When you give birth to a baby, nobody warns you that you have just signed up to a lifetime of guilt. If it’s not something you’ve done or something you didn’t do, it’s something you think you’ve done. Your self-condemnation will be the result of an all-expenses-paid guilt trip, compliments of someone else.
I’ve dealt with so many petty feelings of guilt, and some bigger ones too. Guilt for not breastfeeding exclusively until my kids were a certain age; guilt for being a stay-at-home mother and not contributing financially. Guilt for going back to work and not being at home 24/7. Guilt for getting divorced. Guilt for taking time off work to be with my sick child … and the list goes on. I also once dealt with guilt when my son ended up in play therapy and it turned out the problem was me. I was praising him too much. This resulted in him fearing that I won’t love him if he doesn’t do amazing things to earn that praise! I did not see that one coming.
“One of the biggest guilt trips mothers face is not breastfeeding. The fact is breastfeeding does not work for all families for many reasons.”
I’m no psychologist, but I reckon one of the main reasons we feel guilty as parents is our innate desire to be the best parent we can be – which starts from the day you find out you are pregnant and just never ends. The good thing about guilt is that you have a conscience and you care (so pat yourself on the back for being a loving parent (people who lack feelings of guilt are sociopaths). Don’t let it weigh you down. With the help of a therapist, I’ve learnt some very valuable lessons on how to rationalise and deal with my feelings of guilt.
These are some of the tips that have helped me along the way:
How do you plead? You should only feel guilty if you’ve done something wrong. Do a little self-check. If what you “coulda/shoulda/woulda” done was not possible then accept you have done your best and let it go. If you could’ve done it differently, is there something you can do to remedy the situation? Make amends and move on.
Making a bad thing good. It may take some time and practise but learn to embrace your mommy guilt and turn it into a positive experience. Remove the guilt from the learning experience. If not, it’s just self-loathing and that is not good for you, or your family. You need to:
• Accept that you did your best, in which case there is nothing to feel guilty about;
• Realise that you could have done things differently and resolve to do that next time;
• Don’t forget to give yourself credit for the stuff you do well.
Not breastfeeding. One of the biggest guilt trips mothers face is not breastfeeding. The fact is breastfeeding does not work for all families for many reasons. If I’m honest, this is not really something I felt massively guilty about – but so many of my friends have. Yes, we know breast is best. In an ideal world. But it’s not always possible, and for that reason alone you should ditch the guilt. A happy, healthy mother who formula feeds is no worse than an unhappy mother who breastfeeds. I had to stop breastfeeding as I needed to go on medication which was not suitable for breastfeeding. If I was not well and healthy then frankly, boobs or no boobs, this would be suboptimal for my baby.
Going back to work. You may feel guilty because you have to go back to work or, if you’re like me, you may feel guilty because you want to go back to work (women don’t often admit to this). Did I do something wrong by going back to work or and wanting to? No! Have I made mistakes as a working mom? Yes, most definitely. My way of dealing with this was to separate my unwarranted guilt from the remorse I felt when doing things wrong. Even in those instances, the guilt is relatively short-lived when you remedy your mistakes quickly.
Far from perfect. We all make mistakes as parents, but it’s how we handle them that counts. We’ve all yelled at our toddler in frustration, resorted to TV as a babysitter or ordered take-out for dinner. Working parents will no doubt have felt guilty for not spending enough time with their kids. I live by the “make up for it” mantra. Extend story time at bedtime if you’ve let them watch too much TV. Make a date for family time if you’ve had to work late. Serve extra veggies the following day if you’ve done a drive-through dinner. If you’re stressed and lose your temper, apologise. I feel very strongly about admitting my mistakes to my children, so they learn that we all make mistakes and that’s okay.