As a mama of three, I’m well versed in the dreaded mum guilt. The old adage that we’re damned if we do, and damned if we don’t can feel all too pertinent. But here’s the thing: if we have nothing to feel guilty about, then we shouldn’t.
Many things can bring on the mum guilt
At a time when we’re at our most vulnerable, and need the most support, we can often end up feeling desperately alone. Everything has the capacity to make us feel rubbish while we’re learning how to do the hardest job in the world.
It doesn’t take long for the guilt to kick in. From the way we feed our babies as newborns, and the methods we use to get them to sleep. To the routines we choose, or don’t choose. Then when some of us decide to go back to work, or not go back to work, guilt comes along and bites us in the ass once again. It’s never ending, but it doesn’t have to be.
Things changed for me a while ago. I was sick of feeling like nothing I did was good enough, because with everything I do for my family it was frankly absurd. It was a light bulb moment, and I realised how privileged my children are to live the life they do.
I’m so much happier now that I’ve ditched the mum guilt. Today I’d like to share my three main tips for you to do the same.
Make good decisions that you won’t regret later
When we make well informed decisions, and are happy with the outcomes, we have ZERO to feel guilty about. Seriously, it’s that simple. From what I can gather, work appears to be the biggest guilt trigger. I completely understand the need to work. Be it from a financial perspective or an emotional one. However, if the working mum guilt is crippling you, then you must find a way of staying home with your child(ren). At least for some of the week.
Even when we aren’t earning a huge amount, we always have options. In fact a small salary can make the decisions easier, once we realise how expensive nursery fees are. If work isn’t the issue, but your kids aren’t happy with their childcare provider, then don’t be afraid to change it.
After my eldest was born I knew I wanted to go back to work part time once maternity leave was over. My husband couldn’t support us all back then, and I was on statutory maternity pay, earning a low wage. So hubby and I went on a cost cutting mission. The biggest saving was made by moving out of our beloved London flat and downgrading our living space.
In the end I lost my job a month before I was due to go back. It was a horrible time. I didn’t quality for a redundancy payout, and we were seriously low on funds. Then a miracle happened. A much better job presented itself – one where I’d work less and get paid more. I couldn’t believe my luck, things like that never happened to me! In fact less than two years before I had to declare bankruptcy, but that’s a whole other story. I loved that job, and happily worked part time for five years.
Unfortunately going back after my third maternity leave was too much for my family. My eldest was struggling at school, and my little ones hated their childcare. I knew it would mean tightening our belts once again, but decided to take voluntary redundancy so I could focus on being at home. Had I not made this move I know the mum guilt would have eaten away at me. Nowadays I make a little bit of money from writing. I’m able to work around my children, and wouldn’t have life any other way.
Ultimately as parents, we should feel confident and empowered enough to make bold decisions. We shouldn’t feel pressured by societal norms, or allow ourselves to be railroaded by others. When we do it can leave us riddled with the feeling that we’re getting it all wrong. This is because sometimes we are. It’s usually only upon reflection that we’re able to see it though. Learn to trust your gut, it will rarely let you down. If you’re lacking in confidence, and it’s holding you back, you might find my self-help book useful.
Monkey see, monkey do
It’s a well known fact that children naturally imitate their parents. We are their entire world, and it makes sense for them to want to emulate us. Which is why it’s absolutely imperative that we set them a good example to mimic.
None of us are perfect, and we shouldn’t even try to be. But it’s good to take stock of our own behaviour when the kids are being super challenging. We all know that calmness is key, and consistency is vital – they can be tricky to master when we’re busy doing ten things at once though. I still lose my temper with the kids now and then, but I don’t shout nearly as much as I did a couple of years back. Have a read here for more details.
The main thing here is not being afraid to admit when we are part of the problem. How can we expect our kids not to shout if we’re always shouting at them? How can we expect them to respect their boundaries if we’re constantly moving the goal posts and they don’t know what the boundaries are? Giving in to the odd demand for an easy life is necessary once in a while. Doing it too often will almost certainly lead to disaster and perpetuate the cycle of mum guilt.
I don’t have babysitters on tap, so am no stranger to dishing out the devices if I need to get an urgent piece of work finished. I wouldn’t dream of letting the kids loose on them all day every day though. I learnt long ago that there’s a distinct correlation in my house between too much screen time and appalling behaviour. I’m aware that this goes for me too. If I spend ages ‘just having a quick look at’ stuff on social media, I’m irritable when I get interrupted. The reality is I’ve probably been ignoring the kids for far too long, and that’s simply not fair on them.
This rule applies to pretty much everything when it comes to parenting. If the kids watch us speaking to others with kindness and manners, they will naturally do so as well. If they see us respect ourselves, then so should they. Even if I look in the mirror and think I could do with losing weight, I would never share these thoughts out loud.
We can only do our best
Babies aren’t small for long. In the blink of an eye your squishy little newborn is starting school. They grow up fast, which is why it’s so important to try and cherish the early days. Even through the blurry haze of having three children in four years, I knew that it was vital to make happy memories amid the chaos.
I’m the very last person who will say that parents need to enjoy every second of every day. It’s just not possible or realistic. Especially in a family like mine, with severe sleep deprivation at play, and additional needs to consider. As long as I can honestly put my hand on my heart though, and say I’m doing my best, then I know I’ll have absolutely nothing to feel guilty about when I’m looking back.
The days are long, but the years are short. Rather than having to banish the mum guilt later, put measures in place right now to prevent it being an issue in the future.
If there’s one photo that sums up motherhood for me it’s this. The agony directly after giving birth to Freddy is etched into every feature on my face. I’ve gone through similar pain on a daily basis every day for the three years of his life. Fortunately I’ve not experienced physical pain like childbirth – my pain has been emotional. I’ve torn myself into a million pieces over whether I’m doing a good enough job for my kids. I have tormented myself and beaten myself up time and again. But I’m starting to realise that what will be will be. Although I’ve always known that I can only do my best, it’s time to stop worrying that it’s not enough. My children are privileged to live the life they do, and some day, they’ll work that out for themselves 💖