Mum-guilt: 10 tips to tear down its hold on you

Being a parent is one of the hardest jobs in the world. Sometimes you just want to run a mile. And that’s okay. But for many parents, these thoughts are quickly followed by guilt. DR KIRSTEN WOOFF from Resilience Psychology explores how we can overcome the remorse.

Sure, some guilt can be informative and constructive – the guilt that motivates us to change our behaviours for the better. 

But guilt can quickly become excessive and unwarranted. This guilt is not helpful. It stems from the belief that we’re not living up to the (often unrealistic) expectations that we place on ourselves. We perceive that we have failed in carrying out our duties as a parent, and blame ourselves for ‘not being good enough’. Ironically, the fact that we feel guilt shows that we are loving and caring parents, but too often the guilt gets in the way of seeing how well we are really doing. 

Mum-guilt pops up in a myriad of contexts: “Why am I so keen to return to work?”, “I should have breastfed instead of using formula”, “Am I lazy for hiring a nanny?”, “I feel bad about losing my patience”, “I want some time to myself”. The list goes on. 

To make things worse, we often engage in unhelpful thinking styles, such as:

  • black and white thinking – “If I didn’t respond well to my child, then I am a terrible mother.”
  • mental filtering – focusing only on what you didn’t do well. 
  • catastrophising – “I will negatively impact her development because she watched more than 30 minutes of TV today.”

These thinking styles create a distorted perspective of what it means to be a “good parent”. 

Here are ten tips that can help you break the cycle of mum/dad guilt: 

  1. Share your responsibilities and take time for yourself: Take time for self-care and practise some deep breathing. 
  2. Acknowledge the guilt: It is natural to feel guilty; it means you want the best for your child(ren). But is it warranted? If not, let it go. 
  3. Relax your expectations: Notice when you are having “should/must” thoughts and challenge those with something more helpful such as, “It’s healthy for me to have time to myself to get to the gym”. 
  4. Social media posts/comparisons: Stop comparing yourself to others, especially the filtered versions of parenting on social media. 
  5. Change your focus: Pay attention to what you did well. Make sure to take the time to praise yourself. 
  6. Challenge that unhelpful thinking: Instead of having an extreme view of what success and failure are, create an acceptable middle ground. Research shows that a parent who meets their child’s needs most of the time is a “good enough” parent. 
  7. Make ‘Special Time’ for your children: Spend at least ten minutes a day playing with your child(ren) with undivided attention. 
  8. Sit down and write down your responsibilities and priorities. List them in order of importance for you. Deciding on what you value the most and realising the relative importance of other tasks can help you see that you are good enough. 
  9. Remember: What children need more than anything is safety, love, consistency (the majority of the time), and security. Was your child fed today, were they hugged and kissed, did they smile? If so, then you are nailing it. 
  10. Seek professional help: If you notice that guilt is becoming excessive, hard for you to shake, or leads to behaviours such as excessive checking, over-intrusiveness, and/or lifestyle imbalance, then it may be beneficial to speak to a professional to help you get unstuck.

resiliencepsychology.co.nz