You made it! Finally, the months of growing your most precious being are over and you have just given birth to your beautiful new bundle of joy. Now you can relax and settle into the hardest, most rewarding job of your life-Motherhood. But just as you are basking in the love of having your newborn in your arms, the doctor comes over “Sorry, you forgot this” they say. “What is it?” you ask. “Here is your lifetime subscription to mothers’ guilt” the doctor says as they turn and walk away. You look down at your baby snuggled peacefully in your arms wondering, whatever could they mean.
As the days pass, it begins, little by little sneaking up on you and you start to question all of your interactions with your baby; ‘Are they getting enough milk? Are they sleeping enough? Are they doing enough tummy time? Why don’t I know what that cry is for?’
When you are preparing to have a baby, people have an abundance of advice to give you, not once do they tell you about the guilt you feel after giving birth, which continues to grow and change as your little one does.
As we approach Mother’s Day, we thought we would share some light on one of the most commonly spoken (and unspoken) phrases we hear in our foyer and studios “I just feel so guilty”. That phrase encapsulates so many things, from feeling guilty for having to go back to work, guilty for having to leave your child in an early childhood centre, guilty for sneaking off to have a coffee and 5 minutes to yourself, guilty because you are running late and you can’t say a long goodbye, guilty because your child is eating a packet of tiny teddies as you are dropping them off for the day (because it’s one of those days), guilty because you snapped at your child when all they wanted was to show you something or for you to slow down and join them for a cup of tea – but you are already running late to pick up their siblings, dinner needs to be cooked, dishes done, bedtime routines followed through and you may even need to put on a load of washing to make sure everyone has clothes to last the week.
Guilty. Guilty. Guilty.
So, what is mother’s guilt? Mum guilt refers to the specific feelings of guilt mothers experience that relate to their role as a mother and their ability to meet their children’s needs. Despite most research and terminology frequently referencing mother’s or Mum’s guilt, it has the potential to extend to all parents and caregivers of children. However, mothers are often the ones that society holds to higher standards, therefore it is more likely they will feel the guilt.
Although ideas we were once conditioned to believe no longer fit into modern life, such as women staying home to care for their family and home, the idea of the perfect mother remains unchanged. This has been intensified as we head to the other side of a global pandemic, and with that a dive in the economy, forcing more and more families to have both parents in the workforce just to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table.
Then you have the stay-at-home mothers feeling guilty that they are spending time raising their child and not in the workforce, and although this is the last thing anyone needs to feel guilty about, it still sits there niggling away in the back of their mind. Thoughts of “Am I feeding my child the right things? Do I spend enough time with them? Take them to the park enough? Are they still upset because I had to rush off this morning and they were crying at the gate? Am I doing enough? Johnny does dance, music, karate, and swimming, my child struggles doing one extracurricular activity-am I setting them up for failure?”
Often mothers’ guilt is centered on the idea of who we think we should be – not actually who we are, and this is wherein lies the problem. From a young age, many women base their emotions, acceptance, and approval on their ability to take care of others’ needs, to be selfless, and feel that the better we take care of others, the more liked and valuable we feel, making us value and like ourselves more.
These feelings are only elevated by the number of ‘perfect’ parents we see on our social media platforms each day. It only takes a quick scroll through any platform to find immaculate homes, perfectly manicured gardens, and flawlessly dressed children. And although this image of perfection often conflicts with our own well-being, we continue to blame and shame ourselves for not being who we imagine we should be.
So – what can we do to help combat this guilt? Dr Zali Yager (https://www.abc.net.au/everyday/tips-for-dealing-with-mum-guilt/100143828) recommends the following 5 tips:
- Pause in hard moments to recognise what you are feeling, realise that other mums around the world feel that too, and struggle like you are. Then say some kind words to yourself.
- Do a social media audit by reviewing the groups you’re in and the people you follow. If there is anything that makes you feel bad, unfollow it and notice what changes.
- Explore the concept of ‘good enough’ parenting. Take a moment to reflect on your standards of parenting, and reconsider some elements that you could shift on.
- Give yourself permission to take good care of yourself — honouring your needs, starting with the basic ones like drinking enough water and weeing when you need to) and ensuring you have time to enjoy yourself, too.
- Create a mantra that you can draw on in the hard moments, such as “I’m doing the best I can”. You can use this when you are being hard on yourself. Or when other people are making you feel guilt or shame, try saying this to them.
As mothers, we should be supporting each other (it takes a village) however we are often the biggest critics. We need to be kinder, to ourselves and other mothers, but it is often that we feel guilty for doing the same things that we feel we are judging other mothers for. We need to stand together and support each other, to change the thoughts in our heads. But when you look over at your child, and they turn to you beaming and say ‘I love you the most’ the guilt subsides….if only for a moment.