When I leave him crying for 2 minutes more than usual because I’m just finishing up cleaning or when he’s probably watched too much TV that day or when we leave him with a babysitter because Mummy and Daddy are well overdue a date night, or when we have to stay at home on mummy's day off because we’re waiting for a delivery or most recently, when I leave him to go to work...
I feel guilty. I hardly ever felt the feeling of guilt before I had B and nobody warned me about mum guilt when I was pregnant but it is oh so real. The gut-wrenching feeling that I’m not a good mum and that I could be doing better. Thankfully, I’m not alone and the majority of mothers out there have been given this unwanted Christmas present this too. Maybe it should be a topic in antenatal classes or pop it on a leaflet and stick it in the Bounty Pack!
Every day we step into the ring. In the right corner, we have our pre-baby selves telling us it’s fine to have a glass of wine, to give your baby a dummy, to skip their bath day, to put them to bed early on one of those days. In the left corner, we have a new guilt-ridden version of ourselves, looking sleep-deprived and with a few more greys, they shake their head as you do anything from the list above. Everybody, meet Mum Guilt. The heavyweight champion of Parenthood.
I took to the world wide web for a definition and this is the most relatable of the bunch;
Mum Guilt is the feeling of guilt, doubt, anxiousness or uncertainty experienced by mothers when they worry they're failing or falling short of expectations in some way. For many mums–particularly new, working or single mums–the variables that contribute to this phenomenon are numerous and intense.
Thinking of why we feel this guilt, I can't help but feel its because we (as mums and dads) put too much pressure on ourselves. The house must be tidy, there must be a freshly cooked meal on the table every evening, all the ironing must be done and everyone in the household must be happy. It’s a lot to take on being a parent and being so busy all the time does make me wonder what I did with my time pre-baby. Instead of feeling guilty about the things we haven't managed to do (because life takes over and there really aren't enough hours in the day) we should be celebrating all of the things we have done and how amazing that makes us.
Mum guilt can really get under your skin and make you feel like there’s a grey cloud above your head everywhere you go. You know the times when you’re feeding your baby an Ella’s Kitchen pouch whilst another mum pulls out a freshly steamed broccoli and other seasonal vegetables puree they've knocked up this morning. Yep, we’ve all been there or in a similar situation and it's not nice. But what does it matter? Comparison is the thief of joy and if feeding your baby a pouch of food means you get an extra 10 minutes sleep in bed of a morning - I know which one I’d choose.
I’ve found that mum guilt masks my inner-mum intuition sometimes. You know that little niggle you get when something doesn't feel right, or you can sense they’re going to have a cold 3 days before it actually arrives. I’ve found that if I'm constantly being driven by mum-guilt this superpower that every mum has been gifted subsides and instead of instinctively thinking ‘I know what to do’ in this situation, I find myself thinking ‘what would the perfect mum do?’
But sitting down to write this has made me think, could there be any positives to this dreaded phenomenon? And I think there can be. Alongside feeling bad usually comes the shoulda, woulda, coulda’s - the I should've done this or I shouldn’t have done that. This reflection can be useful and make us parents consider whether we would act the same way in that given situation again or whether we would act differently. Thus, we are constantly improving and looking for ways to think and be better parents and that is definitely a pro. No one is the perfect parent.
On the contrary, don’t use mum guilt to punish yourself. If you do think, ‘I wish I'd have done that differently’ then great ...but do not beat yourself up with guilt, it can't change anything. Embrace the mum guilt, put a positive spin on it and continue to nail parenthood.