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Overcoming Mum Guilt: Navigating the Complex Emotions of Motherhood

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I’ve felt it, you’ve felt it, even celebrities like Serena Williams and Jennifer Lopez have felt it! What exactly is mum guilt and why does it plague mothers around the world? In my experience, the emotions surrounding motherhood are delicate and complex. But one common thread is grappling with feelings of inadequacy, self-doubt, and unwarranted blame. In this blog, I will delve into understanding and overcoming mum guilt, therefore empowering mothers to navigate the complex emotional landscape with resilience and self-compassion.


Unveiling the Layers of Mum Guilt


Unpacking the Origins


Mum's guilt often stems from societal expectations, comparison with other mothers, and the constant pressure to conform to unrealistic standards. I mean, if we were relegated over the past centuries to perform motherly duties with little or no say what-so-ever in the other things that matter in life, it's no surprise that we've perpetuated the idea of having to be perfect mothers and wives! I'm really glad that today, many more of us are speaking up about breaking free from this generational expectations. However scrolling through social media, it can seem that everyone is somehow “managing it all”. I, too, have had to catch myself being pulled into the vortex of ‘smiling parents, obedient children and white picket fences’ and remind myself that Instagram is just a highlight reel. And that every mother's journey is unique, and comparison only serves to fuel unnecessary guilt.


The Perfectionist Trap


In their paper, Maternal guilt, Rotkrich and Janhunen define guilt as "an interpersonal moral emotion that aims to repair or inhibit behavior that causes harm to others". So as mothers and guardians, we are triggered to protect and support the children in our care, avoiding harm as far as possible which makes sense on one level. But when it turns to the need to seek perfection, then guilt overrides even our own well-being.


One of the most common causes of mum guilt is the perfectionist trap, as stated by Christler - in Western societies motherhood is prescribed “as a central life goal through which one achieves womanhood”. And that pressure is reinforced through the generations. For me, breaking free from this cycle involved acknowledging that perfection is an illusion and embracing the imperfections that make each mother-child relationship special.


Overcoming Mum Guilt: A Journey to Self-Compassion


  1. Embracing Imperfections

Before I had my daughter, I delved obsessively into parenting books, trying to be that perfect mother who knew what her baby’s cry meant, how to nourish her and help her grow into a woman I thought she should. Over time and with experience, I realised such a concept doesn’t exist. Instead, I began to acknowledge my imperfections. The bed didn’t have to be immaculately made hotel-style nor rooms tidied up after each play session. My husband never pressured me into keeping the place spick-and-span. I pressured myself into being the perfect housekeeper, mother and wife.  Instead of panicking at a mistake, I started to become aware when I observed about everything being neat and tidy. I am still learning to embrace the mess and give up some of the time for me. Now, each mistake, each incomplete task is an opportunity for growth to foster a healthier mindset and reduce unnecessary guilt. And in the process, hopefully show my daughter that she doesn't have to be the perfect woman.


2. Prioritising Self-Care

Mothers often neglect their well-being amidst their caregiving responsibilities. And I don’t just mean that one spa day you take on Mother's Day. Prioritising self-care is not a luxury but a necessity. Incorporating small moments of self-indulgence, even weekly, can go a long way in promoting mental and emotional balance. It can be as simple as sleeping in one morning, an evening out with friends or your regular gym sessions.This is one motivating fact for the monthly Mums Meet Up group I run where women and mothers can take dedicated time out to connect, inspire and support each other.


3. Establishing Realistic Expectations

Setting realistic expectations for oneself is crucial - motherhood is not like Pinterest. You are not going to have a picture-perfect day on most days, most people don’t. So it is important to understand that motherhood is a continuous learning process. It is most definitely for me! Whether you have to extend TV time for one day or ask for help, you aren’t doing it wrong. Accepting that things aren’t going to be exactly how you planned, helps mitigate the feelings of guilt. I have to-do lists but I remind myself that I can only do what I can do. No guilt. No self-judgement.


Shifting the Narrative: Redefining Motherhood


  1. Celebrating Achievements, Big and Small

Instead of dwelling on perceived shortcomings, celebrate your achievements, no matter how small. Did your fussy child eat a vegetable? Did you manage to squeeze in bedtime reading? Were you able to have a mature conversation with your teenager without any melt downs? These might seem like small, everyday activities, but recognising and acknowledging successes contributes to building a positive self-image. After all, Rome wasn't built in a day! Looking back at my time as a young mum, I can say that my daughter wouldn't have suffered if she skipped a meal or fell and scraped her knee or even rolled in mud! It's cherishing the moments she said awesome things, made amazing observations and cuddled on my lap.


2. Get Help 

In Hong Kong, we are lucky to have the support of helpers. They are our powerbank. Whether you’re a working mum, mumpreneur or a stay-at-home parent, juggling it all can be very hard. Having someone help with laundry, dishes and vacuuming can be a huge load off you and your partner's shoulders. But if you don’t have one, that’s ok, too. A messy house, a untidy bed and overflowing laundry basket does not make you a bad mother. Sometimes using the time to spend with the family is worth the mess! I know this very well! One day of mess isn't going to bring the house down. It can be fun with younger kids to try to get some house chores done together - the running around in mum's undergarments or putting dad's t-shirt on...the kids that is, not you :)


3. Fostering a Supportive Community

Building a network of supportive individuals who understand the challenges of motherhood can significantly alleviate mum guilt. Historically, we grew up around big communities - our immediate family, relatives and those in our village, district, etc. As more and more of us started moving for school and work, our support pillars shrank. This is why I created Mum’s Meet Ups. It is an opportunity to share experiences and seek advice from like-minded mothers, therefore creating a sense of camaraderie and reassurance. With a series of expert guests, you can learn more about yourself and parenting while sipping some coffee with people in similar positions. 


Empowering Mothers to Embrace their Journey


It is my mission and calling to guide women on their journey of self-empowerment, helping them become the best versions of themselves. One of the main challenges mothers like us face is overcoming self-doubt and mum guilt. By understanding its origins, embracing imperfections, and fostering self-compassion, you can start to rewrite the story. Shifting the narrative to celebrate achievements and building a supportive community transforms the journey of motherhood into an empowering and fulfilling experience. Remember, you are not alone in this journey, and every step you take contributes to the beautiful mosaic of motherhood.

Book a call and find out how I and the community can support your journey.

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