Parents Reveal The REAL Reasons Behind 'Mum Guilt'

It's more common than you think.
Little girl embracing her mother
Witthaya Prasongsin via Getty Images
Little girl embracing her mother

We’ve all been there — feeling a sense of shame or guilt when you think you haven’t done enough as a parent. This feeling is popularly known as ‘mum guilt’ and it turns out, it’s very common.

For me it’s usually triggered when I feel like I haven’t given my toddler the most nutritious food if we’ve had a very busy day. Other times it’s when I have lots of housework to keep up with and I end up letting my toddler have some screen time.

But what I’ve slowly understood is that as parents we are just trying our best with the time we have, and beating ourselves up over every little thing that our toddlers probably don’t even notice isn’t very helpful to our own mental wellbeing.

For example, if I’ve given my child oven food for one or two lunches because I haven’t had time to cook, at least she’s been fed. At the end of it I should be looking at the positives more than the negatives.

Other parents might have different struggles when it comes to mum guilt, and with that, different ways of coping.

Why do parents feel ‘mum guilt’?

Mum guilt can be experienced for all sorts of reasons and according to research by women’s supplement brand Wild Nutrition, 50% of parents feel it when taking time out for themselves

The biggest contributor to mum guilt is social media (48%) and TV and film (46%).

The study also found that friends and family also pile the pressure on for many, with almost a third of women admitting that their own mother (31%) was one of the reasons they had unrealistic expectations when it came to parenting.

Speaking to HuffPostUK, one parent said they experienced it when they leave their baby to go to work.

Another parent, Nina Chitnis said: “I think there is a lot of pressure on mums and parents these days vs when we grew up, and social media doesn’t help with that!”

Sparking the conversation on Mumsnet, one parent said: “For me I felt mum guilt when my daughter was on her first day of nursery and I was in the hairdressers enjoying some free time before I was due to start work.

“That was cos when I dropped her off she was crying and was probably feeling a bit confused/overwhelmed and there I was in the hairdressers pampering myself. I’d say that could be considered “normal”.

“In my opinion what wouldn’t be normal would be things like sitting down for a 5 min cuppa and feeling guilty over it etc.”

Others said they felt guilt over the opposite situation! A parent explained she felt guilty as her daughter doesn’t go to nursery and she doesn’t work. She said: “I feel guilty that I’m not at work! Would she benefit from nursery? Am I being lazy by not working?

“I feel guilty when I see family so often because I feel like I’m not working hard enough by myself and taking the ‘easy’ option by visiting family and letting them play with her for a bit. I feel guilty for spending money on toddler groups when I’m not working much.”

How can I overcome ‘mum guilt’?

For mums who go back to work after having a child, the mum guilt can be “hugely conflicting,” as Michelle Kennedy, founder and CEO of Peanut (an app that helps mothers connect), put it.

“I want to be with my child, but I want to show my child that Mummy goes to work just like Daddy,” she told HuffPost, describing her thoughts after welcoming her son.

Although Kennedy loved her work, she hated the thought of missing her baby’s milestones as he grew, and she berated herself even more when she would travel for work. Even worse, she faced additional feelings of guilt about her job after becoming a mother.

“I felt guilty at work because I wanted to go back and show how it’s the same old Michelle,” she said. “I acted like motherhood hadn’t changed things, when in fact everything had changed.”

Kennedy encouraged mums to stop second-guessing their decisions to head back to the office if that’s where they want to be, and to understand that being a parent doesn’t make up their entire identity.

“Motherhood has become part of who you are,” she said. “It may be the best part, but it’s not the only part.”

So if there’s one thing you should take away from this, it’s to stop second-guessing yourself.