No one likes mum guilt. It seems like the moment that the first baby is placed in your arms, it’s code for: Start blaming yourself now for everything that happens in this little human’s life. I’m just as guilty as the next mum for getting bogged down by the guilt trips I give myself daily.
They get too much screen time.
They aren’t reading enough.
I let her cry it out five minutes too long last night.
I locked myself in my bathroom for a moment of peace.
I wasn’t meant to be a mother.
Thoughts like these are probably familiar if you’re a mum with a conscience. Mum guilt has spiraled me into feelings of depression and anger and has even made me feel like I don’t deserve to be a mother.
I think most logical people would argue that mum guilt is bad. We need to give ourselves more grace and allow ourselves to be human. After all, mums are human. We have every right to take care of ourselves first and plop the kid down in front of the TV from time to time without lecturing ourselves about how we are ruining them forever. Because, news flash: We’re not.
After being a mum for 11 years, I’ve let go of feeling guilty for a lot of things. I don’t stress about as much as I used to as a new mum. I realised quickly that it just took too much energy to feel guilty about everything. And trust me, motherhood makes you feel guilty about almost everything.
I’ve learned to stop feeling guilty over too much screen time. I’ve learned to let go of the fact that while other mums are crafty, I just have no desire to learn how to make edible play dough. I’ve learned that I can’t always prepare the best meals, and I certainly can’t control who actually eats them in my house. There are countless things that I’ve learned aren’t worth worrying about as a mother. And, if I could give any advice to a new mum, it would be to shake off the feelings of mum guilt as much as possible, because they can make you feel like you’re failing when, in reality, you’re not.
But the older I get, the more I realise that mum guilt can help me be a better mum. I know I sound like I’m contradicting myself, but the truth is, we have to distinguish the mum guilt voice in our head that is trying to discourage us, from the voice that is encouraging us to do better and be better. We all have room for improvement. Even in motherhood.
For example, while I don’t like to admit it, I hate playing games and make-believe with my kids. I feel an immense amount of guilt every time my kids innocently ask, “Mommy, will you play with me?” and I manage to find an excuse.
As time races by, and I watch my kids get older, that nagging mum guilt is still present, but now I feel it’s propelling me toward making motherhood less about me and more about them. When I hear, “Mommy, can you play with me?”, my first instinct is to still say no, but my mum guilt helps me want to say yes. Do I love it? Not really. But, does that mum guilt help me engage with my kid more and bask in his happiness as he plays with me? Absolutely.
In some ways, mum guilt has helped me overcome my own selfishness because there are times I really can put more time and effort into my kids. I like to look at it as a motivator for me to put my children’s needs before my own when I can.
I know you might be thinking, “BUT I DO EVERYTHING FOR THEM!” Because you probably do. It’s a balance, of course. Mum guilt would rip out my soul if I always put my children’s needs before my own.
But mum guilt has also made me tune into those little everyday things I can do to better to show my kids they’re loved and cared for. Like saying yes even when I know I’m busy. Or reading one more story when I’m bone tired. Because I see time slipping away, and with it, so will all the moments where they ask for more stories, or hugs, or extra cuddles at bedtime. In the early years of motherhood, there are lots of physical demands on mums. Feeding, bathing, clothing, and not sleeping all take a toll. As my kids get older, I’ve started to think more about their emotional needs. I find myself asking, “What do they need from me emotionally today?”
I think those tiny voices in our head are sometimes there to help us become better—and do better. That’s why sometimes I try to embrace that pesky mum guilt and appreciate how helps me become a better mum.