Image: Allie Lehman/DeathStockPhoto
Many of us come into motherhood with certain expectations of how a mother should be. Perhaps we’ve modelled this from our mothers or from the magazines, television and movies we saw growing up.
Just as we grow into our role as a mother, and our child grows in our belly, we begin making decisions that we think will work for us as future parents.
Mother guilt slowly creeps into our consciousness as we become conflicted with the choices we make. These may sound familiar: “I have to work but I want to be there for my child” or ” want to be a stay-at-home mum but feel guilty that I’m not contributing to the mortgage.” Then we might say to ourselves: “I’ve damaged my child”, “I’m not a good mother” or “I’m not there all the time”.
I’ve heard stories of mums locking themselves in the car or bathroom and having a mummy meltdown when reality hits. This is because, when actioning these choices, we soon realise we are contradicting our own beliefs and expectations.
What is mother’s guilt?
It’s an endless list of feeling guilty about the state of our home, having fun, looking dishevelled, not spending enough time with our partner or the kids, forgetting appointments, not attending school events, not earning enough to support our partner.
So it’s not surprising that mothers come to me wanting to change their careers, jobs, partners or cities because of the rut they are in. It really plays on my heartstrings because I know the desire to make our children happy snaps us out of making positive changes to our lives, but changes that could cause sadness and suffering to those we love.
Working mums carry the greater burden of guilt and feel judged. I found an excellent report in the Daily Telegraph about this. A study found that fifty-one percent of working mums feel guilty about not spending enough time with their children. And yet fifty-five percent of stay-at-home mums feel guilty about not contributing to the family finances. And over fifty percent worry about the state of the house and, in particular, the kitchen when at work!
How do we let go of the guilt?
We need to be aware of how our expectations support our notions of success and failure. When we set our expectations too high we feel as though we have failed as mothers.
That’s why mindfulness is so important for letting go of mother guilt. Notice that I said ‘letting go’ and not ditching or ridding. What upsets me is reading blogs and books that tell mums to get over it, to stop feeling guilty. How we can understand ourselves better is through knowing how shame, guilt and belonging in our society influences us.
Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and, therefore, unworthy of acceptance and belonging. A sort of devaluing of the self, a sense of worthlessness and failure.
Indeed mothers have a particularly difficult time with shame because there are different (often stricter) societal expectations for mothers, which my client Rebecca, a working mother, experienced with her 16 year old teenage daughter.
Rebecca was increasingly angry, critical and frustrated at the deterioration of their mother/daughter relationship. They had been close before she went to high school, but now her daughter screamed and threw things at her so there was much bitterness and hatred from both sides.
Rebecca felt mortified with guilt, and anguished about the growing distance between them. Together we looked back at her teenage years and her relationship with her mother. Rebecca’s own mother was overbearing, self focused, judgmental and never praised or celebrated any of her academic achievements.
Rebecca’s shame was embedded within her psychic in what we call shame-binds created through a person’s earliest experiences of having her own needs dismissed regularly. She felt her mother competed with her and this left her feeling angry and unworthy. She told me this is not how mums should be and ashamed that her mother acted this way.
Through grieving her own childhood, understanding of her own abandonment issues, awareness of her own feelings, and triggers she was able to take tiny steps in strengthening their bond with her daughter.
Rebecca stopped reacting and micromanaging her daughter by giving her some space to make her own decisions. Rebecca knew her daughter was really passionate about her hockey so she asked if they could hire a personal trainer and together work on their fitness. By taking a more active interest and celebrating her daughter’s sporting achievements, Rebecca found they were scheduling in more mother/daughter time and those arguments gave way joy and laughter.
Therefore, it’s really important to recognise the negative effects of shame on your earlier life and to transform yourself in an effort to tame the guilt monster.
We can confuse shame with guilt. Shame refers to a person’s being, guilt refers to the act hence we can have guilty feelings about something we’ve done or imagined we’ve done.
So that’s why guilt creeps into our yoga class, coffee catch ups or late nights out with friends. Feeling guilty is a fear of punishment based on our own set of ‘shoulds’, rules and expectations.
Mother guilt then becomes the mixed emotions of sadness, and regret whether real or imagined but there is a way out.
This vignette was taken from the Chapter Mother Guilt from the book, “Stuck In A Rut: How to rescue yourself & live your truth. If you find yourself in a career, relationship or life rut you are not alone. I’ve written this book to help individuals break free from their fears and self doubt by following my 12 step system to find their passion and purpose in life.
The book includes a 20 page downloadable Stuck In A Rut Workbook with Key Reference Chart, goal setting templates, self discovery exercises and more.
Come to http://stuckinarutprerelease.instapage.com/ and be one of the first to get a signed copy of my book, and support me on my journey to becoming a published author.
7 Steps to Get Rid of Working Mum’s Guilt — Women Leaders … (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.womenleadersassociation.com/7-steps-to-get-rid-of-working-mums-guilt/