I’ve seen the above quote on social media a few times this week. As well as making me laugh out loud, I think it perfectly sums up what it’s like to be a parent – especially a mum – in this day and age.
The many, many reasons to feel ‘mum guilt’ are everywhere!
I don’t know about you but when I talk to my female friends or clients, mum guilt always rears its head before long.
The working mums feel like they’re not at home with the kids enough or that they’re not always a fully present member of their work teams.
The stay at home mums feel like the house should always be pristine or that they shouldn’t ever let the kids watch TV – God forbid they turn to the electronic babysitter!
The entrepreneurial mums beat themselves up for splitting their focus between their children and their business.
And that’s just the big picture stuff.
Even the little decisions can turn us mums inside out with guilt.
- Are we giving our children too much screen time?
- Do we shout and nag too much?
- Was it wrong to give them beans on toast for tea again last night?
- Should we be doing housework when the kids want to play?
- Are we using our child-free time productively?
The questions and self-doubt can go on and on and on and on and on. You get the picture.
Is mum guilt a new thing?
It’s easy to think ‘mum guilt’ is a new phenomenon but maybe the internet just gives us a vehicle to talk about it?
Apparently ‘mum blame’ has been a thing for as long as humans have been rearing children and was certainly something that troubled researchers during a lot of the last century.
When I was looking into this topic, I found that “in the 1940s and 50s, mothers were held responsible for autism, schizophrenia, the emotional breakdown of young soldiers, and homosexuality. In the 1960s, mothers were held responsible for the rebelliousness of youth – for their political protests, drug usage, sexual activity, and fondness for rock ’n’ roll.
“A study of 1970, 1976, and 1982 clinical psychology journals found that “mothers were blamed for seventy-two different kinds of problems in their offspring, ranging from bed-wetting to schizophrenia, from inability to deal with colour blindness to aggressive behaviour, from learning problems to ‘homicidal transsexualism’.”
That’s quite a list!
Within the fabric of our society, there seems to be a language that lays the blame for poverty, low self-esteem, poor school performance, and antisocial behaviour firmly at the feet of mothers.
No wonder we can feel so weighed down at times.
Mum guilt in the online world
I often wonder if the internet has made mum guilt even worse. These days, so many of us lay our lives bare on social media that it leaves us feeling exposed.
We get to see how other mothers are mothering and it’s all too easy to make unflattering comparisons. How can most of us compete with those mums who make every picture of their lives look like an inspirational shot from a Pinterest board?
What we have to remember is that things are rarely as they seem. People appear to lay their lives bare online but are we really seeing the truth?
Let’s be honest – people rarely post an unfiltered glimpse into their lives on social media. How many pictures of that birthday cake or ‘World Book Day’ costume get taken before the ‘perfect’ one is posted?
What we really see is the highlights reel. People don’t post about the tantrums, the door-slamming teenager, the no-f**ks-given homework, the fights between siblings. So we only ever see an incomplete picture.
Another problem with social media is that people are all too happy to give their opinions about how other people – particularly mums – are parenting.
Strangers say things via the anonymity of the keyboard that they would never say in person. It takes ‘mum shaming’ to a whole new level.
A mother posts on a forum that her children seem to be permanently sick this year. “That’s because you send them to nursery”, someone comments.
Another mum celebrates breastfeeding for a one year and gets called “perverted” by someone who isn’t comfortable with breastfeeding. Or, on the other hand, a mum posts a picture of her baby drinking from a bottle and gets a barrage of comments about how ‘breast is best’.
Celebrity mums frequently come under fire from strangers because they’re in the public eye. Chrissy Teigen was a recent target when she went out for dinner with her husband shortly after their baby was born. Critics were ‘horrified’ that she could leave her baby with someone else so soon after giving birth.
In November 2017, actress Julia Stiles received thousands of critical comments when she posted a picture of herself holding her baby in his new baby carrier. As she later said, that one picture became an excuse for people to comment on her ‘ability to mother’.
Letting go of the mum guilt
I find each of these examples desperately sad.
My experience through The Unique Mumpreneur is that women can do extraordinary things, especially when they’re not held back by guilt and shame.
Our priority has to be letting go of the mum guilt.
Just imagine how much better life would be if we treated ourselves with the same forgiveness and compassion that we show our friends and our children.
That’s what I want to set out to model for my own girls – being the kind of woman who can make mistakes and see them as an opportunity for growth, as well as someone who won’t be shamed for being human.
I want my daughters to know that sometimes we all get things wrong and that’s OK. That different families have different ways of doing things and that’s fine too. That the people who matter, don’t mind what we do and that the people who mind, don’t matter.
Personally, when I feel the threat of ‘mummy guilt’, I like to remind myself that I probably won’t remember the thing I feel guilty about in ten years’ time. The kids definitely won’t remember it either.
I think about my intentions towards my girls, which are always good. I may make mistakes but it never comes from a bad place. I am growing as a mother and as a person every day – children don’t come with a manual, so why should I expect myself to get everything right first time?
I remember too that nothing is set in stone. I may not be able to change what I did yesterday but I can change what I do today or tomorrow or five years from now.
It helps me to acknowledge that I’m not parenting in a vacuum. My children have two parents, a wider family, siblings, friends at school and at after-school clubs. They’re influenced by TV and YouTube, as well as music, games, even the billboards they see in the streets.
It is ridiculous to think that only we mothers have any influence in shaping our children’s futures and their whole existence relies on us. Yes, we can do our best to model a life well lived but it really is true when they say it takes a village to raise a child.
So, if you’re suffering from mum guilt right now, I’m asking you to give yourself a break. Instead of focusing on how you can’t keep up with the Joneses down the road, think about all the unique and wonderful memories you have with your children.
You are phenomenal. All your children need for a good mum is a happy mum. And remember, you’re not a Pinterest project, you’re a family. It might be messy, chaotic, and disorganised at times but it’s also imperfectly perfect and completely yours.