to work or not; how much quality time she spends with her baby - the list of examples is endless.
Mum guilt is the feeling that you should be doing more, even if you don’t know what else you could possibly be doing. It’s the “not good enough” inner critic, the feeling that others are doing it better than you, the wish to be perfect. It’s lying awake at night worrying that you didn’t do well enough today, and you must try better tomorrow.
Where does it come from?
It’s a completely new phenomenon. Previous generations were not held up to “ideals”, with celebrity role models “snapping back” into shape after having a baby. Our mothers and grandmothers parented the way they were familiar with, and didn’t spend much time analysing their choices. We are the first generation with infinite parenting styles, practises and gurus to consider. We are the first to choose our own paths and make our own rules, to break from traditions and to set up our lives according to what suits us. We are the first to share our intimate family moments with an online community, inviting admiration, criticism and a sense of competition among our peers. And with that power and responsibility comes the worry, 'Is this the right choice?' and 'Have I made a big mistake?', and the resulting worry and guilt.
Why is this guilt a problem?
A certain amount of self-reflection is necessary, to look objectively at your choices, see are they working for your family, and change them if necessary. But it becomes a problem when you are feeling “stuck” and stressed in your life. When you are afraid to make any move in case it is the wrong one. When you are over-thinking every decision, major and minor. When you have lost the connection with your own intuition and instead ask everyone else for advice. When you feel disempowered and trapped in your life. These are the warning signs that guilt has taken hold of you, and you need to break free from it.
How can I get rid of it?
Firstly, it is important to recognise that this guilt is a universal problem - everyone suffers from it to some extent. One gentle wake-up call is a simple one, but it works for most of my clients. You can ask yourself, “Am I doing my best?”, and if the answer is, “Yes”, gently let this guilt go. This can apply to guilt over any areas of your life. Recognise that you are making the best decisions you can at any given moment, and learn to live in the present, without anxiety for the future or regret about the past. I help my clients to explore their guilt through journalling, self-awareness and mindfulness techniques, and once they unravel the knots they can create a clear, positive pathway for themselves.
Guilt is anger turned inwards. Yes, that’s right - anger. Once you realise that, you can begin to make the necessary changes. You might be angry at a society that doesn’t value mothering, a workplace which doesn’t allow you flexible working hours, a critic in your personal life who dumps negativity on you.
In our next article, we will look at setting boundaries for yourself; but for now, try to tune into the guilty feelings when they surface. Listen to them, question them, and turn them around for yourself. Guilt should not be ruling your life. If you would like more guidance, you can book a private self-care consultation, or come to our URBANMAMA programme beginning on September 18, in Dublin 4.