Ever experienced mum guilt? Well, I have. It happened two weeks ago.
I was woken up by my five-month-old crying, who, for the better part of the night, had not properly slept due to a cold, which meant I got no sleep. I looked at my watch, only to see I had slept for less than two hours.
I was angry and frustrated, and I had a migraine, which made things worse. I sat up, my baby still crying, and at that moment, I felt helpless, not knowing what to do. I tried soothing and breastfeeding him, but none of that worked. I wanted him to stop crying, and in the heat of that moment, I shouted at him, “shut the hell up!”, and I put him down.
What followed was a string of emotions with thoughts running through my mind and telling myself: “How could I do that?”
I felt like a bad mum, shouting at an innocent soul, oblivious of what had happened. I carried that feeling with me the next few days, beating myself up for something I probably had no control over. Choosing Therapy describes mum guilt as “specific feelings of guilt mothers experience that relate to their role as a mother and their ability to meet their children’s needs”.
Mum guilt can make the already difficult job of being a mother even tougher and can eat away your confidence and satisfaction with your family and even your workplace.
Some mothers feel a heavy weight on their shoulders or chest, while others get small panic attacks – with the urgency to fix the problem immediately.
For most women, mum guilt originates from personal insecurities to outside pressures like friends, family, and in this era, social media. Scroll through Instagram, and you will see hundreds of mothers seemingly doing well for themselves – from posing with their well-groomed children to participating in various activities.
But little do you know that the same mothers could get into a full-blown tantrum right after taking that shot.
A survey done by GoodToKnow among 900 women showed that 78 per cent of mothers experienced guilt, with 68 per cent saying it occurs once or twice per day and the majority citing the main cause as not spending enough time with their children.
Interestingly, 61 per cent of the women said they compared themselves to other mothers on social media, worsening the guilt.
Sarah Turner, who runs a blog, The Unmumsy Mum, reckons that social media is to blame for the continuous comparisons – making other mums feel like they are not doing a good enough job.
“I think it is worse nowadays because we have access to social media 24/7 and a lot of parental guilt stems from what you see online and comparing yourself to other people,” says Sarah.
Sarah adds that it is worse when you already have that small feeling of guilt, “and then scrolling through an Instagram feed full of people “winning at parenthood.”
Dr Claire Halsey, a parenting expert and clinical psychologist, considers mum guilt as one of the many ways to keep your brain in check and focused on ensuring mothers do a good job.
“Like most emotions, it has a purpose and when seen as a positive message to ourselves it can be a helpful guide to how we approach parenting on a day-to-day basis,” says Dr Halsey.
“Parental guilt has certainly been around for a long time and is nothing new. However, as times have changed and there is more pressure to juggle work and look after your child things have got a little more complicated,” she says.
Kezia Arwa, a digital expert and mum of two, says the feeling of guilt never stops and questions her every move wondering if what she is doing is right for her children. For instance, she recalls being unable to leave the house and leave her children for the fear of separation anxiety, saying: “I ended up sitting in the car wondering if where I was going was even worth it.”
“Even after five years of motherhood, guilt comes in very different forms. It is difficult for me to eat without watching my children eating, and even when I do, I sometimes feel guilty.
“The truth is, no parent ever came trained. No one ever went to mummy school and with more information and more affirmation, we become more confident, which makes us better parents. The parent needs to learn to do their best and let go,” says Kezia.
Faida Kesha says she experiences mum guilt whenever her children get sick, adding that it makes her feel like she did not do well enough to ensure her children were okay.
“When my children are unwell, I cannot help but wonder where I went wrong. I usually asky myself, ‘What have I not done enough? Where did I mess?’ If they are not gaining weight, or I go to the hospital and I am told the blood level is low or something, I ask myself, ‘Where am I failing in their feeding?’ Every time something happens with them, it leaves me more broken, asking myself if I did not do enough or messed up,” says Faida.
But with time, and with the help of her mother, Kesha says she learnt how to cope with mum guilt.
“I know I am not perfect, no one is but we are human, right? The first time my baby fell, I knew it was more than me not being careful. I called my mum and she told me that it was God’s reminder that we are not perfect, only He is. The guilt is normal and fades every day. I have learned to pray the guilt away,” says Faida.
Dr Halsey also notes that there is no such thing as being a perfect parent, despite the pressure that comes with that role.
“There is no problem in wanting to be the best parent you can. However, expecting to be perfect in every way is an unreasonable pressure and a recipe for disappointment,” says Dr Halsey.
However, even as you try to cope with mum guilt, it is important to note when it becomes excessive, negatively affecting your well-being. Extreme feelings of low self-worth and thoughts that you are a bad mother can lead one into depression, which, if unchecked, can lead to unhealthy behaviours.
Do not wait until the feelings of guilt take over you to the point you start resenting your children. Sociology expert Sylvia Gichohi advocates for mums to seek help whenever they experience mum guilt, saying it is detrimental to their overall well-being.
“Sometimes, reach out for help since motherhood can be overwhelming, whether that is from your partner, a babysitter, daycare or your mother. Do not feel bad about asking for it. There is a limit to how many things you can do in a day and stretching yourself too thin has repercussions for your physical and mental health,” says Sylvia.