I’m trying hard to remember how often I felt ‘guilty’ before becoming a mum.
I experienced plenty of emotions during my twenties. I spent a year studying in Canada as part of my degree. I graduated and moved to London with two of my best friends. I landed my first job in PR. I fell in love with my husband. My twenties were full of nerves, excitement, trepidation, pride, and happiness, with a few tears interspersed along the way.
So there were a lot of big feelings going on during that decade. Was ‘guilt’ one of them? I’m not sure it was.
Why then, does guilt become such a dominant feeling when you have a baby?
What do mums feel guilty about?
I’m part of a mum’s business group and a recent topic of conversation was this very thing. Mummy Guilt. Here are just a few of the things that this group of mums felt guilty about:
- When your baby only wants you and cries if you leave them. You feel guilty for making dinner or taking a shower.
- When your child wants you to play with them. You feel guilty that you’re just too tired to follow their random rules, and you can’t muster much enthusiasm.
- When you have work that you need to do, and people are asking you for answers straight away, but you feel guilty and constantly torn between work and family commitments.
- When your friends want to see more of you. You feel guilty because you’re too tired to go out in the evenings.
- When you need time to yourself, but you feel guilty about allowing yourself that space.
There are many other examples of things that mums feel guilty about, I expect you can think of a few more! I’m sure the above examples are very common, and we’ve probably all experienced these at some point. I definitely have.
Why do mums feel guilty?
It seems to me that, mostly, guilt stems from being pulled in two different directions. If that constant pull never seems to ease off, it’s mentally exhausting.
Perhaps it’s because as mums, we do try to do so much, and therefore we have so many things to possibly feel guilty about. We put so much pressure on ourselves to try and do, well, everything. So perhaps we should try and do less. Easier said than done, right?
So can we ever get rid of the guilt? I’m not sure we can! Guilt seems to be an inherent part of being a mum, almost a default state that is very hard to override. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try, though.
Learning to manage it
Maybe there aren’t any magical solutions to getting rid of the Mummy Guilt. If there are no concrete lifestyle changes you can make to lessen the guilt, then we need to learn to manage it, before it becomes overwhelming.
Lucy Flanagan-Martin, a professional coach to mums, recommends setting boundaries. “Set boundaries and expectations with your family, friends, children, partner and in business.”
This is good advice. Managing expectations is such an important step to managing the guilt. You’ve set the boundaries and everyone knows what they are. Stick to them, even when it’s hard. It will be worth it in the end.
Explain to your husband and baby that you need 15 minutes each night to shower. Tell your friends that you can make a regular lunch date once every six weeks. Inform your work that you will only answer calls and emails up to 7pm.
Recognise your own limits
I think a key part to managing our guilt is recognising, and accepting our own physical and mental limits. It’s impossible to do everything all of the time. We need to stop being so hard on ourselves!
Sit down and think about what you can realistically achieve during your day. That won’t be everything you want to get done, but think about what actually needs to get done and try to focus on that first. Don’t feel bad about the things that drop off your list, they can wait until another day.
Practice makes perfect
Do you feel guilty about making time for you? I think we probably all do. Even so, it is so important to make that time. Give yourself that space. The fashionable word for this is ‘self-care’. Whatever it is that you want to do. Whatever makes you happy. Whether it’s a spa day, going for a run, reading a book, seeing friends, learning something new.
When you do something just for you, something that makes you happy, and you learn to squash that guilt just a little bit, you’ll see just how much you needed that head space, and how much better you feel for it.
And the more you do it, as with anything in life, the easier it will get.