In a recent online Living and Loving survey, you told us that besides feeling enormous love for your family, guilt is the number one emotion you experience on a daily basis. We know the sources of guilt as a mother, wife, sister and friend can be numerous and all-consuming, but the truth is, unless guilt is used in a constructive way to re-evaluate certain aspects of your life, it’s a wasted emotion that doesn’t serve any purpose.
“As parents, we tend to worry about the future and feel guilty about the past, rather than living in the now and being grateful for what we have,” explains Johannesburg-based master life coach, Judy Klipin. But we really should give ourselves a break, starting right now.
Here are four of the most common mom-guilt traps and how to rid yourself of them for good!
Leaving the kids to go to work
Some moms feel guilty for wanting to go back to work – to have some adult interaction, earn money and be stimulated at the office. Others feel guilty because there’s simply no choice but to work a full day and leave their kids at home with a nanny or at a crèche.
If you’re heading back to work because you want to or have to, let go of the guilt and be present in the moment, says Judy. Instead of thinking about being at home while you’re at work, be fully engaged with what you’re doing. Be proactive and productive at work, then when you leave you can focus solely on your family. Also, if you think about it from a financial perspective, rather than beating yourself up and focus on what you’re giving up, think about what you’re making possible for your children and the opportunities you can give them with more disposable income, says Judy.
When you’re at home, focus on spending quality time with your children. Put down your phone and switch off all electronics. Get on the floor with your little one, or sit at the table together and talk face-to-face. Children love to be seen and heard, and have your undivided attention – even if it’s just for 15 minutes while dinner is cooking in the oven. A little quality time goes a long way towards making your child feel loved.
Feeling like you are failing at everything
As a mom, it’s hard not to feel like you’re always falling short of your own expectations – you’re not cooking enough, your home’s not tidy enough, you’re not spending enough time with your partner.
Before you let guilt take over, ask yourself whether the things you’re feeling bad about are really worth assessing, or whether you should simply let them go. Is it really a big deal if you leave dirty dishes in the sink until the next morning?
Instead of being so quick to judge yourself for doing something wrong, or failing to do something, sit down and think about what you’re doing right and what you have achieved that day, week or month. “I bet that if you give it some serious thought, you’ll soon realise you’re doing your best, and your family is loved and well taken care of,” says Judy.
Also, the feeling that we’re failing at everything often has more to do with societal pressure and the idea that we have to keep up with the Joneses. This leads to unrealistic goals and expectations. “Buying your child’s birthday cake, rather than making it yourself, doesn’t mean you’re a bad mom,” laughs Judy.
When you set goals for yourself, make sure they’re tangible, realistic, unambivalent and essential. Ensure that you really want to achieve the goal for yourself and not because society dictates you should accomplish something or be a certain type of mom.
Not spending enough one-on-one time with each child
Having a second or third baby always brings new waves of guilt, as your time is split more than ever. This may start during pregnancy if you feel too tired to devote the same amount of energy to your busy toddler as you did before.
Instead of being consumed by negative feelings and worrying that your child is missing time with you, turn things around and think about what your child is gaining – more family members to love them and a new sibling to play with later on. Rather than feeling bad about not having enough quality time with each child, set yourself realistic goals for the week ahead, such as, “Tomorrow night I will read a bedtime story and cuddle with my toddler after the baby is asleep. The following day, I’ll take my baby for a walk while my toddler is at home with the nanny or Dad.”
If you have a toddler and a new baby, one of the best ways to avoid feeling like you’re neglecting your toddler is to get them involved and let them help with as many tasks to do with the baby as possible. For instance, you can let him sit with you while you bath or feed the baby and ask him to hand you the nappy cream when you’re changing your baby. Remind your toddler that you’re a team and you’re taking care of the baby together.
Another solution is to simply ask for help with one of the children so you have time with the other, says Judy. This could mean asking a friend or family member to pick up your older child from school while you spend time with the baby.
You can’t afford to give your kids everything they “deserve”
You might believe that your children will be happier if they have more toys, more opportunities and the chance to participate in more extra-murals, but the truth is: less really is more!
Children don’t need loads of toys to be happy. Studies have shown that all kids really need is your time, love and attention. Giving them less stuff allows them to be more creative and use their imaginations, which will only help their social, physical and emotional development in the end.
If you start to feel like a terrible mother for not buying your child something he wants, or not allowing your little one to start yet another weekly activity, stop and think, “Will I really be letting my child down or is this more about my own unrealistic expectations of what they should have or should be doing?” Consider the lessons you’re teaching your children. If you want them to value time with others and quality experiences, ensure that you value those things yourself.
Tammy is a wife, mom and freelance writer with 15 years’ experience in the media industry. She specialises in general lifestyle topics related to health, wellness and parenting. Tammy has a passion for fitness and the great outdoors. If she’s not running around after her daughter, you’ll find her off the beaten track, running, hiking or riding her bike.