What is up with mum guilt?
Mums seem to be particularly prone to a trip to Guiltsville.
Gael Lindenfield says in her book Skip the guilt trip* parental guilt:
“arises because parents are naturally programmed to want to do this role as perfectly as possible, and perfection in unachievable for humans.”
Aha! So that means that mum guilt is actually pretty normal (and explains why it is so common!).
Guilt does actually serve a purpose – it lets us know when we contravene our own moral standards or beliefs. Of course, sometimes it kicks in to let us know that we may have breached society’s standards, our parents’ standards, old mate down the road’s standards and the list keeps coming.
When is mum guilt a good thing?
If you breach your own code Psychology Today suggests that you accept the mistake, apologise (if you have wronged someone else) and then create systems to avoid doing the same thing again in the future. This is when guilt is a positive thing – here’s a little example that may or may not be example from my own life (OK, yes, it is an example from my life!):
- Kids climb all over me – much the same as they always do, but I’m tired and cranky today and it’s annoying me
- Ask kids to stop climbing on me
- Kids don’t stop climbing on me
- Get cranky at kids and pull them off and snap, “For goodness sake, can you just stop hanging off me for 5 minutes!”
- I stomp off
- Kids start crying
- I feel guilty for being a cranky B* and snapping about something that the kids are usually allowed to do
- I say sorry to kids and explain that I’m a bit tired and cranky today and perhaps mummy needs to get an early night
- Kids tell me that I am definitely cranky and I need to practice taking deep breath and talking nicely
Sometimes guilt is supposed kick us in the butt. I acted against my own moral code because I was mean to my kids for doing something that they are usually allowed to do. I took restorative action, made a plan to decrease the chance of me doing the same thing again (tomorrow at least!) and now I can move on.
Pin or share this image on social media to remind yourself of how to use mum guilt effectively:
When is mum guilt a pile of steaming turd?
The Guilt free guide to motherhood calls the guilt we feel when there is nothing to learn or to change from our actions inappropriate guilt (eg: feeling guilty when you are sick and not up to doing the housework or can’t go to work). This is the guilt we feel when we don’t meet other people’s expectations but act in accordance with our own code.
Here’s an example of inappropriate guilt:
- I’m tired because was up multiple times during the night with kids
- I have a little nap because I’m tired and cranky and want to avoid a situation such as that outlined above
- Leave the kids under the very capable eye of their dad
- I wake up to the sound of kids crying because they are fighting over a toy
- I feel guilty because hubby has been dealing with kids annoying each other for the last half hour whilst I took my little nap.
For me this is inappropriate guilt – I didn’t breach my core values. In fact, I acted in alignment with my core values: I took a nap because I was tired after being up with kids during the night (caring for my family) and I didn’t want to get snappy with everyone (also caring for my family). My husband is very capable of (and willing to) deal with the kids annoying each other and fighting over toys. He and the kids are less capable of dealing the hulk-like creature who takes over when I’m tired and cranky. So in fact in the scenario 2, there really is nothing to feel guilty about – inappropriate guilt.
So if having fun and looking after yourself is inappropriate guilt, kick it to the curb and join Find Five for Mum #fiveformum.
How can we know the difference between helpful guilt and steaming pile of turd guilt?
Knowing your core values can help to distinguish between the two types of guilt. When it’s inappropriate guilt, you might need to accept that we can’t keep everyone happy all the time; whereas, if you actually breach your values you can take restorative action.
Gael Lindenfield* says:
“Guilt, as we know, is a value judgement. We need to be able to assess as rapidly as possible whether it is truly our value judgement or whether it originates from elsewhere. Knowing and prioritising our own personal values is therefore crucial.”
Talking about core values requires another blogpost of its own really. If you don’t know yours – that’s ok. I didn’t even know what core values were when I first started my journey of finding myself in motherhood. My psychologist asked me what my core values were and I stared at her like an idiot not wanting to admit that I had never even heard of the term core values!
If you haven’t done an exercise to identify your core values, I suggest doing one. Knowing my core values has been incredibly helpful to me in many areas of my life, including identifying the different between helpful and unhelpful guilt.
What are your thoughts on this article? Has it helped with a different perspective on mum guilt? I’d love to hear! Drop me a comment below.
Ps: if you want to read more about going easy on yourself, try some of these posts:
*Lindenfield, G, 2016, Skip the guilt trap, Thorsons, London