Mum guilt is an epidemic. Not only has the coronavirus pandemic turned each of our worlds awry, we have had to find our footing amidst uncertainty. And just as we’ve wrangled some sort of new normal, lockdown is shifting, and we are faced with numerous decisions.
We are finding ourselves wondering what the right thing to do is regarding childcare, travel, taking the tentative and much desired steps to meet friends and family. We are surrounded by the noise of differing opinions, conflicting stats regarding what we should do. Despite our different situations, many of us are united in that familiar feeling of guilt that sits like a rock in our stomachs. Am I doing the right thing? Could I do more? Have I been enough? Have I got it wrong?
When we let that rock of guilt settle in our stomach as a reminder of how we’ve failed in some way, we are more likely to berate ourselves. But, guilt doesn’t need to be the background buzz as we navigate this time. It’s there to prompt us to act in some way, not to keep us in a spiral of not enough-ness.
Here are my five tips on how to relieve the weight of guilt.
Diagnose the guilt
Imagine the guilt as a rock sitting on the palm of your hand. Look at it and ask yourself what it is about. Why is it there? What do you believe you’ve done wrong? Have you actually done something wrong? Or is the guilt a response to how you feel about a circumstance? What would you say to a friend if they told you they felt guilt about this?
For example, I feel guilty that my kids haven’t had enough of me as I’ve juggled. Some of that guilt is justified as my boundaries haven’t been ideal. Yet some of it is just simply down to circumstance, and I wish I could have given them more of my focus, when I actually couldn’t!
Inject some kindness
It’s imperative that you find a way to inject some compassion into your guilt regardless of how justified it feels. When we feel only shame, we stay stuck self- criticism. Introducing compassion doesn’t admonish you of responsibility where it is due, it enables you to address it more constructively.
I can feel compassion towards myself because the juggle has been hard and my kids are going back to childcare to ease that for all of us! That is regarding circumstance and that guilt isn’t mine to carry! Yet my snappiness due to the stress of deciding what route to take, whilst my responsibility, is a result of feeling fearful of getting it wrong. I feel guilty about the snappiness, yet my fear deserves compassion.
Prescribe a plan
If guilt is there to prompt us, not to shame us, what might that guilt be prompting you to do? If you feel guilty because your work/life boundaries have been a bit awry, how might you tweak these to make things run a bit more smoothly? If the guilt has rushed in because of a shouty morning, use it to prompt you to arm yourself with a technique or two to use when emotions next run high.
Sometimes we don’t feel enough because we were are not humanly able to fulfil all the roles, we do to the standard we feel we should. I always tell my coaching clients that cutting corners is a valid form of self-care, and sometimes in order to address the guilty feeling of not being enough, we must amend our expectations and standards to be a place that we are enough for!
Discharge the guilt
Once you’ve set a plan or made a tweak, imagine setting that imaginary rock of guilt down. It’s no longer yours to carry, it’s not productive anymore. Let it go. Guilt can be a persistent emotion, so if you feel it rise again, re-engage in this short process.
Boost your immunity
Arm yourself with tools for when you enage in the ‘what if’ game. What if I made the wrong choice? What if I’m being judged? Re-ground yourself on the facts. You made decisions based on what you felt was right at the time. We are all navigating this differently and one person’s journey doesn’t make yours wrong. I count back from 100 in 3’s when I find myself slipping into a guilt-fuelling over-thinking, along with taking a few centring, shoulder-dropping breaths of In for 4, out for 6.
I hope these tips are helpful. We are all trying to navigate this time, doing the best we can with what we have. Sure, we’re going to get it wrong along the way because it’s such a pressured and unusual time for which we don’t have a map! Be kind to yourself as you address the guilt you feel, let it prompt you, but don’t let it take over. You’ve got enough on your plate and you’re doing great.