Why? Why would we want to notice our mum guilt? It already feels like too much. It’s painful and uncomfortable and we spend a lot of our lives trying to avoid it.

So why am I suggesting it might be helpful to pay attention to it?

The first thing that comes to my mind is that it’s different for everyone. Some people feel terrible if their child gets hurt. Others can cope with their child getting hurt without too much difficulty but, feel awful if they are away from them too long. For other people, mum guilt can spring up when they return to work and for others the return to work doesn’t feel so bad.

Paying attention to difficult feelings can be too much for us sometimes. So take your time. Keep breathing out. Check in with yourself, can you manage this? If you can’t take a break and come back to it. There’s no rush.

So, I’m curious.

What triggers your mum guilt?

Which situations bring it around and which don’t? Do you notice that you are different from some other parents? You can’t understand why they would be so worried about one thing and yet they can’t understand why you’re so worried about this other thing?

Is it actual things that happen or is it more thoughts and feelings that arise within you? What kinds of feelings or thoughts are they?

What is it about these things that triggers the mum guilt, do you think? Or are you not sure?

Are you actually feeling guilt?

Often mum guilt is associated with feeling ‘bad’ and often we say we feel ‘bad’ in situations where we might feel guilty. So we call it mum guilt. But have you noticed your mum guilt and really dug into what it is you’re feeling? I’m not sure it’s always guilt that is coming up.

Guilt is a response to a specific action that we have done that does not fit with who we want to be. Taking responsibility and apologising can often do a lot to alleviate our guilt and help us move forward. It’s a useful emotion – it helps us to live by our values.

Does this ring true with what you’re feeling or is there something else going on?

Here’s a few other things to consider:

Shame: the idea that you are bad or flawed as a person (rather than a specific action was ‘bad’ or ‘flawed’). There is something wrong in you and this can’t really be fixed, you’re just bad.

Longing: I think quite often we can feel ‘bad’ as parents because we miss our children. We miss spending time with them. We’re sad not to have that time and, though we are enjoying doing our other thing, we also long for that closeness that’s so important to us.

Pain: when we see our children hurt or upset, it can cause is physical pain. It can be almost as intense as us experiencing that upset ourselves.

Anxiety: this is usually related to predicting negative things that are going to happen in the future. We might feel tense or frozen, or our minds might be racing.

Overwhelm: this can happen when we have too many things on. When our expectations of ourselves or the perceived expectations of others feel over and above what we can achieve. This is closely related to stress.

Out of control: this might be direct control of your child (e.g. you’ve left them with someone else for a while) or of life events (e.g. your child is in pain and you realise there’s nothing you can do about it). Either way, feeling out of control is not something we tend to enjoy as humans. What does this bring up for you?

Still not sure what you’re feeling?

That’s OK, take you’re time.

What thoughts come up when this thing happens? What do you notice?

A helpful way to start to recognise our feelings can be to plot them on a spectrum of how much energy we feel like we have and how pleasant the feeling is. These two things can cross over and create a grid with four squares (this was developed by Marc Brackett at Yale):

High energy, very pleasant (happiness, joy, excitement, motivation, surprise)

Low energy, very pleasant (relaxation, contentment, tranquility)

High energy, very unpleasant (anger, fury, shock)

Low energy, very unpleasant (hopelessness, loneliness, sadness)

And then there’s all those feelings in between that rest along the spectrum.

Why does it matter?

Why do you think we have feelings? What if I was to tell you that every feeling has a purpose, they have evolved over millennia as a way for us to communicate with ourselves and others. They tell us what’s going on in our world and what we need, in order to feel ‘right’ again. Take a look at my ‘what do our feelings tell us‘ resource to start recognising the language of your feelings.

But why does it matter if it’s not actually ‘guilt’ that you’re feeling in mum guilt?

If we think it’s guilt we’re feeling, we will respond to that with trying to ‘make up for’ something we think we’ve done to our child. But if it’s not actually guilt that we’re feeling, it won’t matter how much apologising we do, how much we take responsibility, we won’t feel better because we’re not acknowledging our actual feeling and not giving ourselves what we need in response.

It’s also important because, often, we can be ‘projecting’ our experience onto our children.

For example, in a previous blog post, I wrote to a mum who felt ‘guilty’ for leaving her child alone playing, while her child was very content.

In this instance, the mum was projecting onto her child the loneliness that she was feeling herself and feeling ‘bad’ about that. But the child was showing no signs of feeling that loneliness so if the mum begins to start ‘making up for’ a feeling the child does not have this will become very confusing for both of them.

This is why it’s really important for us to be in touch with our feelings, get to know them and practise responding to them with kindness.

But, it’s not easy.

What are you left with having read this blog post?

There have been fewer questions than usual, how has that been for you?

Can you identify any feelings that have come out of this? More shame? Relief? Guilt? Anger? Joy?

What do you think has triggered those feelings? What do you think they need in response?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on what you’ve read so please, let me know on Instagram or Facebook or leave a comment below.

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