Is it us – or them? Is mum guilt imagined or inflicted?
My milk took long to come in
Baby was so weak, she had bloods drawn
“She left baby’s cord stump dirty”
The midwife said to the receptionist.
Loud enough that I (and the entire ward) could hear.
I never had enough milk. My nipples were cracked and bleeding
“She’s hungry, feed her” I saw stars, right behind where she stood.
“You shouldn’t breastfeed, she isn’t getting enough”
Baby gobbled down her bottle, my coffee stood on the table, cold.
“Breastfed babies don’t get as sick as formula-fed ones”
I stayed home, until I couldn’t.
“Today’s mums want to have it all.”
Baby was unwell. I had to go to work
“Babies need their mummies”
I left my career, because it didn’t make sense anymore
“Mums who don’t work are setting a bad example to their daughters”
Child starts school – I go back to work.
“We have a healthy eating policy. Don’t pack processed food”
I scroll through Instagram for inspiration
I buy a box with 5 compartments
The butterfly shaped whole grain sandwich with homemade pesto looks cute
Sometimes I cheat, I remove the wrapper from a store-bought muffin.
School meeting “Make an effort when packing lunches”
Child comes back with leftovers from breakfast club
“The sandwich is much nicer than the one you make”
She liked that it was white – individually wrapped in plastic.
“Mummy, you were supposed to give me a colouring book!
I was the only one in the whole entire class without one!”
I scroll through Teams.
I check my emails
I check her notebook
And the school calendar, printed in my family binder (Pinterest inspo).
I check Teams again. There it is. In a chat I didn’t even know existed.
Instagram, 8am: “Super productive morning. Checked off most of my to-do list”
Swipe. Tap to tidy.
“Dinner’s in the slow cooker, clothes folded”
I sip the last droplet of my second coffee
A week’s worth of laundry sits right next to me.
“Ladies, make time for self-care”
“You cannot pour from an empty cup.”
Read: You can’t be a good mum if you don’t take care of yourself.
I scroll through my calendar.
Check child care.
The research behind mum guilt
Mothers are held to an impossible standard. Society, media, family and friends place enormous expectations on us women.
94% of mums feel mum guilt. 36% admit to feeling guilty when asking for help with the kids. In her survey across Sweden, Germany, Italy and the United States, researcher Caitlyn Collins found that feeling guilt is actually considered part of being a good mother.
But how does guilt come about?
It could stem from the unrealistic expectations of happiness of having a new baby. We all know life with a newborn is not all roses and butterflies – yet society paints it as such. At least 1 in 7 mothers experience postpartum depression or anxiety. And soon enough, you may secretly start missing ‘life before’ or beating yourself up for not managing to breastfeed. And so the vicious cycle of guilt starts.
As researcher and therapist Brené Brown explains, guilt and shame push a new mum into a deep judgement of herself, constantly comparing herself to others, believing she’s falling short, and eventually becoming her very worst critic.
Mum guilt can have significant effects – both on the mum, and her family. Feelings of guilt and shame add to levels of depression, stress and anxiety in parents – further exacerbating guilt.
Finding an antidote
There’s no one-size fits all solution for addressing mum guilt, however these strategies may help:
- Practice self-compassion
- Communicate with those around you
- Identify your support system
- Have reasonable expectations
- Remember who you are outside of being a mother
- Identify the source of guilt
- Distinguish between rational and irrational thoughts
- Ignore comments from others
- Don’t compare yourself to others
- Seek help, especially if the guilt feels overwhelming
Mum guilt shouldn’t be something we just have to learn to live with. Breaking this vicious cycle starts with each of us. Society already places enormous weight on the mother, and us Maltese can be awfully judgemental. Let’s start by replacing judgement with compassion – it goes a long way, both for us, and our daughters.
We hope you loved reading this.