I have explored guilt from many angles but lets hit it head on here.
What is guilt?
Well it is a normal human emotion that we all have, designed to be a learning mechanism that makes us re-examine our behaviour.
Is there any point to guilt?
It has a useful purpose in flagging up for us behaviour that isn’t ideal.
For example, if I lost my temper and went a bit overboard in my criticism of another person (it has been known), then I would feel guilt afterwards. From that I would assess my behaviour and realise that in the heat of the moment I had said some less than useful things and apologise, so repairing the damage to the relationship.
Or, if I ate a whole cake, meant for eight people (I am not admitting wether that has been known or not), then I will feel guilt as a way to tell me that actually it is not the healthiest behaviour for me.
Why then is guilt a problem?
Well, the problem comes when guilt is experienced at times when we haven’t actually got any control or made a mistake and so there is nothing to be learnt. This kind of guilt is ‘inappropriate guilt’ and it is very common, particularly in us as mothers.
So why do we feel so guilty as mothers?
We feel healthy guilt because we all make mistakes with our children and we use it to learn and change our behaviour.
But I have seen a lot of ‘inappropriate guilt’ (lets call it ‘i-guilt’) in the mothers I have interviewed for my book. I spoke in-depth with women who clearly put everything they could into raising their children yet who still felt guilty that they were not doing it right or doing enough for their little ones.It is easy to put everything into raising our children but still feel guilty Click To Tweet
Some of us have a predisposition to feeling guilty, maybe we have learnt from our childhoods to carry round large doses of the stuff. But apart from that, what factors make motherhood such a breeding ground for i-guilt?
Well these are the key reasons that I can come up with.
As mothers we take on this huge responsibility for another persons life.
Now more than ever we are aware that we have a big impact on how our children turn out. Gone are the days when parents see their role as mainly to physically care for the needs of their kids.
We understand that it is more than that and with this understanding comes a deep sense of responsibility. We know that what we do impacts the people they will grow up to be. This is useful knowledge but it has its downside. It can lead us to consider the impact of every decision we make on our children, which creates that feeling of i-guilt about our choices, even though they are just that, a choice.
We have a lot of choice now. It sounds great because we associate choice with freedom. But when we have to make so many decisions on a daily basis we can begin to question all of them, as if there is a right one.
What type of nappies we use, what parenting style we adopt or don’t adopt, what classes we send our kids to, wether we work or don’t work and what food we give our kids are just a fraction of the choices we make.
The funny thing about choice is that it has been shown that the more choice we have the less satisfied we are with the choices we make. Even if it is the best one, we find ourselves wondering how we can really be sure. Hence more twinges of i-guilt.
So much i-guilt is based around our choices. We choose one thing over another and then feel bad. But if we made the opposite decision we would likely feel guilt too, as nothing is perfect.
3. The perfect mum fantasy
The idea that mothers are these angelic, eternally patient, utterly devoted individuals who need nothing for themselves, still exists in our society. It is the perfect mother fantasy. But as mothers are people with their own quirks and needs, we can find a tension between the reality and that myth.
We have our needs that we must see too at some point yet we can so easily feel guilty when we put our needs into the mix (despite the fact that children do well with happy parents).
4. Opinions opinions!
Motherhood is a hot topic with so many opinions of the ‘right way‘ to do it. There is so much advice out there and much of it is contradictory.
The ‘Should’ list for mums is huge and there is not one person that can jump the hoops and please all the experts, let alone families, partners, neighbours and passers by. If we are looking for a ‘right way‘ to be a mother then i-guilt is inevitable because there is not a one size fits all approach to motherhood.Questioning ourselves as parents is great but carrying around a lot of guilt is not Click To Tweet
We love our children. We love them so much that we work so hard to do our best by them. Questioning ourselves is great and a much needed part of parenting. Carrying around oodles of i-guilt is not. If this sounds like you then next week I will be writing about Dealing with Guilt.
I would love to hear your feedback on the things that cause you the most guilt as a parent and how it impacts you.
So what is next?
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