How to recognise and overcome mum guilt

by Liz Benson

If you’re a parent, you’ve likely fallen victim to an unnerving sense of inferiority, also known as ‘mum guilt’. The feeling of thinking you should be doing more for your child or raising them on vegan diets, like you see on Instagram.

Valid or not, the reality of being a working parent means that a sense of guilt is almost inevitable. It may start with missing your kids’ critical milestones while you were in the office, or it may come from your 17-year-old son yelling at you because “there’s never any food in the house” (even after you just spent $400 on groceries).

Isolation may have introduced a new aspect of mum guilt for some. Living and working with your children, as well as schooling them, may have made the normal work-life juggle feel overwhelming at times. With your kids interrupting your working day with abstract requests, constant complaints, or simply for a cuddle, many parents felt guilty at how relieved they were when schools re-opened.

With isolation restrictions continuing to ease, many of us are in a kind of limbo between the home and office. The post-pandemic workforce is likely to be more flexible than in the past, with an anticipated rise in remote working, split teams, and staggered hours. While this could provide parents with a better work-life balance, mum guilt will likely still remain. Where you may have felt guilty from regular work travel, you may now experience the same feeling when you put your toddler in front of the TV so you can have a conference call.

No matter which way it’s spun, mum guilt can leave you feeling inferior and unaccomplished. If you find yourself distracted during work time and wishing you were with your child, or overcompensating for your absence with gifts or treats, you may need to evaluate why. Recognising mum guilt is the first step to overcoming it.

Here are four ways to help you overcome mum guilt:

1. Know the facts

Understand that your child won’t be negatively affected if you aren’t by their side every day. In fact, research has shown that children with working parents reported fewer cases of anxiety and depression, and tend to be high achievers in school.[1] So, consider the time you spend working valuable time modelling positive behaviours for your child.

2. Get off social media

Despite what you see on social media, you don’t need to be perfect to be a good parent. Perfection creates unhealthy models for children, which can lead to unrealistic expectations of the world. By accepting that you’re not perfect, and by adopting a ‘good enough’ parenting approach, you will ease some of the pressure associated with mum guilt. This is another great behaviour to model for your kids, who will begin to understand that their best effort is what’s required and occasionally falling short is nothing to be ashamed of.

Limit your social media usage, and be selective with whom you follow. While it can be useful to follow aspirational influencers and friends on social media, remember that their life isn’t as perfect as it seems; that’s only their highlights reel. If you feel awkward about unfollowing close friends, Facebook and Instagram have mute features, which lets you continue following them, while blocking out their content from your newsfeed, without them knowing.

3. Avoid multitasking

With many parents still working from home, it can be easy to want to multitask and blend the barriers of work and home life. While it’s more than okay to put on a load of washing or do a quick workout in your lunch break, try to commit to clear work and home boundaries. While it may seem like multitasking is more productive, switching between tasks prevents you from engaging deeply and will likely lead to increased feelings of stress.

4. Schedule quality family time

One of the many challenges of life is that there never seems to be enough hours in the day. By scheduling non-negotiable family time, you can ensure that your children are getting what they need from you. To maximise this time, give your children your full attention. This means putting phones and laptops away. While you may think it’s okay to catch up on a few texts or emails while watching a movie, your children will see that you are not fully engaged with them or your time together.

We all love our children. So, no matter how much you give your children, it will often not feel like enough. It is so important to accept that perfection is not the goal, and a healthy work-life balance has a positive affect on your child’s development. By moving away from the idea of being perfect, you can learn to overcome mum guilt and accept that what you are doing is enough, and always will be.