Image by Juan Galafa:Unsplash First seen in I am Woman Magazine
“Do you think we make motherhood too complicated?” Katie asked.
Katie had a full-time job and struggled with allocating time to herself because work and domesticity always got in the way. She said that when she arrived at work, she was regularly overwhelmed by what her work role required of her. Then, as Katie returned home, she was regularly overwhelmed by how much she had to do “domestically” to look after the family.
On the weekends, she felt mother guilt for not spending enough quality time with her primary school-aged children. However, she firmly believed she could not possibly do that and create a harmonious “clean” household at the same time.
WHAT IS MOTHER GUILT?
It’s an endless list of feeling guilty about the state of the kitchen, having fun, looking untidy, not enough quality time with kids or partner, forgetting lunches and appointments, not attending award ceremonies, and not earning enough.
Women spend huge amounts of time nurturing others. We listen to our partners’ bad days, kids’ disappointments, and girlfriends’ woes yet many women feel guilty taking time out for enjoyment, or to take care of themselves, they start to feel physically tired, mental exhausted and resentful. If mothers continue on this guilt path it can lead to mental illnesses like anxiety and depression.
Mother guilt slowly creeps into our consciousness as mothers return to work and become conflicted with the choices they make. Of the many women I talk to, they feel that our modern lifestyle creates a sort of catch-22. You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. These may sound familiar: “I have to work but I want to be there for my child” or “I want to be a stay-at-home mum, but feel guilty that I’m not contributing to the mortgage.”
Working mums carry the greater burden of mother guilt and feel judged. A 2013 annual child care survey conducted by careforkids.com.au claimed 32 per cent of mums said guilt was the hardest emotion to deal with when returning to the workforce.
As a life balance coach, clients often talk to me about their parental roles and the challenges they face with their children. It’s these challenges that make life stressful and lead to feelings of guilt and hopelessness. Letting go of mother guilt involves addressing one distinctive area of perception: the super mum complex.
The Rise of the Super Mum
Fifty years ago, children were parented a very different way. There was less focus on getting it right. Today if you don’t get the birth, feeding, playing, nutrition, schooling all right, you could be damaging your child in some way. Coupled with women more likely to be returning to their careers, and being equal breadwinners, we are setting ourselves up for a big fall.
The super mum complex can be tied to perfectionism and setting unrealistic goals. It can also rear its ugly head when you stop to take a break. That’s a cue for guilt. Have you ever noticed yourself saying, “I should be working?”
By constantly distracting ourselves from these nasty feelings of guilt, we surrender to an endless cycle of doing, and forgo our own needs. We lose the ability to tune into our own bodies, and become driven by the mindset of “we like to be busy because we feel useful and productive.”
So whilst we are getting all the to-do lists ticked, and getting ahead, we feel great – until we crash. Being busy isn’t always the same as being productive. Sometimes we are like hamsters on wheels, so around and around we go until we burn ourselves out.
Striving for perfection blinds us to what truly matters about motherhood: the children. So as women we need to talk openly about this and help other women to see that they don’t have to accept guilt as a part of parenting. We don’t have to become martyrs to give our kids our best.
You will never rid yourself of mother guilt, but you can reduce its negative effects. Whenever you experience feelings relating to mother guilt, stop and replace them with healthier thinking and try these following strategies.
- Know Your Values: It all comes back to understanding and identifying your values. Your values are the importance or worth you put onto something. These can be the conscious or subconscious principles that you choose to live by. When your actions reflect your values, you will notice you feel good about what you’re doing. When your actions are in opposition to your values, you can feel frustrated, annoyed and angry. Look at what’s competing with what? Does staying at home with the children compete with a job promotion that involves travel? That’s why when your work values differ to your home, family and life, we find ourselves torn between the two so it’s important to clarity your core values for both career/work and home. It’ makes decision making easier.
- You Be You: We can become confused into thinking we ought to be a certain way. We strive to be super mum through believing we are falling short of family, society and cultural expectations i.e. idealised versions of ourselves, so stop and know your strengths and limitations. What kind of mum do you really want to be? And sometimes you need to have a discussion with your partner about what kind of parents you want to be. What worked for you as a kid and what didn’t? What makes a great parent in you and your partner’s eyes? Can you change a routine or several to achieve this?
- Go From Chaos To Control: Learn to say no and to prioritise your day, whether it family or work-centred. Set boundaries with family and friends. Every morning, make a list of the top-five commitments that matter to you. Then, each day, look at all your commitments and get comfortable saying no to the nonessential ones. Break the whole day down into chunks of time and devise a workable routine. I find a whiteboard and calendar for the kitchen very handy. Use family meal times for updates and sharing events. Keep the family communicating and know what’s going on.
- Make Each Moment Count: There is always the pressure to spend “quality” time with your kids – note that word “quality”. Quality time is time spent really listening and being fully present when your child engages with you. It means not diverting your eyes or attention to the laptop or smartphone. Make the most of those moments. Kids want to feel that their concerns, thoughts and feelings are being heard. Try not to rush through story time or respond to a child’s triumphs with “That’s great!” as your catch cry, because kids can spot a phoney listener.
- Flexible Women Never Get Bent Out Of Shape: Career and motherhood is about making choices and accepting that there will be compromises. The key is to really understand your priorities and accept that these are going to shift from time to time. What is important for you today? Is it career progression, relationship with your partner or helping your little ones with their homework? There will always be sacrifices and trade-offs. You need to mitigate the things that are least important to you.
- Start to Delegate: Earlier I mentioned Katie’s story. Katie was wracked with guilt and used cleaning to hide her shame. A strategy that worked for Katie was to strengthen the communication within the family that allowed her to slowly de-role from being the “go-to expert”, and help the rest of the family take responsibility, grow and mature.
I suggested she could support her children to find their independence through:
- Develop evening routines like packing their schoolbags the night before.
- Kids doing age-appropriate chores around the house.
- Helping with cooking on the weekends (i.e. making pizzas).
- Helping at mealtimes (i.e. setting the table, and later, emptying the dishwasher).
- Use family meal times for updates and sharing events carnivals, camps, etc., that may be coming up.
It’s important to ask for support. Do play-date swaps and outsource tasks to anyone who can help with the home or kids.
- Make Self-Care a Priority: Women often feel guilty for caring for their own wellbeing and to nurture themselves. Taking time out and away from the family for exercise, socialising or to just be alone refuels us. Scheduling these activities will help you to feel less guilty for taking time out of your busy day, and it shows your kids (by example) the importance of looking after their own wellbeing.
It’s time to stop caring what others think and trust your heart. You are raising your child your right way. Don’t let anyone get into your head and tell you otherwise. I know that expectations and reality can be tough pills to swallow because what works for one household might not for another, so try things, experiment with a new routine, roles, and schedules.
Be open to new ways of thinking, being and relating to your partner, children and work because when we’re not in mummy guilt mode we feel better about ourselves, happier and more productive, and have better relationships with our spouse, children and friends.
Fiona Craig is a life balance coach, Gestalt psychotherapist, business mentor, and published author of “Stuck in a Rut-How to rescue yourself & live your truth.” She specialises in helping women become better at juggling career and family. Her transformational life coaching packages help her clients remove the fear, worry and guilt to confidently take the steps towards creating the life they want to live.
Fiona has been interviewed by The Australian Women’s Weekly, The New Daily, I am Woman Magazine, Women’s Fitness magazine, Girlfriend Magazine, and contributed articles for Career One, Sunday Life Magazine (Fairfax) Herald Sun Melbourne, plus several blogs and online publications. You can learn more about working with Fiona at lifebalancecoach.com.au or call 0405 433 217.