How to manage 'mum guilt'

And the pressure to be the perfect parent

If you’re a mum, you probably know what ‘mum guilt’ feels like. It’s this horrible feeling wrapped up in shame and inner judgement that makes us feel like we’re not good enough mothers at all. A lot of us have this feeling at least once a week, with some admitting to feeling mum guilt twice a day.

But have you ever wondered where this feeling of guilt even comes from? We judge ourselves this way because we believe we’re not doing or being enough. But who decides what ‘good enough’ here is? Not necessarily us.

Most people have an inner checklist of ‘what a good mum is and how she behaves’ even before they have their own kids. It’s because every society, every culture has its idea of a ‘perfect mother’ – unwritten expectations and rules to follow to fit into this picture. That’s why the teenage me ‘knew’ a good mum breastfeeds her child, prioritises her children and limits screen time... The tricky part is that the perfect mother myth as a social construct is based on unrealistic expectations. Impossible to achieve. Just look at some of the below:

The perfect mother:

* Examples taken from the sociologist Dr Sophie Brock

We internalise this image, because we’re surrounded by it everywhere – media, culture, society we’re part of. And when we don’t fit in, we feel guilty, like we’re not enough. So what can we do to manage this?

Balancing motherhood with ambition
Balancing motherhood with ambition

Question the values

Because we’ve been fed the perfect mother myth for so long, it’s easy for us to feel guilty about things that don’t align with what’s important to us. So next time you catch yourself feeling guilty, ask yourself ‘whose values are we talking about here? Mine or somebody else’s?’ I spent months hating myself for not being able to breastfeed my son exclusively, whilst if you’d asked me, I would’ve told you I believe that ‘fed is best’. And it was only when I realised that I was trying to fit into the (unrealistic) ‘perfect mother’, that I allowed myself to not feel guilty about it.

Give yourself permission to be human

Now that you’re aware of the fact we’re all part of a bigger construct that happens to be pretty unrealistic, you can take your power back by giving yourself permission to be human. Come up with your own set of rules that seem more human and are important to YOU. If it feels right to you, allow yourself to say you love parenting, but at times you find it irritating, too – and that’s good enough for you.

Reframe what you feel guilty about

Ask yourself how it’s actually serving your child.

For example: feeling guilty about taking time away from your kids? It can be a great opportunity for them to practise learning and innovation while you fill your own cup and return to them feeling happier. (And a happier mum is often a more patient, more fun mum with lots more energy – which also serves your child!)

Let’s stop trying to fit into unrealistic expectations and start giving ourselves permission to parent in the way that feels right to us. Because one thing we can probably all agree on – trying to fit into an unachievable perfect picture makes us stressed and overwhelmed. And our kids would probably prefer a mum at peace with herself.

This article appeared in the August issue of So Tunbridge Wells Magazine