I've formed a personal relationship with guilt. She comes around for tea and regales me with stories of my inadequacies. She stays overnight and points out every detail of my day's failings. Guilt also happens to be really famous – she's in almost every magazine and newspaper, telling me how I am just not cutting the parental mustard.
As a working mother who spends most of her time juggling work and parenthood, and dropping most of the balls, most of the time, I am regularly told that I don't play with my child enough . I also don't talk to her enough, teach her enough, feed her the right food, take her out for the right amount of exercise, use flashcards, or buy her teacher enormous presents to ensure high levels of educational brilliance.
I'm not alone in this guilty madness, either. I recently invited another mum round for a first time play date and, within minutes of her arrival, she was telling me about her guilt over tea and cupcakes. Two weeks earlier I was out for a girl's night with a bunch of mums, and guess what the hot topic over starters was? Guilt, of course.
Rhian Drinkwater, working mum with one son, says guilt is her daily companion and she constantly asks herself questions like, "Does he watch too much TV? Do I read to him enough? Do I interact with him enough while he's playing?"
"I feel guilty about dragging my children around on social visits when they'd much rather do things just as a family," agrees my friend Helen, "And for finding my son's role-play games eye-bruisingly boring, and making excuses not to play them."
"Where do I start?" asked Vickie Wood, "Allowing the four year-old to watch back-to-back Cbeebies so I can get some cleaning done. Shouting at him because I am tired and I have a screaming baby to put to bed. Hoping he'll forget that he wanted to play puzzles so I don't have to deal with the mess afterwards - and the list goes on."
It may be normal to feel guilty, but it isn't necessarily a good thing as our two experts reveal.
Anna Golawski is one of the UK's approved Next Generation coaches for parents and she says that guilt is a wasted emotion that has the potential to undermine our self confidence and self esteem, creating a vicious circle and additional stress.
She explained, "We feel guilty which leads to stress, we then react to situations differently which then undermines our confidence, and then we feel even more guilty about the fact that we're not doing a good job at work, or at home. We also compare ourselves to others, often unrealistically, and stop focusing on the things we are doing well."
Sue Atkins, parenting expert and author of Raising Happy Children for Dummies, added, "I've lost count of how many times I've worked with mums in particular about their overwhelming feelings of guilt – whether they are working mums, stay at home mums, or part-time mums."
Sue went on to explain that guilt is often a message from within that you have violated your own high standards. "It's also a feeling of struggling with what you 'should', 'ought', and 'must' do. Guilt can make you resentful, frustrated and helpless and can lead to depression, or great anger and rage."
Fortunately Anna and Sue have some great advice on how to get guilt under control.
"Be realistic in the expectations you place on yourself," says Anna. "Don't expect to be perfect, aim to be good enough. Being perfect isn't possible all of the time and isn't a good role model for your children either."
Anna believes that you should really focus on the four needs of children. "The four needs are: love and security, new experiences, love and praise, and responsibility. Look at how you are doing with these and be fully engaged and interactive when you are spending time with your children."
Sue has a very practical approach to tackling what she calls, The Big G. She suggests that you acknowledge your guilt, take control over it and stop it from going round and around inside your head. I was particularly fond of the part where she suggested guilt-sodden mums go for a walk, bang a pillow or scream in the garden.
"Don't allow guilt to turn into feelings of inadequacy and learn to let it go," Sue said, "Guilt is there to allow you to learn from your mistakes, to take control of your life and keep up the standards and values you have set for yourself. So master its message and move forward, stop looking back in the rear-view mirror!"
As Christmas approaches and New Year's resolutions loom, there is no better time to ditch the guilt. I have made it my goal for 2011, to live a life free from parental guilt and to just enjoy spending time with my children. In fact, I have taken advice from a very smart mum journalist and stuck a post-it on my monitor that says, "Sod the guilt"...
Do you suffer from guilt? Or have you decided you do the best you can - and that's enough?
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