It starts creeping in from the very start. Did I take Folic Acid before falling pregnant? What about the night I went out drinking before I found out that I was pregnant? There it is. The first appearance of mother’s guilt.
Unfortunately, it seems like guilt tries to rear its ugly head at almost all stages of parenting. How did you deliver your baby? Did you breastfeed or bottle feed? Did you make your own purees and baby foods or did you feed from a jar? Did you dilute your time across many children or have an only child? Did you return to work or stay at home? Does your child attend childcare or not? Did you start them in school aged four and half or five and a half?
You see this list goes on and on. And in each of these scenarios and many others, there is no right answer. There is no best way.
Parents from each camp in these situations have probably felt some guilt about their decisions.
There are many reasons why we experience guilt as parents; here are some of the reasons:
- When we love someone more than life itself we want them to have the best of everything. We hope that every decision we make for them will lead them on the best possible path. This is inbuilt and completely natural. This puts us under pressure and when we feel that we fall short in some way we feel guilty.
- We set ourselves certain expectations and then when reality is somewhat different we experience guilt.
- Other people have certain expectations, which lead us to experience guilt. There are so many judgements made about mums and these certainly contribute to feelings of guilt.
- All of the changes of becoming a mum, both physical and emotional can heighten feelings such as guilt. Just think how much of a drama things become when you are sleep deprived or if your hormones take over.
The biggest step to overcoming mother’s guilt is to make peace with your decisions and behaviours. If you can find some comfort in the fact that you are doing your best rather than being perfect then you will start to shed some of the guilt.
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Taking some time to work through your decisions, within yourself and also with those important to you and those who can help you can lift a huge weight off your shoulders. Being clear about why you are choosing the option that you are is something you can come back to when you need some assurance that you are doing what is right for your family.
Remembering a discussion with your husband when you agreed that your family would be happiest with a decision to send your child to childcare can renew your commitment to the plan.
Flexibility builds resilience. Although you have an “ideal” outcome, sometimes things will not go to plan.
In situations like these having a flexible and open approach can protect you from many of the negative feelings such as failure and guilt.
We must also use our support networks. I am a huge believer that it takes a village to raise a child. Make sure you know who is in your team. We honestly do not have to do this all on our own. Thinking that good mums prefer to be with their kids all the time, or that great parents do everything themselves is simply going to put you under incredible pressure and line you up to experience failure. We need to build our team. Surround ourselves with people who will support us and allow us to stride forward with confidence.
Finally, we must make an effort to remember that our children are able to pick up on our insecurity and guilt. If we struggle to drop a child off at daycare we will transfer that reluctance them. They can sense our fears and negativity and it affects them.
In turn this can create a hard to break cycle where our child’s behaviour seems to reinforce our belief that we may not be doing the right thing.
Being a mum can be a tough gig. We don’t need to make it any harder by placing unrealistic expectations and harsh judgements on others and ourselves. Instead we can strive to do our best, support others and try to shrug off the small disappointments along the way.
What things do you feel most guilty about? Share in the comments below.