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How to Handle Mum Guilt
I think if you are a parent, you will probably be familiar with this feeling. The horrendous pull in the pit of your stomach telling you that you are doing a terrible job at some aspect of your parenting – commonly referred to as mum guilt.
Now I am not saying that this is solely a mother’s problem and dads do not get this guilt too – maybe they do. But I do think there is a good reason it is known as ‘mum guilt’ and not ‘parent guilt’ or ‘dad guilt’. There is often a huge amount of pressure which falls on a mother’s shoulders – work, childcare, cooking, cleaning, shopping, and organising, to name but a few of our potential responsibilities. On top of that, society often tells us that we should be the emotionally supportive and nurturing rock to our children, whilst making sure they get a good education, taking them to clubs and make sure they have hobbies, and making sure they are fit and healthy. And while we juggle the various roles motherhood throws at us, we often feel we are supposed to be slim, glamourous, and attractive.
Oh, and I should probably mention that at the same time we should be a good partner to our significant other too.
Whilst maintaining our own friendships.
And caring for the pets.
In fact, when you really think about it… are you even surprised you have mum guilt with this much on your plate?!
As much as I hate to admit it to myself, I am prone to being a worrier and a perfectionist, and believe me when I say that this does not do me any favours when it comes to feeling mum guilt. Here are just a few of the things I have found myself worrying about in the last few months (during lock down) as a parent:
What I have fed my children
I care very deeply about the health of my children, and goodness knows this is the root cause of some of my guilt here. I care whether they’ve had enough fruit and vegetables, whilst worrying that they’re rotting their teeth by eating too much fruit. I care that they’ve had too much sugar in one go, whilst worrying that I’m too strict on the amount of treats I allow them to have. I care that they’ve eaten pizza more times in the past month than I want to admit (quick, easy and no complaining), but I also worry that I’m setting them a bad example by not cooking a gourmet meal each evening.
My children’s bedtimes
With lockdown, our routines have gone a little haywire to say the least. My boys have gone to bed a little later, and gotten up a little later, as have I. However, this leads me to worry whether they’ve had enough sleep (or even too much?), whether I am encouraging them to be lazy by not making them get up at their usual time, and whether they will tell their friends the shamefully late times I have let them stay up watching movies with me.
The amount of screen time my kids are getting
When you’re home all the hours under the sun because you’re not allowed out, is it even possible not to let your kids have more screen time than usual? I feel guilty every time I let them put on the gaming consoles because I need to work from home, and for letting them watch a little too much TV when they first wake up. I feel guilty when my kids ask me what they can do to earn more screen time, and I feel guilty when my children tell me how much more screen time their friends get than they do.
The lack of exercise they have had recently
Some days, I don’t even think the kids stepped outside of the house. Normally, they are incredibly active, but lockdown has turned us into a family of happy hermits, and we have all found peace with our more relaxed pace of life. But I still find myself thinking I should be getting them to do more, and equally as guilty when I encourage them to do exercise when they are feeling relaxed.
My children’s education
I am a teacher, and yet this still worries me. Am I getting my children to do enough learning? Or too much? Am I being too hard on them? Or too soft?
This is just a handful of my mum guilt worries, but I think you get the picture.
How do I handle mum guilt?
As you can see, there are so many areas of my parenting that have been affected by mum guilt, and that is over a relatively short space of time. I don’t necessarily think all mum guilt is bad, and sometimes I find it motivates and inspires me to be a better parent. But I also understand that if I let each and every little bit of worry and guilt take hold of me, I would drive myself crazy. With this in mind, I strive for a happy medium of the two: just enough guilt that I don’t become complacent in my parenting abilities, but not enough that I want to hide in a dark cupboard and cry about how crap I am as a mother.
To get to this happy medium, here are a few things I have had to reflect on and accept on my parenting journey:
- I am not a perfect parent – and nobody else is either. As I previously mentioned, I am a perfectionist with very high standards for myself, so this is something it took me a while to come to terms with. But once I embraced the idea that I am a good enough parent, and I don’t have to be the best parent, I felt a lot less guilty when I wasn’t putting 110% into my kids 110% of the time.
- I should not compare myself to other parents. No good ever came from comparing yourself or your kids with other people. I have to accept that I am who I am, and I do what I do, and there’s very little I can do to change that. I have realised that other people do not always show you their true selves, or polish their images to portray what they think people want to see – and this is especially true when you consider social media. I feel a lot better when I focus on my own family and what makes us happy, rather than what might make other people happy.
- I am too hard on myself sometimes. I have given myself too much pressure in the past, and focussed too heavily on the negatives about myself than the positives. Once I realised this, I was able to begin to start celebrating my strengths more, and let go of the things that I’m less happy with but cannot change about myself.
- I must accept the things I cannot control. There are some things which make me feel guilty that I can do nothing about. So, what is the point in worrying about them? I have accepted that bad things will happen sometimes, and that is life unfortunately. I cannot protect my children from things that make them feel upset or humiliated, but I can be there to support them and help them learn valuable life lessons from challenging events.
- I do not need to care what other people think. I feel sad that I wasted many years of my life wrapped up in what other people thought about me and trying to avoid their judgements. The same can be said for parenting, and I can think of times where I have changed my actions or conversation as I worried that I would be perceived negatively as a parent. But nowadays, I have taught myself to challenge this negative though – who really cares what other people think as long as my family and I are happy? And I am a lot happier for it.
Remembering to consider these things on my personal journey helps me to stay focussed on what is truly important when it comes to my parenting. The worries and guilt are still present in me, but I can now evaluate my thoughts and feelings better and understand whether they need a reaction or not.
If you are experiencing mum guilt, I would encourage you to reflect on your individual parenting strengths, as well as those areas for development. I am certain that you will notice that for the most part, you are a great mum with your children’s best interests at heart. Everyone has things they could probably do improve a little, but that’s all part of the parenting journey – and I believe it is called a journey because every parent is travelling down that long and bumpy road called parenthood. Our children won’t remember the time that you didn’t make a healthy meal or let the house get messy, but they will remember all the love and care they received from you while they were growing up.
I have decided that mum guilt is nature’s way of reminding you that you care – celebrate it, be proud of it, but remember not to let it get too heavy for you to carry on your own.
Love, Heather x
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