Think about your day so far … have you felt mum guilt for one reason or another?
Maybe you forgot to give your child lunch money or pack their school hat?
Here’s a fact for you …
“96 percent of women feel guilt at least ONCE a day.”
Research shows all the time you spend feeling guilt would add up to 5 hours a week!
That’s a lot of Netflix you could be enjoying instead!
“Guilt is an emotion – a signal to you that you did or failed to do something that’s against your values.”
This is why it can be so hard to shake off … because it’s violating something that’s important to you.
With all the demands you have as a single mum, there are bound to be times when you feel guilt. Plus, your kids are really good at helping you feel it too!
They’ll say: “Mum, everyone’s got one and I want too!” or “Dad lets me do that”. (Arghhh!)
You can also feel pre-emptive guilt, which can stop you from doing something because you anticipate feeling bad about something you might do in the future.
Further reading: 30 Tattoos to celebrate being a single mum.
WHY DO YOU FEEL MUM GUILT?
Neuroscience research shows that guilt activates the parts of your brain that rewards you for feeling guilt!
You often feel guilt after doing things that are pleasurable (like eating chocolate while hiding from your kids in the pantry or having that extra glass of wine), even though you’re trying to be healthy. Therefore, over time, you start associating guilt with pleasure.
Guilt also helps you think before you act … so you might not do something you think is wrong because of the potential negative consequences for someone else.
WOMEN FEEL MORE GUILT THAN MEN
Women have been socialised to be people pleasers, to be perfect, and it influences how you think and behave. Reshma Saujani, author of Brave, Not Perfect says, ‘We’re taught to smile pretty, play it safe…’. Women can feel guilt when you don’t live up to this societal expectation.
Feeling guilt is linked to higher levels of empathy and understanding another person’s perspective. Therefore, guilt depends on empathy and Neuroscientist, Simon Baron-Cohen says,
“The female brain is predominately hard-wired for empathy. The male brain is predominately hard-wired for understanding and building systems.”
Is it starting to make sense why you feel guilt so often?
You may be thinking that feeling guilt isn’t such a bad thing! However, it turns out it’s not the best thing to feel – there are downsides to guilt and they tend to be worse than the benefits.
Research shows guilt can cause your creativity, productivity and concentration to suffer and it’s not the best way to motivate you to act better or feel better in the future. You tend to be self-critical when you feel guilt– and self-criticism is linked with less motivation and worse self-control.
The tendency to feel guilt can also keep women stuck for a long time unnecessarily – especially for mums who’ve suffered post-natal depression. Mums may feel a sense of guilt (and shame) because they’re not coping with what should be a joyous time in their lives. Statistics reveal women are twice as likely to suffer depression than men.
HOW TO DITCH THE MUM GUILT
You might be thinking: Won’t I go on to do more terrible things and eventually become a serial killer if I don’t feel guilt? However, that’s not true.
“Forgiveness, not guilt, increases accountability”
The good news is that no one (not even your child or your ex) can make you feel guilty. The fact is you talked yourself into guilt, so you can talk yourself out of it.
Banishing guilt altogether would be almost impossible – just ask any Mum…there’s a reason the phrase ‘Mother’s Guilt’ was created!
However, you can let the guilt go or transform it into something that serves you instead.
THE 5 SECRETS TO LETTING GO MUM GUILT
1. Don’t Dwell on Your Mum Guilt
If you dwell on your guilt, it can lead to feelings of shame.
Here’s an example: You didn’t show up to your child’s class concert. Maybe you had the wrong date and now you’re feeling devastated. Your inner voice might say:
“I’m hopeless’, ‘I’m a crappy Mum.”
You might feel so terrible that you can’t even apologise to your child.
On the other hand, your inner voice who feels guilt might be thinking:
“Damn, I feel terrible I missed the concert.”
You take responsibility and when you see your child you say:
“I’m so sorry, I missed it – I made a mistake.”
(Rather than feeling shame, which is ‘I am a mistake’).
Guilt is ‘I did something bad.’ – you focus on your behaviour
Shame is ‘I am bad.’ – you focus on yourself.
When you feel the intense feeling of shame you start believing you are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging. Shame disconnects you from your child, others and yourself.
2. Name It and Feel It!
You feel awful you missed your child’s concert. Okay, give that feeling a name. Disappointed? Sad? Guilt?
Connect with what you’re feeling and name that emotion.
If you’re feeling guilt about something you did, say so: ‘I feel guilt because I didn’t go to the concert’. Whether you say it to yourself, to your family or friends, it doesn’t matter, as long as you recognise the feeling exists.
Next, take a moment to notice where in your body you feel it.
Research shows that people who are able to name their emotions, are generally happier, because they recognise their emotions, and then let them go.
3. Stop Magnifying It
Let’s say you yelled at your child or you feel guilt that they never learnt a musical instrument, or you’re still holding onto the guilt of your separation.
You might not be happy about some of your behaviours but you don’t get a life sentence for yelling at your child, missing your child’s concert or separating from your partner! Why beat yourself up for months or years of emotional pain?
Your child is going to turn out great. What you can do instead is transform this guilt into a more useful emotion, which is regret.
Why would you do that?
Regret is when you feel bad about what you did. It helps you put a focus on the behaviour. It encourages you to act differently if you were given another chance and it allows you to benefit from your mistakes.
You can ask yourself: ‘What can I learn from this?’ E.g. Maybe you’d like to be more organised (or maybe you’re doing the best you can). Maybe you’ve realised you’re stronger than you thought you were, and that in the future you’ll have an even better relationship.You can aspire to be the best version of yourself, but at the end of the day, you’re a fallible human being, and inevitably you will make mistakes despite your best intensions.
You can transform your regret into motivation to be more conscious about any future decisions you make.
4. Self-compassion and mum guilt
Guilt alone won’t magically change things or reverse your mistake. There are no bonus points for feeling guilt; no one will love you more or admire you because you feel guilt.
What will help? Researchers have found that being self-compassionate will help you to take personal responsibility. It will leave you more open to receive feedback and advice from others, and you’ll be more likely to learn from your experience. Wouldn’t self-compassion be a great thing to model for your child?
Begin with self-kindness. Acknowledge your feelings, then talk to yourself the way you would talk to your child. You can say, ‘Hey, you made a mistake, you’re human, you’re ok. I love you no matter what. You’re going to get through this’.
You’re better at fixing the mistakes you make when you recognise you did something wrong but still feel good enough about yourself to go and do something about it!
5. Make a decision
Be clear on what’s important to you, practice saying, ‘No’ and set firm boundaries – it will help you take better care of yourself.
Maybe you’ve told a friend you would call to catch up for a night out but you’re finding it hard to find a babysitter.
Instead of feeling guilt and avoiding your friend, make a decision to call her: ‘Hey, sorry we haven’t caught up yet. I’ve been busy and I’m finding it hard to find a babysitter, but I’d love to see you. Can we set a date for next month’.
Or, maybe you’ve been putting the catch up off because that friendship is not that important to you anymore (and that’s ok). Rather than feeling guilt, let your friend know you can’t make a commitment.
You don’t even have to create a whole speech around why you can or can’t do something:
‘No’ is a complete sentence.
It won’t be easy at first because you’ve been dealing with feelings of guilt since you were a child, but it is possible and it might feel awkward but the more you practice the more graceful you’ll be become.
Final words on mum guilt
If you’ve been holding on to feelings of guilt and shame for any reason, I would encourage you to talk to a life coach, counsellor or therapist because it is possible to move through those feelings. Keeping those feelings secret is what keeps you stuck. When you give a voice to your feelings, they can no longer have a hold on you, and you can be free to live with more happiness – isn’t that worthwhile?