Managing Your Mum Guilt
I challenge any mother who doesn’t get a visit from their Mum Guilt gremlin almost every day. It really is part and parcel of motherhood. For some it might be a fleeting visit and we might keep that gremlin in check, whilst for others it can consume and overwhelm us. How good are you at managing your Mum Guilt Gremlin?
When I was working full time, I was in a really stressful job that I didn’t truly care about and I gave very little attention to my personal wellbeing and self-care. I was exhausted from working, from commuting, from parenting. My capacity cup was constantly overflowing – there was not a lot of patience and there was a lot of shouting! My Mum Guilt Gremlin would have a field day – and I had nothing in my tool kit to manage it. I fought it or tried to ignore it, but eventually it would find a weak spot when I was feeling vulnerable and crawl all over me, sending me into those downward spirals of negative self-talk.
Just because I no longer work full time in a stressful job doesn’t mean I escape the ever present Mum Guilt Gremlin. This morning it piped up with its usual dialogue during the morning routine:
“Shouldn’t you be spending quality time with the kids first thing in the morning not doing yoga and meditation for yourself….. Hasn’t your husband got enough on his plate rather than having to watch the kids in the morning while you tend to yourself”
“How can you let your little girl go to school on a practically empty stomach, especially when she’s got a school trip this morning? …..You shouldn’t have let her drink so much milk, that’s not going to sustain her like a fulfilling breakfast would ….. I can’t believe you’re letting them eat Cheerios again…. So much sugar!”
“Making yourself another cup of tea? Shouldn’t you be playing with your son?”
“You mean to say you still haven’t fixed that zip on your daughter’s coat? Have you seen the weather?”
“Was that sharp tone of voice really necessary? They’re in their own little worlds – you’re always in such a rush in the morning, you’re stressing them out!”
And then it really got going and started rubbing its little Gremlin hands with glee when the childminder collected my son and he decided to make a massive scene about it, despite always having a wonderful day with her – because sometimes that’s just what toddlers do.
“You’re so selfish … you’re not even earning any money at the moment…. It is purely out of choice that you are working…. You’re only thinking of yourself”
….and it’s definitely harder to keep that Mum Guilt gremlin at bay in these scenarios. However, I am now able to have a much more effective dialogue with it, and send it packing before it can do any real damage.
So how can we keep that gremlin in check?
Naming is an amazingly powerful mindfulness technique that I cannot advocate more highly – and there is even science to back it up! It sounds so simple, but it is SO effective. When we recognise that gremlin piping up and we name it and greet it (ideally out loud) “hello Mum Guilt ” we dissociate it from us and it loses its power over us. This awareness and separation from us can interrupt that negative chatter and those downward spirals in their tracks.
Make it fun!
Fun can also make our Mum Guilt Gremlin less scary – giving it a persona can have even more powerful affect at making it separate from us and therefore not us. It can also really help us recognise it when it pops up at different points in our daily lives.
What characteristics does your Mum Guilt Gremlin have? What does it look like? What voice does it have? Maybe it isn’t gremlin like at all – maybe it’s more like a pixie or a fairy godmother? Or maybe it takes the form or voice of your mother??
Try drawing your Mum Guilt Gremlin or use another visual way of representing it. In this way you might find it easier to turn its volume down or even visually shrink it when it visits.
Don’t battle your Gremlin. When we struggle and fight against it, we have already lost.
Investigate your gremlin’s positive intention
Although it might seem easier to try and push our Mum Guilt Gremlin away, it’s important to investigate why it’s popping up, otherwise it will keep coming back. Our gremlins typically have a positive intention, although their arrival and negative chatter can often be ineffective and sometimes damaging. To prevent it chipping away at you, it is important to respect its intention to communicate something important to you. We can treat our gremlins as the enemy or as opportunities for understanding and on occasions for change.
What is your Mum Guilt Germlin’s purpose? What is its positive intention? Is there an action you need to take or change that you want to make?
Like darkness, Gremlins tend to shrink and cease to exist when light is present, so shining the torch of curiosity on them is a potent way of lessening their influence.
Often when we investigate our Mum Guilt Gremlin, it is present purely because of our deep, unconditional love and motherly instinct to want to protect and keep our little ones safe. Recognising this and having a conversation with it might be enough to send it on its way and melt that Gremlin into a warm wave of love. Alternatively, your investigation might highlight that the real issue is you are not going to see the kids for bedtime again tonight. This might be unavoidable, but listening to your Gremlin’s positive intention might spark you to take a positive action, like making a plan to spend some quality time with them tomorrow morning, or do something special at the weekend.
Have a dialogue with your gremlin so it feels heard
It can help to have a dialogue with our Gremlin, thanking it for its concern and sending it on its way: “thank you for looking out for me, you are right, I will miss them and I love them so, but I love my work and it’s important to me. I need to work for my own sanity and wellbeing and that will make me an even better mummy for them when I see them again”
Be true to yourself and your values
However, you need to be true to yourself and believe in what you are saying. Your gremlin knows the truth and will not be satisfied with being fobbed off.
In the past my gremlin would see through the above dialogue and know as well as I did that I didn’t love my work, that I wasn’t a better mummy when I was with them again. I was a frazzled mummy, a present, but not present mummy, and one with very little patience for them.
So what was my gremlin’s positive intention? Well for me it was two-fold – firstly it was telling me I needed to start taking care of myself, to nourish myself so that I could be a calmer and more present mummy when I was with them. And secondly it was telling me to explore my core values and whether money and ambition was more important than work I loved and was passionate about.
Everyone’s Mum Guilt Gremlin will have a different intention – it is individual to you and your personal core values. The important thing is to investigate what its intention is and explore whether there are changes you would like to make, or whether you are confident that your approach aligns with your values. When we know our values and remain true to them, we can be confident in our decisions and our dialogue with our Mum Guilt Gremlin. We can allow it to feel heard and wave it off again without it causing any significant damage.
Recognise when you’re vulnerable and keep mentally healthy
Unfortunately our gremlins tend to know when out defences are down, when we are feeling vulnerable – and they seize their moments to strike. No surprises here – we need to nourish ourselves, top up those energetic bank accounts and refill that self-care cup. When we are nourished, it is so much easier to be kind to ourselves, be confident in our values and wave our Mum Guilt Gremlin goodbye. Selfcare doesn’t mean pampering and doesn’t need to take loads of time. There’s a brilliant new book that has just launched called The Selfcare Revolution, by Suzy Reading, with a compelling argument for why selfcare is so important, especially for mums and loads of brilliant ideas for self-nourishment, throughout the day. You can also check out my Instagram @keepingmummighty for regular self-care tips for busy mums.
When does your Mum Guilt Gremlin like to strike? Even just being aware that it is visiting because we are feeling below par, can be helpful at minimising its impact.
If you’re interested in getting help in managing your mum guilt or exploring your core values, please get in touch. I work with parents to help them achieve their personal AND professional goals, find greater balance and harmony and live their best lives. I believe everyone has the potential to excel in both their work and family lives. I can help you unlock your potential, get unstuck, shift those feelings of discontent and find the best way forward that really works for you. If you’re ready to make a change, please get in touch.
Good luck managing that Mum Guilt gremlin! #wereinittogether