Life coach and mum-of-two Olivia Read looks at the universal issue of mother guilt and offers strategies to beat it.
Mother guilt. We all experience it. Whether we work at home, in an office or both – we all experience it. Often undermining the choices we make, it comes in all shapes and forms.
Guilt about working and not being there enough for our children; guilt about not working and not contributing to family finances; guilt about getting tired and cranky; guilt about our choice in formula, nappies, classes, schools; guilt that we’re not being the best mothers we can be. The list goes on for all kinds of reasons – some valid, some silly.
A little guilt in life is a positive thing, it can act as our moral compass. But in motherhood, if not addressed, it will have a negative impact on our happiness and wellbeing, and ultimately on us as parents. In order to loosen its grip, we need to take a few steps back to better understand our choices.
Step 1: Recognise Why
Understand the reason for your choices, and accept that sacrifices are unavoidable.
As a parent, every decision we make results in a sacrifice or compromise. What’s important is how we deal with these compromises. Rather than getting swept up in what you or your children are missing out on, focus on appreciating what you are getting out of the choices you have made.
For example, ask yourself why you choose to work, stay at home, or both – what does it give you, and why is that so important to how you parent? You might go to work as you enjoy the sense of identity it gives you, which is crucial to your happiness. Alternatively, you might stay at home, because you feel being there for your children gives you a sense of purpose. A greater understanding of why you are making these choices means you’ll soon learn to accept the pay-offs.
Step 2: Defy Expectations
Accept that there will always be critics, and be confident in your choices.
The parent police and societal pressures will always be there. The parent police are your ‘helpful’ acquaintances who freely offer advice on anything and everything. Feeding, sleeping, discipline, child-free holidays – they have a way of making us doubt ourselves. However, this is more often than not just a way of them justifying their own choices and burying their own doubt and guilt.
Societal pressures are the expectations that are imposed on us, making us constantly feel that we ‘should’ have done something.
We can’t stop the critics but what we can do is change our reaction to them. By remembering back to step one – the reason for our choices – and questioning the agenda of these critics, we can remain confident and let the guilt subside.
Step 3: Nobody’s Perfect
Accept that super-mums don’t exist, and that good is good enough.
We are humans, not robots, and we need to learn to reduce the pressure on ourselves to be the perfect mother. Is there really such a thing? Every child is different, so there’s no one-size-fits-all response to parenting. We need to lower our expectations from perfect to good.
Ask yourself what being a good parent means to you? What did you like about your own parents’ parenting style? If your children are old enough, ask them what a great mum means to them.
The very fact you’re self-aware enough to be experiencing guilt proves that you care, which makes you a great mother. Dropping the odd ball teaches your child to be stronger and more resourceful, and you to relax and remember that real life is never perfect.
Step 4: Take Some ‘Me’ Time
Allow some space for yourself now and again.
If there’s one thing I’ve learnt from those safety instructions on the plane, it’s to put my own oxygen mask on before my children’s. This logic carries through to life. Happy parents make for happy children.
As a mother, we’re pulled in 100 different directions by work, children, husbands, friends, parents and our wider community – and all this takes its toll. Dedicating some time for yourself every week (or even every day) will revive you and make you a better mother. This is not something to feel guilty about,
it’s something to admire.
If you were to allocate an hour every week (or 30 minutes each day) to yourself, what would you do? What would it give you?
How would it make you a better parent? While there’s no way of ridding ourselves of guilt entirely, we can and must diminish its power by understanding and feeling confident in our choices.
By reducing the pressure to be super-mum and allowing time for ourselves, we will be able to enjoy motherhood with a renewed energy and positivity, and without the shackles of misplaced guilt.