Understanding why we experience maternal guilt might help us stop beating up on ourselves.
The moment the cord is cut, it seems we are unconsciously impregnated with a warfare-like germ. Silently, without warning or any obvious pattern, it is ready to raise its head in an instant. When it strikes we play our own mind battles, our logic often losing. But, it is our emotional being where it fires its greatest attack. “I’m not doing a good job.” “Why can’t I cope,” “I'm not good enough,” “I should have“ and so the negative, self talk goes on.
Of all the agendas we face in our motherhood journeys, maternal guilt is one that features highly.
It’s that uncomfortable, often overwhelming emotion that comes from a place of feeling like we’ve done something wrong or failed. We hone in on it, giving it energy and attention, beating ourselves up with our thoughts of failure.
As Debra Gilbert Rosenberg describes, “we know, or think we know, what we should be doing as mothers, and whenever we don’t quite meet our own expectations, we feel just awful. We feel guilty.”
So what influences our expectations & how can we help ourselves?
We are so finely tuned into our desire to give our best to our little ones, that we often forget the influences of subliminal sales pitches and altered egos, being fed to us, by the machines that are social media and marketing.
They are not real,
They are not life.
Then, of course, we have the “advisors.” Family, friends and sometimes complete strangers, who uninvited, tell us how it should be done, leaving us second-guessing ourselves and undermining us further.
Follow your gut.
Listen only to those who you trust.
Our own journey has bearing; our experiences, people and circumstances, things we’ve heard or seen - “Try your best,” “success comes from hard work,” “we don’t do failure,” “what will people think?” “Women are multi-taskers.” So many subtle, yet ingrained features that impact our own expectations.
Do you recognise your own ingrained expectations?
Are they valid for you today?
There are those who we might think to be our greatest allies - yes, mothers! All too often, I have heard of and seen mothers who sneer, criticise or judge their peers. It is divisive. Motherhood is tough enough.
Let's each commit to sharing and caring,
Work to build up each other.
It’s a learning game.
We sometimes forget we are human. Like apprentices, we are learning on the job and need to remind ourselves we are not born a parent. How is that we can rationally make allowances for other learners, like students and apprentices, yet expect ourselves to be instant experts, often setting our own bars too high? The days of big families, where older children were expected to help with raising their younger siblings, are largely gone. For most of us, our first born is often our very first experience of parenting. So yes, commit to learning your new “craft,” acknowledging and understanding that it can be done with trial, support and time.
Be realistic with yourself.
The changing face of parenthood.
Have you ever considered that parenting is ever evolving? It wasn’t so long ago that parents’ beating their children was quite acceptable. Babies were set to the clock with strict feeding times and sleep schedules and, when infant formula was first introduced, breastfeeding was almost wiped out. We now parent in a generation where our children’s emotional well-being is firmly on the agenda, says Grille, something that earlier generations had not even contemplated. If we can understand that the parenthood agenda is continually developing, with new discoveries and understanding, it is only reasonable to ask, why do we feel like we should know it all?
Be kind to yourself.
It takes a village to raise a child.
There have been numerous studies by social scientists and anthropologists who conclude that we were designed to raise children in small co-operative groups, not in nuclear families. In this upwardly mobile world, we have largely lost the wider family support networks that earlier generations benefited. When we get tired, or just need some time out, the historical family set up, where aunt, or mother, or grandma were close to hand to “take over”, unfortunately, is the exception rather than the rule of today. Where once we learned from our elders the art of child rearing, this hands-on practice has all but disappeared. For many of us, our first child rearing experience comes with the arrival of our first born. Often, when we struggle, when we feel like we want to run away, it’s because the nuclear family dynamic is not natural, nor sustainable.
We were not designed to raise our children solo. The traditional African proverb “it takes a village to raise a child,” is so pertinent. The journey of parenthood can be daunting, so supporters and partnerships can only help us, to help our children.
It's okay to ask for help.
Make time to find your supporters.
Prior to baby’s arrival we have only ourselves to think of. We don’t get questioned about our abilities or decisions; we know what’s happening from one day to the next, we have a plan. Like a whirlwind, our beautiful, gorgeous baby arrives and our worlds are turned upside down. There’s that initial love rush, infatuation maybe, but then it dawns on us, there’s so much unknown. Is it any wonder we’re completely thrown off balance?
Motherhood can be hard, really hard and, whilst we’re trying to adjust to our new role of “mum,” we can struggle with the loss of who we once were.
The emotional impacts of motherhood are less featured on the information and advice available to us. The focus tends to be around the practicalities of motherhood, with little reference to the emotional effects our baby has on our lives. The reality is that our lives will never be the same. Yes, we may feel overwhelmed with love and joy but, it is also important to acknowledge that our remit has broadened.
Take time to nurture yourself.
Most of us try really hard and are doing just fine. We need to throw away our perfectionist expectations, being more accepting of ourselves. We simply cannot be everything to all, all of the time.
Guilt tends to cloud us with thoughts of “I should do.” Rather than should, let’s focus on our intentions suggests Debra Gilbert Rosenberg. If we can get our heads around the fact that our intentions are well meant, (that we didn’t intend to be thoughtless, be hurtful or get upset, rather we wanted to help, to explain it calmly, to make it fun) this helps us to adopt a mindset where we feel less responsible, and less to blame when things turn out differently than that which we’d hoped.
Be patient and forgiving of yourself.
Remind yourself (frequently) of your intentions.
Let's commit to lessening our expectations, with a kindness to be more realistic with ourselves. The guilt will begin to ease and we can learn to enjoy, rather than endure, our journey of motherhood.
REMEMBER to tell yourself often that:
I am good enough
I am learning, each and every day
I am allowed me time
My intentions are well meant
I will be kinder to myself
It’s okay to ask for help
I can share with others, knowing it will help
I am doing just fine
It's time to change the story we each tell ourselves.
you are good enough!
Whatever your struggles or challenges, I’m here for you and I’d love to help:)
Connect with me at: email@example.com
"In support of the motherhood journey - always."