Dealing With Guilt – Guilt and Motherhood Part 2

GvuUKw1433443483In Part 1, I explained the two types of guilt, healthy guilt and inappropriate guilt (let’s call it i-guilt) and explored the reasons why as mothers we experience it so much, particularly i-guilt.

Now in this part I am looking at how to effectively deal with it.

Healthy guilt

This is basically a mechanism that makes us re-examine our behaviour. Healthy guilt encourages us to learn and often take action.

For example, apologising after an argument when things said were less than ideal or realising that the for our health it would have been good to stop after the first (or second) portion of cake, rather than carrying on.

Dealing With Healthy Guilt

With healthy guilt the key is to accept that there is something wrong and take responsibility for it. Making amends, changing our behaviour or just learning the lessons that the guilt is telling us about, are all great ways to use it to our own benefit.

Acknowledgement is important but so is letting go. Once we have taken from it what we can, then it is best to be kind to ourselves and accept that everyone makes mistakes.

Now this sounds so easy to do but as parents we really want to do what is best for our kids all the time. We would like to be the best version of ourselves each moment of the day, but that is just not possible. Sometimes we get things wrong and when we do, it can be hard to accept.

As parents we want to be the best of ourselves everyday for our children but it is just not possible Click To Tweet

At these times it can be useful to remember that children don’t need everything to be perfect. They need to understand the world that they live in and who they are as individuals. They grow in confidence through learning how to deal with their feelings. One key element of that, is for them to not be afraid of making mistakes. They learn this from us. When we acknowledge our mistakes they learn that it is okay for them too.

When we acknowledge our mistakes our children learn that it is okay for them to make mistakes too Click To Tweet

A common example of where we feel guilty as parents is if we lose our temper with our kids.

As mothers we often feel that we need to be eternally patient but it is just not possible all the time. Children can benefit from seeing us angry, being forgiven quickly and if appropriate being apologised to. Now whilst I am not suggesting that being angry at our kids often is a good idea (or being exceptionally angry at any time), I am saying that they learn from it. Anger is a part of life and we all need to know how to handle.

So whilst any mistakes we make with our children feel awful to us, in long run they may not be as bad as we think.

Inappropriate guilt

This is guilt that we feel when there is really nothing to learn or to change.

It is often experienced over decisions we have made from anything to going back to work/staying at home or not taking our babies to swimming lessons. It can be triggered by the smallest things and it experienced by parents everywhere.

Dealing With I-Guilt


The first step is to acknowledge when it is i-guilt. When we know that there is nothing to be learnt but instead it is a feeling that is occurring because we can’t be or do everything, then we can start the process of letting it go.

Congratulate yourself

As parents we want to be and do the best we can. We feel guilt because we constantly assess what is right for our children. Once we know it is i-guilt we are experiencing then it is time to stop and congratulate ourselves for how much we consider our children and their needs.

Add some perspective

What ever it is that you are feeling guilty about normally can benefit from some perspective.

Maybe when we really think about big life challenges then we can realise that what we feel bad about is not, on the scale of things so awful, for our kids.

Or it may be that what we feel bad about is something big, that we have no control over.

A child being ill

A sibling with problems that means that there is little time and attention for the other child

A divorce

Money problems

There are many life issues that children around the world have to face as part of family life.

It is difficult as a parent to know that our children are facing genuine challenges. However, we all learn from difficulties, including kids. Lasting problems for children come not from experiencing challenges in childhood but from not being supported and accepted as the person they are with the feelings they have.


Accepting that no one is perfect and there is no ideal way to be a mum also helps with i-guilt. Seeking to get everything ‘right’ is a sure way to feeling guilty because it is just not possible. Our children need us to be ourselves and gain hugely from learning through the people we are.

In the same vain, neither is there a perfect life (despite the idealised presentations we see online and through the media).

Children don’t need a perfect world in order to be healthy or happy. They need a real world that helps them learn about and accept themselves. In fact, a child that never experienced any challenges would not know how to handle it when it came along.

 Move on

Sometimes guilt takes the form of a repetitive argument in our minds. However, once we have acknowledged that it is i-guilt and realised that there is nothing to be done, then simply refusing to argue it back and forth in our minds can be hugely helpful.

When we find ourselves in a loop of worry and guilt, simply noting it and then getting ourselves to choose to think of something else, gradually releases its power over time. If there is a genuine concern over wether you have made the best decision or not then give it a time scale. For example, putting the guilt down for a week might be appropriate whilst you see how the situation works out.

Putting guilt down, in a very similar way to worrying, can take practice especially if it is something that plagues you. If this is the case then it may be that you find yourself repeatedly having to stop the round and round argument in your mind. That is okay. It is a little like weight training, the more we do it the stronger we get.


For me twinges of guilt are a part of parenting. It is a part of me checking my choices and decisions. It is of benefit to a point. That point is crossed, however, when it undermines who I am and my ability to enjoy being a mother. I forgive my kids quickly for their mistakes and I try to apply the same rule to myself (although this can be easier said than done)

I am so interested to hear your thoughts on dealing with guilt. Do you have any other things that you have found helpful or have you found it challenging to be in control of your guilt? I would love to hear from you.

So what is next?

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34 thoughts on “Dealing With Guilt – Guilt and Motherhood Part 2

  1. I really appreciate the concept of the two types of guilt. I think I often mistake i-guilt for a more constructive emotion and get caught up in it. I do think its really important for our children to see us as fallible, and I try to explain things when I’ve made a mistake and admit when I have. I think that’s a very important lesson.

    @SarahAnneDG recently posted…Returning to BloggingMy Profile

    1. I really like your point there Sarah and you have put it so well too. ‘i-guilt’ is easy to mistake as a constructive emotion and then we wrestle with it rather than seeing it for what it is. Thanks for that insightful comment.

    1. Hi Natasha. It does seem universal and I do think that it is part of that mechanism of checking everything all the time. We care so much. But I don’t know if it is worse now than before. Maybe with the advent of social media and mass advertising it is easier to feel that we are failing. I wrote a post on this called ‘Why so much guilt?’ which explores the possibilities. Thanks for your comment.

    1. Thank you Heather. I am glad you liked it. There is a lot of i-guilt about. I will see if I can look out for your post.

  2. I love this series of posts! Good on you for tackling this subject and making sense of a phenomenon that usually makes no sense at all. For me guilt, especially I-guilt and ‘worrying’ go hand in hand and are both as destructive as each other. I look forward to your next post! Thank you so much for linking up to Sunday Stars. xxx
    Heledd – Running in Lavender recently posted…Sunday Stars – 10th MayMy Profile

    1. Thank you Heledd for your kind words. I think you make a really strong point about the overlap between worrying and guilt. I was thinking about that as I was writing this post. I may want to address that at some point. I will put some thought into it.

      I hope the posts have helped in some way to diminish guilts hold over you. Although I actually think that to a certain extent it is a normal part of mothering because we do constantly consider our children as we strive to do our best for them.

  3. This is wonderful. Very constructive ways to deal with I-guilt (which I am currently suffering from with the whole thought of going back to work and most recently for forgetting my toddlers snack on a day trip). It’s a bit like using mindfulness theories to deal with it. I always think, there’s nothing wrong with ‘feeling’ a certain way, as you can’t help your feelings, even the worst ones, jealousy, rage etc…all completely normal. You’re right, acknowledgement is part of the battle #twinklytuesday
    Doctomm recently posted…The Nanny Trial: She’s Only Bloody Maary Paarpins!My Profile

    1. Thank you for your comment. It is genuinely tough with all the decisions we make to feel okay that we are making the best one for our kids. But acknowledging and accepting the struggle is a big part of it, like with other emotions too. Good luck with going back to work. It is a big step.

  4. Your post is a wonderful reminder to all the parents out their weighed down by guilt. It’s been interesting to watch my daughters deal with their own guilt. One of them looks at everything as a learning experience and bounces back quickly. The other takes all guilt-inducing events as evidence that she is somehow unworthy. I work with her on it, but being overwhelmed by guilt is what comes naturally to her. On the flip side, she is quick to blame and slow to forgive, which her twin is the opposite.

    I really think that two of your points are exceptionally powerful: by letting our children see us recover from our mistakes they do the same; and healthy guilt is what we allow ourselves to improve from.

    It’s so easy, especially in our generation of social sharing of the best of ourselves plus nuclear families tending to parent in relative isolation, to take blame and credit for most of how our kids turn out. I think that’s unfair to children; they are their own people, shaped by experience, of course, but with inherent personalities also.

    Thanks for linking up with #TwinklyTuesday.
    Sadia recently posted…Twinfant Tuesday: “Mothering” on Mother’s DayMy Profile

    1. Thank you Sadia. Your comment got stuck in my Spam but I have it now. Children are there own people. We obviously have an impact but they have their own personalities too as you say. It is amazing to see the different personality types at work and neither is better than the other just different with different strengths. Great comment and fantastic to hear about your daughters.

    1. Hi Morna, I do think that when we can identify the difference between guilt and i-guilt it can help us put it down and also value ourselves for how much we care. It changes the emphasis. Thank you for commenting.

  5. Great advice Kirsten, these are all things I have spoken about before, and written about in my book. I think healthy guilt and motherhood go hand in hand, but if the guilt is driven by something deeper it has to be addressed… Making peace with our past and accepting the things we can’t control is the only way to move on.
    Mummy Tries recently posted…What Kate Did NextMy Profile

    1. We are on the same page. When we look deeper into ourselves it is of great value. Thanks for commenting.

  6. Amazing post and really helpful, I hadn’t looked at it this way before.
    I agree that as mothers we feel guilty about pretty much everything over the years, we just really want to do our best and raise well adjusted, healthy, happy kids. I often feel most guilty when I am tired and I snap about something, I walk away and think how awful I feel and then head back and say sorry. I choose to be open and tell my children that I am over tired and I over reacted.
    Thanks so much for linking up with Mummy & Us, hope to see you next week, love Mac xx
    Mackenzie Glanville ( recently posted…Mummy & Us . . . about BullyingMy Profile

    1. That is exactly what I do. apologise and explain. What a great thing to teach your kids, a fantastic life skill and an understanding that parents aren’t perfect is also a huge help later in life when they are getting to grip with their complex feelings about us. Thanks for hosting.

  7. What a helpful post – separating out the two types of guilt and accepting and moving on from what we can’t change whilst accepting that we make mistakes with regards to the things we can change sound like a very good way of dealing with mummy guilt. Thank you for sharing.

  8. Hey Kirsten, I have just found your lovely blog thanks to #brilliantblogposts. This really is such a huge part of parenting. I think part of being a mother is allowing yourself to let go of the guilt you hold onto like you say, especially when you realise that you are doing the best you can for your children. Words I love to live by are: Things are exactly how they are meant to be. It is such a tricky subject to address and really explain and get to the heart of. Guilty feelings really give us so much opportunity to explore who we really are and what guilt really does for us. I do know that feeling guilty doesn’t do any good, I think as mums ‘doing our best’ we really need to let go of guilt because it doesn’t serve us in any respect other than to accept we can’t do things right, when of course we are doing everything so completely right for our family and our children. However I think it is important to remember that it is okay to feel guilty and like you say really address why we are feeling guilty in the first place and to just let go… letting go of the things we cannot completely control is so important for our own motherly health and well being, Great post thank you for sharing, lots to think about on this subject, Tanita x

    1. Thank you so much for your comment Tanita. You are so right about our guilt telling us about ourselves. The things that provoke guilt in us do tell us so much about ourselves, in the same way that our judgements do. Having children truly teaches us so much about ourselves and if we allow ourselves to dig a bit deeper into the feelings we have we can find out all sorts of helpful things. I don’t see all guilt as a problem. I think there is a natural tension in motherhood that is healthy. As mothers we have to hold a whole set of complex feelings and be okay with that. It is only really a problem when it tips over into stopping us enjoying the motherhood experience. Like you said, then letting go of it is important. Great to have you visit my site.

    1. Hi Merlinda, I am glad the post was helpful. It is so valuable to have a perspective on our emotions isn’t it? And realising where they are normal can be a relief. There is a natural tension in motherhood because we do consider our childrens needs and keep considering them. It is part of being a good mother. Thanks for visiting and your comment. Much appreciated.

    1. Hi Jennifer. Thanks for your comment. It is so often useful when we understand these emotions then we can get a handle on them. Thanks for hosting the linky.

  9. Never really thought about guilt being two different kinds but love how you have split the two and explained them. I bet they often get confused and people putting more pressure then needed. Great post. Thank you so much for linking up to Share With Me #sharewithme
    jenny recently posted…Letters to him & her ~ #19/#20My Profile

    1. Thanks for commenting Jenny. I think that it is really useful to see the two different types because we can then see wether we need to act or wether we need to step back and accept that it is a feeling that comes from our own deep need to get things right for our children, but it is just unrealistic.

  10. I have to say I found this post so interesting, insightful and refreshing. As a person who suffers with the guilty feelings quite a lot, I definitely need to take some of your advice. Especially remembering that no one is perfect! Thank you for linking up to the #MMWBH 🙂
    Rebecca recently posted…Pretty Pictures and Prints With FeelingsMy Profile

    1. I am glad it is helpful to you. It is about getting it in balance. Easier said than done at times. Thank you for commenting and hosting.

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