A few weeks ago I discovered a wonderful opportunity to take a course that involved traveling from away from home one weekend a month to train in creative writing as a therapist.
Creative writing has been my personal therapy since my angst-filled teenage years and the idea of being able to offer this in a professional capacity to others felt amazing.
My husband was all for me taking a vocational training to further develop my career. My daughter was looking forward to weekends filled with daddy time, TV dinners, and going out for ice cream.
Then, following a conversation with my mum in which she questioned the practicalities of leaving the country on a monthly basis fear kicked in.
Could I really afford it? Would I be able to find a babysitter since I had to leave on the Friday while my husband was still at work? Would my daughter really be okay with me traveling so often?
I started to feel huge anxiety that I would end up with a financial deficit and a disconnected daughter; and that there was something terribly self-indulgent and wrong in me taking all this time and spending all this money on myself.
My husband, and best friend, reassured me it was a good idea, that it would be no big deal making the trip once a month.
I knew rationally it was a good idea. As a Hand in Hand Parenting instructor I’m always telling parents to take care of their own needs; that a happy parent equals a happy child. I also knew it was an investment for the whole family and our future.
So why did I feel like I was being selfish? Why had my initial excitement derailed into guilt and fear?
I needed a reality check so I asked a group of online mothers what they thought about it. I knew they’d say just go for it but I needed to hear their voices, to surround myself with people who understood the importance of going for our dreams, and being a human being as well as a mother.
Writer mothers are real. They don’t sweat a few hours of screen time for their kids while they get their articles finished. They go on writing retreats and take time for themselves.
As the replies to my post flooded in, my guilty feelings began to subside. They all said, Go for it!”
One woman told me that her husband left on business trips all the time and nobody worried about their children getting disconnected. Another said that my daughter would see a fearless mother going for what wants. With their support, I could see my adventure for what it was again – something I would enjoy and that would benefit the whole family.
As I listened to all of those guilty feelings in my mind, and was reassured by person after person that these feelings were not rooted in reality, I realised just how much guilt I’d been carrying since becoming a mother. It was there quietly eating away at my self-esteem.
It was the guilt that made me feel like I needed to be a ‘super-connected’ parent 100% of the time. It was the guilt that made me think I still needed to earn money, even though I was a stay at home parent. It is the guilt that all mothers feel, whether they work or stay at home.
Guilt is quiet like this. It puts thoughts in your head like, I shouldn’t be tired today, I should be connected and playful. It says, I shouldn’t have shouted, I’m a bad person. It says, Other parents are doing it way better than you.
None of the things that guilt says are true. We are all doing our best. When we struggle as parents, it’s not a reflection on our parenting. It’s often a reflection of how much we are carrying, the stress and the life experiences we are dealing with, and the baggage from our own childhoods.
Life as a parent in modern society is hard. There are expectations put on us that we should be ‘doing it all,’ which really amounts to at least two or three full-time jobs. We parent in small nuclear families often without wider networks of community support such as extended family. We already start at a deficit and it’s not our fault that things are sometimes hard. We are all good parents.
If you’d like to lighten your guilt load then here are five tips for losing the mom guilt.
1. Listen to Other Parents
Listen to other parents. I mean really listen. Don’t offer advice or judgement. Be the sort of person that people come to when they are struggling. Then you will hear that every parent is just like you. They aren’t doing it all. They haven’t got it all together. They might be wearing perfectly fresh, ironed clothes rather than ones coated with baby sick, but appearances are often deceptive. Every parent has their own individual struggles, and listening to others helps you realise the universal truth: you are not alone.
2. Get a Reality Check
If you have a bad day and are feeling guilty for not being the perfect parent, talk to your most loyal mom buddies or your partner. Confide about the things that are making you feel guilty. Ask, is this real, or are my feelings playing tricks on me? A good friend can say encouraging things, reassure you that we are all struggling, and confirm that you are still doing a fantastic job. Prime them if necessary that you need this reassurance if it isn’t forthcoming! And do the same for them.
3. Remember Your Needs are Important
Researchers have discovered ‘mirror neurons’ in the brain, that literally recreate the mood of the people around us in our own minds, and vice versa. This means that when we feel happy, and content, with all our needs met, then our mood will be reflected in our children. If you ever feel guilty about meeting your own needs, remind yourself that self-care, and living your own life really does benefit the whole family. As Carl Jung said, “Nothing has a stronger influence on the child, than the unlived life of the parent.”
4. Process Your Feelings
In the parenting approach I teach, Hand in Hand Parenting, we do something called listening partnerships where two parents take turns to talk and listen about how parenting is going. This gives you the space to release any guilt you are experiencing and also trace it back to the root.
Often it was during childhood that we received messages that we weren’t good enough. We were punished or shamed for ‘bad’ behaviour that modern up-to-date brain science shows was not under our control.
Journaling about the feelings, or talking and having a good cry with a listener, can help us to release them at their root, the early experiences that caused them. Doing this process regularly helps us to notice those quiet guilty thoughts before they start eating away at us. When we hold them up to the light and realise they are not founded in reality, we can let them go.
5. Write on Your Fridge “I Am A Good Parent Doing My Best“
No parent wants to mess up, to shout at their children, or to be disconnected. We are all doing our best. With a little self-care and self-discovery we can be the parents we want to be.
Guilt can get in the way of our efforts to parent, because we become paralysed in our own feelings of self-doubt. A fridge reminder of our goodness can lift our mood during our toughest parenting struggles.
The first weekend away for my course was very different compared to any of the solo trips I’ve taken previously as a parent. This time I carried the reassuring words of the writer mothers with me. It was the first time I’ve been away from my daughter without having my enjoyment interrupted with pangs of guilt. I was finally free to just be me.
The 2-minute Action Plan for Fine Parents
For our quick contemplation today:
- How often do you do things just for yourself?
- Are you free to enjoy these moments, or does guilt about your child(ren) keep interrupting you?
- Is the guilt really helping in any way? Or is it leading to unnecessary heartache, and maybe even a little bit of resentment towards your child(ren)?
- Is “mom” the only facet of you? What are all the different component that make you, you? How can you nurture the whole you while still remaining a loving mom?
The Ongoing Action Plan for Fine Parents
Listen carefully to your thoughts, and notice any feelings of guilt before they start eating away at you. Refer to the five step plan above, and put the steps into action to eradicate the feelings.
And write down the name of a few friends who would be good to contact when you need a reality check when guilt is bothering you.
Put a reminder on the fridge for the times you will need to pick yourself up! You could also keep a journal in which you write down your parenting ‘wins,’ the things you’ve done well, the struggles you’ve got through, etc. This can be a great way to remind yourself of your own goodness as a parent.