Guilt and Motherhood- Wasted Emotion or Part of the Package?

Guilty Mother Syndrome! Is it something you are automatically injected with the minute those double lines appear on the wee stick!

I cannot tell you how many times I have heard, “I’m such a bad mum ….”.

I will give you some examples, all from just this past week. And thankyou friends for unwittingly giving me fodder for this blog post. You know who you are!

  • “I am a such a bad mum, I need a coffee more than I need to sit through assembly”
  • “I’m such a bad mum, I am leaving the District Aths before my childs final race”
  • “I’m such a bad mum, I wasn’t watching my daughter closely enough and she fell off the trampoline”

Of course these mothers are not bad mums, and deep down I’m pretty sure they all know that. The first mum needed a coffee to combat the effects of a night shift that lasted from 11pm to 7am, home just in time to get the kids up and ready for school. The second mum had swapped shifts to be at her childs Aths day and had been there from 9am til 2pm and thus forfeited her day off. And the final mum….God forbid she took her eyes off her happily playing child and wasnt quick enough to catch them before they feel awkwardly on the trampoline!

Similiarly we are constantly hearing about the inner turmoils and challenges of being a working or stay at home mum. The working mum feels guilt because their child is in childcare all day. The stay at home mum feels guilt for wanting to have lunch on their own, or for wanting to listen to their own music in the car (anything to get the Spongebobs Squarepants theme song out of their head)! We feel guilty for getting ‘take away’ again…because there is no food in the house and the thought of going to the supermarket at 7pm on the way home from after school activities is way to excrutiating. We feel guilty for buying something for one child and not for their sibling. We feel guilty for making our child go to a family gathering instead of a friends party. We feel guilty when we cant be bothered listening to a prep child trying to read their reader. We feel guilty when our child is late for his first footy training session. We feel guilty when we realise we had one too many wines when we were unknowingly pregnant. We feel guilty if we are unable to breastfeed. We feel guilty if we are, but we want to give it up.

So I know I am not alone in this….and I am sure you could all think of many things you have felt guilty about when it comes to being a parent.  I have always said that guilt is a wasted emotion. It is wasteful because it doesnt really achieve or resolve anything. But what I am also coming to realise is that a little bit of guilt may not always be a bad thing. As long as we keep it manageable, we should come to see guilt as another indicator that we are doing a great job. Maybe a little bit of guilt helps to keep us on our toes and allow us to recognise that the very fact that we are questioning our practises means that we are obviously concerned enough about our parenting progress. If we a aware and scrutinsing, then we are also appraising our dedication to doing the best job possible.  So instead of wallowing in the guilt, maybe we should just accept it and embrace it as part of the package.

So the very fact that one feels guilty…in fact means that they really have nothing to be guilty about at all.

By the way, if you are wondering about the relevance of the photo… little 1 year old was happily devouring a tub of $8 dip. I felt guilty about the wasteful way he scooped and smeared and thus wanted to take it away, but felt too guilty to spoil his fun!

What have you felt guilt about recently? Does it really matter?

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This Post Has 16 Comments

  1. Heather

    I’m a bit over guilt…it’s just so draining. It’s such a big issue though; I hear it all too often from callers to the helpline at work. I think over time you accept that you are going to feel guilty about things but you just have to put it to one side and try and strike the right balance for you and your family. I think it can be useful at times like you say Martine. I know that when I yell at my kids or treat them unfairly then later feel guilty, it is a reminder to be more reasonable and also to take some time out for myself if I can because I tend to behave like that when I’m really depleted. Let’s try and encourage each other not to be too hard on ourselves!

    1. elissa

      Fantastic article martine and smack on the money I also agree with all of heathers comments above being a working mum and not taking much maternity leave I always felt terrible guilt then once I became a single mum that level of guilt just escalated but your right all things considered we are all just trying to do the best job we can

      1. Martine

        Absolutely. And I think maybe we need to remind ourselves of that more often. If you are doing the best job you can then you can have nothing to be guilty about.

  2. Emma M

    Well no kids for me yet but I get my fix of guilt from being a wife and colleague. I have job that can be quite physical at times and everyone else in my department is a fella, so when I simply do not have the muscle power to do something, or to do it as quickly as the guys, I feel guilty.
    And though I impress upon my husband that we both work so he is responsible for housework etc too, I’m the one who feels bad if we run out of milk or he has no bread for his lunch.
    Stupid on both counts, but can’t escape that guilt! And I imagine that if I do become a mother that guilt will grow astronomically, dammit.

    1. Martine

      Thanks Emma, a very interesting point. It is often the case that when both partners are working, we still seem to slip into those traditional roles, and I am sure you bring many other great qualities to your workplace that the men are not quite as capable of too!

  3. Glowless

    I feel guilty about not spending more time with my son. Even though he is perfectly happy to sit and play at my feet I see other women actively playing with their children all day and wonder if I should be doing it too. Though I admit it’s when I’m particularly hormonal that I feel this way, other times I think the amount of time we spend actively together is fine.

    1. Martine

      If he is perfectly happy then I am sure you have the balance just right. And I think it is really important and valuable skill for a child to be able to amuse themselves.

    2. corine

      Hi Glowless… 🙂 ~ I just had some thoughts I wanted to share with you.

      Playing with our children… really spending time with them, is SO important. I OFTEN feel guilty because I don’t play with my kids enough… I’m really trying hard to spend more time with them. For me… I know I feel guilty for a reason; I truly do need to spend more time with them, so I’m thankful for the guilt to help me make that change. I am gradually getting better at this! 😀

      As far as YOU go, I can see that you DO play with your child actively; “other times I think the amount of time we spend actively together is fine.” But there is a component in your comment that I can’t help wondering about, and that is the belief that “other women actively play with their kids all day.” I’m sure it is true that many moms set aside A DAY here and there to JUST PLAY WITH THE KIDS. But those days do not represent most days. No mom plays with their kids all day, every day! If they do… there must be other responsibilities which are not met which may be just as important as playing. Life is a balancing act.

      I think it is a natural tendency that some of us have, to look at the ABSOLUTE BEST traits in everyone we meet… and then combine all of these fabulous traits together in our minds, and IMAGINE that these strengths and wonderful qualities are all bundled up into one person; who then becomes the person we compare ourselves to. But that person doesn’t exist. And we need to stop comparing ourselves with other people, and instead compare ourselves with the person we were a year ago. Are we improving, and doing the best we can to be a good mom, sister, daughter, friend, spouse? Then we can feel good about ourselves. We don’t have to do something as well as another person to be OK. 😉 But as Martine pointed out… the very fact that we do feel guilty sometimes, points out that we really do care about being good (mom’s, people etc), and caring is what propels us to do and be good!

      Corine 😀

      1. Martine

        Thanks for your wonderful comments Corine. I love the point you raise about comparing ourselves to others..but in particular creating these images of the very best traits of every mother and trying to live up to that expectation. We certainly will do much better to compare ourselves only to ourselves and as you said, be content with our own growth. You are also right that it is an unrealistic expectation to spend all day playing with out children…and quite frankly they dont need it. As I said to Glowless, a child needs to develop skills to amuse themselves without being reliant on a parent for there every desire.

  4. Kirsten

    Thank you for visiting my Blog, and I am so glad that you did, as it alerted me to yours.

    What a great article. It’s always a good feeling to know that you are not alone.
    I look forward to reading back over older articles, and seeing new ones.


    1. Martine

      Thanks Kirsten..I enjoyed your blog too. And when it comes to parenting we certainly are not alone. It is great that no matter the geographical or physical location or isolation, we now have so much access to help, support and resources via the experience of others parents and professionals.

  5. katepickle

    You know, I often wonder if I don’t say some of my ‘I’m such a bad mum’ comments because I need to hear from others that it’s ok, that I am doing a good job, trying the best I can, and that I am not alone? Not because I really do feel earth shattering deep down guilt over them?

    The big, scary, deep down worries I don’t tend to feel ‘guilty’ over… more scared than guilty. Perhaps I have passed the guilt and just moved straight on to fear LOL

    1. Martine

      No i think you are perfectly normal in that thinking Kate! We do often need reassurance that we are doing the best job possible, and as human nature would have it, that is often done by pointing out our so called flaws!

  6. Christie-Childhood 101

    I think we often feel guilty as the result of other mothers trying to justify their own choices to us. Take the child care debate – some mothers need it due to work commitments, others use it even if they don’t work, and others don’t use it at all. Those who use it are often publicly judged for their choices in the media in the form of articles about the damage of child care on the child’s emotional development. But even those who choose not to use childcare at all face criticism such as “but they need it for socialisation.” When are we going to learn to accept each others choices and know that we are doing the best we can do in our individual circumstances.

    1. Martine

      Absolutely..well said Christine. It seems to be a thread with this blog and the comments that we would all be better off if we stopped comparing, justifying and feeling judged and just got back to basics…and parenting to the best of our ability depending on our individual circumstances.

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