Letting go of mum guilt, by Leah Williams, The Dearest Days
- Mum guilt can come from external and internal pressures and expectations
- Mums need support, self-care and to let go of perfection
- Putting children in day care can help build your child’s resilience, socialisation and immunity
Written by Leah Williams from The Dearest Days.
I get mum guilt about everything – what I’m feeding my kids, if they’re watching too much TV and having them in day care.
With my second, I’ve even discovered a new kind of guilt: sibling guilt, where I worry I can’t give my son the same attention my daughter got. Her first year involved Gymboree, baby sensory classes and swimming lessons. My son’s involved being woken up and dragged along to her activities. (Luckily, she’s his favourite person so he doesn’t seem to mind.)
The source of mum guilt
I’ve noticed mums put such high expectations on ourselves. I know I do, anyway, especially in terms of how I want to bring my children up, how I want to speak to them and the type of mother I want to be. Some of this is external. I compare myself to what my friends are doing, what other people say I should be doing or what I see other content creators doing online.
And there’s an added pressure with social media, where you just see staged snippets of someone’s life (and I say this as someone who often puts music over my Instagram Stories to cover the sound of whingeing children in the background).
But a lot of those expectations also come from within, the upbringing you had and the upbringing you want your children to have. I ultimately feel the guiltiest on days where I don’t meet my own expectations. The ones where I just yell at my daughter all day (which, to be fair, sometimes happens when the tantrums start at 7am). Or the ones where everyone in the house wakes up in a mood and clashes feel inevitable.
But bad days happen. No one is their best self all the time. So instead of focusing on what went wrong in the day, I try and acknowledge that my kids are fed, happy and know they’re loved. At the end of a tough day, that’s enough.
Give yourself a break
I think mum guilt also comes from this idea that we can have it all, be it all and do it all.
The fact is, something has to give. As to how I balance work, family and life – to be honest, I don’t. I’m a bit of a control freak, and with my first, even though I fell behind in things, I could catch up.
With two kids I can’t do that. There’s always something to do. I’m learning to try and let go and realise that messy and imperfect is how things are now. Nothing is ever going to be finished, and that’s fine.
That’s why outsourcing is important, whether it’s childcare or hiring a cleaner for your house if you have the means. Whatever helps take the pressure off and provides some breathing room.
Mums are often the glue of the family – the ones who hold everything together – so if we aren’t OK, the whole family unit isn’t. If I’m not well rested, nourished and happy, I can’t give what I need to keep everything running. I find it’s vital to communicate with my partner and work together as a team. If I’m struggling, I know I need to let him know, and he knows I need him to offer some help.
Most importantly, we shouldn’t feel guilty for prioritising ourselves and reclaiming our identities. When I had my daughter, my whole world became about her. I thought it was normal to define myself exclusively as her mother and that it was my role to give her everything I had. When she grew, I had a mini identity crisis. It took me a while to realise I’m still here, I’m still me, and I have needs too. Now I make an effort to schedule exercise and some socialising without my kids, because these things make me feel happy, and being happy makes me a better mum.
Dealing with day care guilt
When I went back to work, I felt guilty about leaving my kids at day care. I struggled with the idea that I wasn’t going to be there when they needed me. But the more they went, the more I realised they were having those needs met – just by other people. Their educators, who they’ve grown to trust, can comfort them in my absence. And that’s OK.
In fact, I think day care has helped to build their resilience, social skills and immunity (especially for my son, who seems to have super immunity from all the germs my daughter brought home to him before he even started). It doesn’t matter if you’re putting your kids in day care because you’re going back to work or because you just need some time to yourself. Let go of mum guilt as much as you can, because you have a right to be yourself, to reclaim parts of your identity, and to do the things you want to do.
It’s OK to have your own goals, ambitions, and desires outside of your children. In fact, it might just make you the kind of mother you want to be.