Mum Guilt - is it a thing?

As I write this very moment, my child is out with my husband trying to give me time to work on my projects during their 84th day of coronavirus quarantine.

My neighbours and friends are teaching home school lessons with puffy paint, sidewalk chalk, manipulatives, and sight words. Social media is flooded with a million educational lessons, healthy breakfast ideas, and other #momgoals posts.

But we are in survival mode, as we’ve been many times through my daughters four years of life.

This means some things fall to the wayside: Screen time isn’t really on a limit right now, they’re eating more chocolate than vegetables, and our new dog Erik is being fed more treats daily as a direct result of our daughter being able to circumnavigate the treat cupboard.

Mum guilt now, more than ever, is going strong, but it doesn’t have to be.

''Mum guilt' can be a powerful emotion, so why do 68% of mums feel it at least once a day?

Well if you're a mum, then you might be more than a little familiar with the term mum guilt.

It’s not clear where the phrase ‘mum guilt’ came from, yet the feeling of guilt associated with the many (many) aspects of being a mum can affect all of us in different ways.

From raising our voice when the little ones are playing up and giving in to demands of a takeaway, to not being able to afford absolutely every toy their hearts desire, mum guilt can come in all sorts of forms. Yet each mum is making daily decisions for her children that she undoubtedly feels are for the best.

A staggering 78% of mums revealed that they feel guilty, with 68% saying this occurred once or twice a day. The reason? The majority cited ‘not spending enough time with the kids’ as the main cause, and another 35% said ‘not trying enough activities with the kids’ was the reason for their guilt, while 34% blamed ‘not being able to afford enough’.

More interesting still, 61% said they compared themselves to other mums but that the person who places the guilt on them the most is, surprise surprise, themselves.

What exactly is mum guilt – and why do we experience it?

Dr Claire Halsey, a parenting expert and Clinical Psychologist, believes that mum guilt is just one of the many ways our brains keep us focused on doing a good job for our kids. She said in her latest article; “Like most emotions it has a purpose and when seen as a positive message to us it can be a helpful guide to how we approach parenting on a day-to-day basis.

“Parental guilt has certainly been around for a long time and is nothing new. However, as times have changed and there’s more pressure to juggle work and looking after your child things have got a little more complicated.”

Claire says that despite there being more pressure to be the perfect parent now than ever, it’s important to remember that there’s no such thing as perfect.

Whether you’ve never heard of mum guilt or can’t escape its relentless grip, it simply means that pervasive feeling of not doing enough as a parent, not doing things right, or making decisions that may “mess up” your children in the long run.

Mum (or dad) guilt may be temporary, like how I feel about my child eating too much chocolate this week. Or it may be longer term, like whether we’ve enrolled them in enough activities over the past few years.

Some mums feel a dread or a weight on their shoulders, and some feel panicky — like they need to fix the problem right now. Mum guilt is the shoulds, thesupposed to’s, and the other mums are… clanking around in your head as you try to make it through the day.

Mum guilt has many origins, from personal insecurities to outside pressures from family, friends, social media, and other sources.

A quick scroll through Instagram will show hundreds of posts of what other mums seem to be doing so well, from educational activities to perfectly groomed toddlers posing sweetly. (Remember: Little do we know whether they were having a full-blown tantrum just seconds before or after that shot.)

Even formal recommendations, such as those from doctors and organizations, can create feelings of inadequacy.

Identify the sources of guilt

Dive into the true reasons you have guilt, and they may stem way back to your own childhood. The severity of your mum guilt can depend on any of the following:

· if you’re trying to improve on a parenting strategy that you feel your parents didn’t do very well

· if you’re parenting with obsessive-compulsive disorder or other mental health conditions

· if you’ve had past trauma

Try journaling or making a quick note in your phone when you feel pangs of mum guilt, and over time themes may emerge.

Maybe, for example, you realize most of the guilt comes from involvement in activities: You feel it most when other parents talk about their children’s adventures. Or perhaps most of it stems from feeding choices, or your child’s relationship to school and learning.

Once you can identify the areas causing the feeling, it’s easier to watch for these triggers. It’s also a great first step to make a simple change in the right direction rather than a complete lifestyle overhaul.

Know your truth

Having identified your past triggers and upbringing, you can move on to finding your personal truth as a mum or dad.

Some families make a mission statement. Others just inherently know their core values. Either way, it’s essential to use this statement as a measuring stick against which you can make decisions.

If it’s most crucial at certain times that your children have fun, it’s may not be as important how much time they spend watching a great movie or having free play. If you value sleep and wellness the most, maybe you limit that TV time to ensure bedtime is at 7 p.m. Whatever you value, naming it and sticking to it will minimize mum guilt.

Spring clean your trusted circle

Are you surrounded with mostly like-minded people who appreciate your values? If you’re not, revaluate your decision-making process to ensure you’re listening to valued sources of information.

If your know-it-all neighbour has advice on everything and leaves you feeling unsure about your own decisions, she may not be the best source to confide in.

Narrowing the group of people with whom you discuss important decisions can help reduce unsolicited input: Keep this group to your partner, a trusted family member, your paediatrician, and a judgment-free, trusted friend or small group of friends.

Listen to your children and your intuition

Mother’s intuition is not a myth, but rather a strong source of wisdom and decision-making power that we, and women through the ages, have used to keep our babies safe and healthy.

Children are excellent sources of information on whether your decisions are working, and what areas you should and shouldn’t feel guilty about. If you have a child constantly begging you to make a puzzle with them while you’re working, you don’t need to feel guilty for working, but may need to schedule a playtime later that’s all about them.

Guard your truth against invaders

There will be invaders. It sounds dramatic, but it’s realistic to expect others to push against your beliefs and decisions.

Don’t be surprised when someone challenges your choice. Instead of second-guessing it, move away from defence and towards the expectation that it’s healthy and OK to disagree.

Even as a formerly breastfeeding mum, I got pushback on why I’d still be trying to do that when my baby was over a year old. The comments came, as I knew they would.

You can also guard your decisions by avoiding situations in which they’re constantly criticized. If your dear Aunt Sally can’t stop commenting on why your 4-year-old is in dance class (or pull ups) it may be time to briskly, but sweetly, say that it’s really not up to her, and that she’s enjoying himself.

Encourage your tribe

Take care when you yourself are making social media posts that could seem like bragging or pushing an agenda on other mums. We can dissolve mum guilt by not spreading it, and instead encourage each other to follow our own mum hearts. (At the same time, if you have a proud mom moment to share, share away.)

We may get to the end of motherhood and realize we missed so many sweet moments worrying about what we aren’t doing right. We may regret not listening to other women and supporters telling us we were doing a great job.

Most importantly, we may see how amazing our children actually turned out and realize that the guilt didn’t contribute a single ounce to that person we raised, but rather just inhibited our ability to enjoy the process.

So, love your children — on your terms, in the amazing way we know you are — and don’t let what others are doing (or saying) put out your parenting fire.

Peace and Love to you all,


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