parent opinion

"I couldn’t understand why I was so resentful." Mum guilt stopped me from being a good parent.

It’s early evening, and my husband has encouraged me to have some time to myself. I have a stressful job, our daughter is teething, and I’m recovering from postnatal depression. He reassures me he wants to take care of our little girl, affectionately calling it "daddy daughter time."

But I can’t just relax. I can’t just sit here. As much as I try, all I can see are the things I should be doing. I race around the home to get all of these jobs done. By the time I’m finished, I’m too exhausted to have any downtime. My husband has successfully got my daughter to sleep so I collapse into bed.

The next day arrives, and I’m stressed as soon as I wake up. I’m snapping at my daughter, the prospect of being late to drop her off at the childminders is making my chest unbearably tight. I snap at my husband, although I didn’t catch what he said so I’m not sure why I just snapped at him.

Watch: Be a good mum. Post continues below.


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I successfully drop off my daughter at the childminders and race back home to tidy up. I’m working from home and my husband has suggested I use this time before work starts to relax. I can’t. It feels so wrong. I quickly tidy up and start my work early.

Evening arrives, and it’s suggested again that I have some time to myself. I accept the offer, but I don’t use the time to relax. Because mum guilt told me I couldn’t.

This was my life for months. And I couldn’t understand why I was so angry and resentful. I realised it was mum guilt and in punishing myself; I had been punishing everyone else around me.

This realisation created more mum guilt. What if me being so stressed out was messing up my daughter? What if her childhood memories of me are just me shouting?

Nearly 90 per cent of mothers experience mum guilt. It’s almost inescapable in the society we live in as there is a lot of pressure on mothers to be a certain way.

I feel judged a lot as a mother, even when I am not being judged. I can post an innocent question about something baby-related on Facebook, then feel judged by what is actually supportive advice. Mum guilt tells me everyone else is doing better than me and if I was a good mum, I would already know these things.

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Mum guilt is irrational. I know this. But it doesn’t make it any less hurtful. Just because I know something isn’t necessarily true, it doesn’t stop it from hitting a nerve and making me insecure.

So what can mums like me do about mum guilt? It would appear it can’t be eradicated and some level of mum guilt is normal. Accepting I will experience mum guilt has made dealing with it a lot easier. It also means I have been able to implement the following strategies.

Taking time for me.

I’ve tried putting myself last in order to meet the ideal image of the "self-sacrificing mother." It only resulted in having zero energy to put others first. So everyone lost out. And my mum guilt got worse.

An hour of me-time doesn’t cancel out the rest of the hours in the day. I spend those hours putting my daughter first, often at the expense of my own needs. Having some time to feel human again doesn’t make me selfish.

I have been having me-time each evening while my daughter is in bed. And I am a better mum because of it. Even if I do nothing productive with my time, it gives me a chance to re-centre myself and organise my thoughts. It’s also nice not having a toddler wipe her food on me or headbutt my face.

Sharing my feelings with other mums.

By bottling up my feelings, I convinced myself I was alone. I saw other mums as perfect beings without any of the issues I faced.

Then I talked to my mum friends. And they felt exactly the same as I do.

Even my mum friends who seem in control, are experienced mothers and have the answers for any parenting question I have. In fact, they experienced mum guilt intensely.

There is comfort to be found in realising you’re not alone. It also helps gain perspective. In sharing my worries, my friends can offer a different angle. And I can do the same for them.

These mutually supportive friendships leave us feeling a little less like rubbish mums. Sometimes we even convince each other we are good mums. And in a society that judges mothers harshly and pits them against each other, this is much needed.

Not seeing my emotions in terms of good and bad.

During the throes of mum guilt, I saw my emotions as "bad". Stress, resentment, and anger are bad. If I feel these things, that makes me bad. And if I am a bad person, I am also a bad mother.

This faulty reasoning was exacerbating my mum guilt. What I have found more helpful is seeing my emotions as signals. Instead of pushing them away, I try to listen to them. Even unpleasant emotions have something useful to tell me.

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I don’t get angry because I’m a horrible person. I feel angry because I feel out of control. This is usually because I have too many things going on in my life. 

When I feel the anger rise or I catch myself snapping, I try to listen to what my emotions are telling me. Mostly, they are telling me I need to delegate tasks or have time for myself.

Mum guilt itself is also a signal. Sometimes I feel guilty because I’m a first-time mum and I’m insecure in my abilities. Speaking to mum friends I trust often fixes this. Often it’s because I want to be a good mum, so naturally, I worry about being a bad mum.

I am the child of a mother who never experienced mum guilt. She simply didn’t care how her parenting impacted her children, so some worry about my parenting ability is healthy and motivates me not to follow in my mother’s footsteps. In this case, my mum guilt is a positive signal I am not like my own mother.

We worry because we care about things. Sure, too much worry is unhealthy. But if there was no such thing as mum guilt, would that result in mothers like my own? A drive to want to be the best mum you can be is not a bad thing. And when we want to succeed at something, it’s natural to have some anxiety about not doing as well as we hoped.

A quote I like to remember when I feel guilty for having mum guilt is:

"The very fact that you worry about being a good mum means that you already are one." — Jodi Picoult

Letting go of the image of the perfect mother.

I am learning to let go of the notion that the perfect mother exists. Although I have a critical voice in my head telling me the perfect mother exists and I’m nothing like her, the voice is getting quieter.

We have to make mistakes in life. It is how we grow and improve. Motherhood is no different.

I remember as a child I desperately wanted my mum to like me and support me. I have no memory of "mistakes" like too much TV, eating the wrong foods, her occasionally snapping at me, or any of the things I berate myself for as a mother. But what I do remember is the general feeling of my childhood. And it wasn’t a happy feeling.

You don’t need to be perfect in order to create happy memories for your children. You just need to love them and let them know you are always on their side.

Feature Image: Getty

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This post originally appeared on Medium and has been republished with full permission.

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