Struggling with mum guilt? Here’s how to cope

Monday, May 9th, 2022 00:18 | By
Perry Kanana spends time with her two sons. Sometimes she feels she is not doing enough while raising her children.

The demands of being a mother can sometimes be overwhelming and you will often find yourself raising your voice at your children when they do not adhere to your instructions.

Feeling bad when you are not able to afford every toy they desire or take them to a school that they wish to be in, or having to miss out on an important school function. For career women, they often feel torn between their desire to continue working and being with their child. All these instances can make you experience mum guilt.

Perry Kanana, a mother of two boys, says mum guilt is not a new thing to her. “It comes up so many times when I feel inadequate as a mother.

That feeling - the one that tells you you aren’t doing enough, you are getting it wrong, you are failing, seems to become part of being a mother,” says Perry.

“Sometimes I just feel guilty for not efficiently playing the role of mum and dad in the lives of my sons. I feel guilty for not asking questions or discussing with them some issues before I make decisions. No matter how hard it is to avoid mum guilt , sometimes it’s there with us, larking in our backyard yet sometimes you don’t even notice it,” the single mother adds.

Perry, especially feels guilty if she misses out on any of  her children’s milestones. She offers: “I am teaching myself that this guilt isn’t helping me—and my children.  I don’t want them to grow up feeling guilty for everything. As mothers, let us give ourselves a chance to be the mums that we are, and not the mums we tell ourselves we should be. Let us give ourselves a chance to feel that wild mix of emotions that comes with being human and not the one-dimensional selflessness the world tells us mothers should feel. Let us stop judging and shaming ourselves for the times we fall short of our ideals or some self-imposed societal ideals about what it means to be a ‘good mum’.”

Nereall Yongo , a mother of three says mothers tend to experience mum guilt all the time, and this comes from a place of having high expectations- putting high expectations on themselves and not having proper work-parenting balance.

“You find that many times a mother has deliverables, perhaps at work, and is expected to do so much more for the family. There are so many demands on a mother, left, right and centre. Everyone needs her and most of the times, you find that mothers are completely stretched out beyond their capacity as humans to fulfill the needs of people, their children and families,” says Nereall.

Mothers too are human 

She shares how mothers create a false sense of self-worth that they attach to their daily lives, continuously over giving even when they have no capacity. There is a misplaced definition of motherhood that most mothers answer to —that they are supposed to be all capable, all strong, all allowing — something that really exhausts mothers and that is where the guilt comes from. So when you really need the rest, you feel guilty. Guilty that you are hurting someone.

As a mother, Nereall says at some point she used to travel a lot and would comfortably spend on her children. She would feel happy and fulfilled to spend on them. However, when it came to spending on herself, she would feel like she was wasting money. There is a certain sense of pride and satisfaction that she would get from spending on her children and family while neglecting herself.

“That is where the guilt comes from and that is what we need to heal as mothers. We need to start finding our identity, loving ourselves and giving without necessarily punishing ourselves or allowing some of those feelings of guilt to find room in us. Replenishing ourselves should be something that we celebrate, and invite family members to take part in carrying their weight. Children should be trained to be independent and be able to take care of themselves so that they can set mothers free. Families should understand that it is important for a mother to take a break so that out of the abundance within her, she can give,” says Nereall.

Sylvia Gichohi, a sociologist who also doubles up as a chief customer officer describes mum guilt as the feelings of guilt women experience in relation to their children.

“It happens, especially to new mothers as they constantly worry about making mistakes and trying to get everything right. Mum guilt comes from an unrealistic ideal of being a perfect mum,” says Gichohi.

The expert says mum guilt can be caused by societal expectations, career, having a bad day, reaching out for help and being snappy with your little one or your partner.

“The society expects that motherhood is natural and therefore, sets the bar too high for women and judges mums too harshly. On the other hand, many women today are working and some careers are too demanding leaving mothers feeling guilty about leaving their young ones.

Sometimes, reach out for help since motherhood can be overwhelming, whether that’s from your partner, a babysitter, a daycare, your mother, or any combination of the above. 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,” explains Gichohi.

To handle mum guilt, the expert says it is important to practice self-compassion, communicate and ask for help, identify your support, let go of expectations, remember who you are beyond motherhood and schedule some time off to relax, identify the sources of guilt and recognise irrational thoughts.

“Mothers should know that they are human and what matters is not being perfect, but doing your very best in any given circumstances,” Gichohi says in conclusion.

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