By Elizabeth Aylott Pope.
If you’re a parent, especially a mum, and you’re breathing, you probably feel guilty about something. Whether it’s about keeping the house clean enough, working or not working, breast or bottle feeding, how much time the kids spend in front of the TV, whether they have too many or too few toys… the list is never-ending. Whatever choice you make as a mother seems to generate guilt.
It’s hard to escape the image of the Mother we SHOULD be that takes up residence in our minds, and to constantly compare ourselves to this ideal. How do we ever measure up? The answer is not to become a perfect, flawless, domestic goddess, Stepford wife and Mum Machine. The answer is to learn to let go a little, and recognise guilt for what it is, and what it is not.
At root, guilt is simply a feeling, along with the hundreds of others we feel on a given day. Like any other emotion, guilt is valid, and can be useful when addressed mindfully. We can learn from it, rather than let ourselves be controlled by it.
When guilty thoughts pass through your mind, you get to choose what to do with them. Sometimes, guilt can point the way to what you value. It always shows that you care. Let yourself feel what you feel, then ask yourself three questions:
1. Did you really do anything wrong?
Giving an extra hour of TV time so you can take a bath = not wrong. Remember the airplane adage: You need to put your own oxygen mask on so you can take care of others. Ask yourself, if my best friend told me she felt guilty over X, would you think it was justified? Probably not.
2. Could you actually control the outcome?
You can get your child to brush their teeth, but cavities still happen. There are simply things that are out of the most caring mother’s control.
3. Does it matter?
Mismatched socks, toys on the floor, disagreements… these are all normal parts of life. If you and your children are relatively uninjured and still speaking to each other at the end of the week, you’re doing your job.
Now that you’ve put your guilt into perspective, turn to it as a friend. Truly. What is your feeling trying to tell you?
In sum: You care. You feel guilt. Let yourself feel it. Ask yourself whether it’s warranted, and what it’s telling you. Take care of yourself, and remember you’re not alone.
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