This article is by Thea Jolly, one of our Certified Coaches and part of the coaching team on our the Lead the Change and Be Powerful Programmes.
Thea’s mission is to help women feel at peace with themselves – because only then can they make their biggest and boldest contributions to their families, communities and the world. And today she’s sharing 5 simple ways to get over our guilt.
How much time and energy do you waste feeling bad about your parenting? Do you second guess your decisions, worrying about saying no and upsetting your children, or do you try to please everyone, despite it compromising what you believe in? Or perhaps you experience a constant low-level guilt about not being the ‘Perfect Mother’ and being able to Do-It-All.
Welcome to modern motherhood – and indeed, modern womanhood. Even if you’re not a mum, the steps I’m sharing with you today are incredibly powerful when you apply them to any situation you find yourself feeling guilty about.
Often our guilt is in direct proportion to the expectations we have of ourselves, of the bar that we set ourselves. And in some areas it’s just too high.
When we are at our best we are light-hearted and happy, following our intuition, allowing life to flow and opportunities for growth and nurture to unfold. Guilt gets in the way of that.
So how do we stop? And how do we let our softer, natural, more effective Mother out to play?
5 ways to deal with mother guilt
1. Call it out.
The first step towards change is to notice what is going on. As the saying goes, knowledge is power, and self-knowledge is the ultimate power.
Start noticing whenever you feel guilty about something and instead of ruminating, say to yourself:
‘I’m noticing I’m feeling guilty about x, and that’s OK. I’m a human being feeling a human emotion.’
This labelling helps you to distance yourself from the guilty thoughts and emotions – like an observer who’s not so personally involved – which reduces their power over you.
2. Notice your stories.
Every second of the day we are interpreting the world around us, through our bodies and minds. None of those interpretations are true – they are just one of many realities that we create depending on our mood, our beliefs and a million other filters and factors that affect our neural connections.
When guilt strikes, ask yourself what story you are telling yourself.
For example, I’ve noticed that I often feel guilty about feeding my children processed pizzas. If I stop and ask myself what story I’m really telling myself the answer might be:
I’m telling myself that good mums never feed their children pizza, and that because I’m not making time to cook meals from scratch, I’m a bad mum. I’m telling myself the story that all other mums cook healthier meals than I do.
I’m painting a black and white picture where pizza is bad and no-pizza is good. I’m telling myself that my children will get obese, and develop diabetes and die early from cancer because I’m not a good enough mother and it’s all my fault.
I’m also telling myself the story that it’s too hard to do anything else and that I’m stuck here feeling bad about feeding my kids pizza every Friday.
Written down, I’m sure you can see how untrue this story is. There are elements of truth – processed pizza isn’t the healthiest of meals – but the extrapolations and meanings I’ve taken from it are not true.
I won’t kill my children with pizza. There are hundreds of habits and factors that will affect my children’s health. There are thousands of moments that will contribute to my parenting, and most of them will be nurturing and positive.
Start questioning the stories you are telling yourself and make a conscious choice about whether to believe them or not.
After a while you will notice your favourite stories, and will be able to say to yourself: Ah, that’s my ‘I’m a bad mother story’, ‘I can’t cope story’, or ‘pizzas are evil story’ and let it go.
3. Know your values and boundaries
Sometimes guilt is a response to actions that occur because your boundaries are being crossed or your values are being compromised.
For example, I’ve realised that for me personally my pizza story was a sign that I wasn’t living in line with my values. I believe in fresh, wholesome food and while my family generally eats this way, I know in my heart that the balance has slipped more towards convenience and extra treats than I’d like.
And so I have to ask myself: what could I do that will make me feel more in integrity with my values around feeding my family, while also acknowledging that I’m busy and don’t always have the time or inclination to cook?
Then, because I know that I’m working towards a better balance I can reassure myself when the tabloid ‘Bad Pizza Mum’ guilt rears its ugly head.
4. Get into your Queen PowerType.
One of the biggest surprises for me when I started working with the 5 Women’s PowerTypes™ was how effective being in the Queen PowerType is for the difficult moments of parenting.
The 5 Women’s PowerTypes™ are the powerful role models we use at One of many to tap into our strongest feminine leadership, and the Queen is just one of them (the others are Warriroress, Sorceress, Lover and Mother).
A Queen just knows what to do. She leaves all the self-doubt and second guessing to others and calmly and confidently states what is needed in any particular situation.
And she doesn’t do guilt. She looks after her needs, is aligned to what she wants for herself and her family and knows what the right action is.
So when guilt strikes, stepping back and asking ‘What would a Queen do/say?’ is often enough to reassure yourself that what you are doing is the right thing.
When my children complain about not liking certain meals I cook, I can go into Queen, align myself with my values of health and vitality and calmly say ‘This is what is for dinner today.’ No drama. No guilt.
5. Let go of responsibility
This might sound weird for a mum, but honestly, if there is one thing I’ve learnt during my parenting journey it’s that we are not responsible for our children’s happiness.
As harsh as that sounds, it is not our job to manage their emotional well-being.
Obviously we do our best to be compassionate, caring, inclusive, loving, nurturing and all those wonderful qualities of Mother, especially when they are young.
We can encourage them along the way to managing their own emotions – but we only hold the space for their journey, and cannot force it to play out a certain way.
When we try to cajole, influence or control the well-being of others so that we can feel better it can be counter-productive. You can only lead with integrity, not force your family to follow you.
Next time you are feeling guilty ask yourself: ‘Is this my responsibility?’ Quite often the answer is no.
Are you simply feeling bad because, naturally, you don’t want your child to feel bad?
You are responsible to act in accordance to your highest values of behaviour (i.e. respect, love, enthusiasm, integrity etc.) and to the vision you have for your family.
How your children respond is not your responsibility, it’s their opportunity to learn and discover themselves.
My children are now 16, 14 and 11. They are old enough to know what foods are good for them and make their own decisions. I can teach, model and provide a balanced healthy diet but ultimately I have to gift them the responsibility to look after their own bodies and health.
I can also choose to acknowledge with compassion, that this letting go is sometimes scary, extremely annoying, fraught with arguments and mistakes on both sides, but that ultimately it’s what being a mother is all about.
Finally, it’s important to note that sometimes guilt is appropriate.
Maybe you’ve behaved in a way that wasn’t your best self. That’s OK. Guilt is there to prompt a response: to make amends, apologise or change a habit. But when guilt itself is a habit, linked to who you are, not to how you are behaving, it might be slipping into the arena of shame – which is not useful for parenting in any way (but that’s a whole other blog post..).
How about you?
Do you experience “mother guilt”, or do you recognise some of what I’ve described here in your life outside of motherhood? We’d love to know your experience of guilt and whether you find these strategies effective when it comes to coming past it – leave a comment and let us know.
Thea is one of our Certified Women’s Coaches, and is an in-house coach on our Lead the Change and Be Powerful Programmes.
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Thea's mission is to help women feel at peace with themselves - because only then can they make their biggest and boldest contributions to their families, communities and the world.