If you are a mum, then feeling guilty is part of the job. Even Kate Middleton has spoken of feeling guilty: asked if she struggled from ‘mum guilt’, the duchess replied: “Yes absolutely – and anyone who doesn’t as a mother is actually lying”. We are constantly bombarded by social media, books and advice telling us how we should or should not parent. Pictures of perfect families on idyllic days out, images of happy children spending time with smiling parents. Seeing these images and reading parenting advice often serves to make us feel guilty and anxious: that we are failing, and other people are finding a successful balance between work and family. Is the guilt justified and what can we do to reduce it?
Guilt bubbles up when we have done something wrong or feel we have done something wrong. For most people, guilt arises because we feel we have done something wrong and in the case of mothers, that we feel we are not caring for our children as we should be.
So, who determines how we ‘should’ parent? Children do need warmth and acceptance, presence, boundaries, understanding and attention but is there a right or wrong way of providing this?
A small amount of guilt can be a good thing. Guilt can serve to rebalance and repair relationships with your children. It can refocus your attention on the things that matter and provide you with a warning that the balance has shifted too far one way. Tune into your guilt and listen to what it is telling you.
It could be that your guilt has surfaced because of your own childhood experience. How we care for our own children is profoundly influenced by our own parents: we tend to parent how we were parented. About half of mothers do what their mothers did, the other half something different to try and make up for difficulties that they experienced. If we feel we are not giving our children the experience we had or the experience we would have liked, then we may consider ourselves to be failing them. If you had a stay at home mum do you feel guilty for working, or if you had a working mum who seemed manage everything, feel guilty for caring full time for your children? Just because it is not your childhood experience does not make it wrong.
There is a perception fuelled by social media that mums need to have it all and be perfect. Quoting the words of psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott, a mother need only be ‘good enough’. This is a parent who is devoted to their child and adapts fully to their needs but recognises that as time goes on, the child needs to feel frustration and become independent to learn about and experience the world. The parent need not be perfect. Your children need to see you making mistakes, learning from them, talking about them and moving on.
Remember there is no wrong or right way to parent: think about your values and boundaries and know what you are doing is right for you and your family. Tune into your guilt and listen to what it is telling you. Maybe you do need to shift your focus? Consider your guilt in the context of your own childhood experience and finally, you don’t need to be perfect just ‘good enough’.
If, having considered the suggestions above you still feel that guilt or anxiety is your overriding emotion and it is negatively affecting your parenting, then please get in touch to explore more about how it can be understood and managed.
Contact me on 07766 578453 or firstname.lastname@example.org.