Do you suffer with ‘mum guilt’? This is how to tackle it, for good

'Mum guilt' can be a powerful emotion, so why do 68% of mums feel it at least once a day?

If you're a mum, then you might be more than a little familiar with the term 'mum guilt'.

It’s not clear where the phrase ‘mum guilt’ came from, yet the feeling of guilt associated with the many (many) aspects of being a mum can affect all of us in different ways.

From raising our voice when the little ones are playing up and giving in to demands of a takeaway, to not being able to afford absolutely every toy their hearts desire, mum guilt can come in all sorts of forms. Yet each mum is making daily decisions for her kids that she undoubtedly feels are for the best.

So why are we still giving ourselves such a hard time?

To delve a little deeper into just how many mums feel guilty and why, back in 2017, we spoke to 900 of you to find out all about your mum guilt – and the results were alarming.

A staggering 78% of mums revealed that they feel guilty, with 68% saying this occurred once or twice a day. The reason? The majority cited ‘not spending enough time with the kids’ as the main cause, and another 35% said ‘not trying enough activities with the kids’ was the reason for their guilt, while 34% blamed ‘not being able to afford enough’.

More interesting still, 61% said they compared themselves to other mums but that the person who places the guilt on them the most is, surprise surprise, themselves. When we asked what the last thing was that made you feel guilty, there was a huge and varied range of responses…

mum guilt

Credit: Getty

What was the last thing that made you feel guilty?

We might all feel guilty for a huge variety of reasons – and when you’re a mum, that list seems never ending. So here’s the list of reasons you said you feel mum guilt for:

  • ‘Having to miss on a school play for work’
  • ‘Thinking, when the teacher needed to speak to me, that she was going to tell me my boy did something bad yesterday rather than to praise his behaviour’
  • ‘Not buying enough Christmas presents’
  • ‘I wasn’t able to afford for my children to go on school holiday abroad’
  • ‘Spending money on myself’
  • ‘Having some time out after cleaning’
  • ‘Not baking together when I had planned to’
  • ‘My son felt I did not support him in an argument with his brother’
  • ‘Buying an expensive ready meal’
  • ‘Not adding money to my daughter’s lunch account, as I was in a meeting and forgot, by the time I remembered lunch was over’
  • ‘My son wanted to cook cupcakes and I said no, as I had just cleaned the kitchen’

What exactly is mum guilt – and why do we experience it?

Dr Claire Halsey, a parenting expert and Clinical Psychologist, believes that mum guilt is just one of the many ways our brains keep us focused on doing a good job for our kids.

“Like most emotions it has a purpose and when seen as a positive message to ourselves it can be a helpful guide to how we approach parenting on a day to day basis.

“Parental guilt has certainly been around for a long time and is nothing new. However, as times have changed and there’s more pressure to juggle work and looking after your child things have got a little more complicated.”

Claire says that despite there being more pressure to be the perfect parent now than ever, it’s important to remember that there’s no such thing as perfect. “There is no problem in wanting to be the best parent you can, however expecting to be perfect in every way is an unreasonable pressure and a recipe for disappointment.”

What mum guilt means to these mothers

Our survey uncovered a whole range of factors that seemed to contribute to your mum guilt, so we reached out to some of favourite mummy bloggers to get their (very honest) opinion on how mum guilt has affected them, and why they think it’s such a huge thing.

Back in 2017, Sarah, who runs popular mummy blog The Unmumsy Mum, said, “I think it’s worse nowadays because we have access to social media 24/7 and a lot of parental guilt stems from what you see online and comparing yourself to other people.

“There’s nothing like having a niggling feeling of guilt and then scrolling through an Instagram feed full of people “winning” at parenthood.”

Susie reckons social media is a lot to blame for mum guilt…

And Susie, who runs the This is Me Now blog, couldn’t agree more. The blogger has two kids, and explained that she reckons social media is to blame for all of the constant comparisons – making everyone feel they’re not quite ‘good enough’.

She said, “It starts in the first few weeks after you’ve had your baby. You’re frankly eating anything to help you get through the sleep deprivation, yet most celebrity mums seem to look amazing just a few weeks after their children’s births. And your friend’s friend is back in her size 10s too – you know this because you’ve seen it on Facebook.

“The comparisons start and before you know it you’re left with low self-esteem and you start to feel guilty that you’re not stick thin and totally on top of this parenting thing.

mum guilt

Credit: Getty

“Then there’s all the decisions. Breast or bottle, purée or baby led weaning, work or stay at home? It goes on and on. Everyone seems to have an opinion on every aspect of parenting. Not only do we have to make all these decisions, but we can’t get away from reading what other people think of them.”

She continued, “Did our mums feel this way? They probably felt guilty if they accidentally trapped our fingers in a door, but did they feel the constant relentless pressure to be the perfect mum? I suspect not. Because when they were new mums there just wasn’t this level of pressure. There weren’t all these online articles and social media feeds rammed with images that we have today.”

Sarah Barnes, who blogs at Taming Twins, confirmed what many mums may feel, by revealing that no matter what decision you make, there’s always something to feel guilty about. “If my kids are watching Netflix because I have to put the washing on, I’m either guilty because they’re watching Netflix or guilty because I haven’t done the washing – you have to choose which guilt you’re going for!”

Dr Claire’s advice for dealing with mum guilt

  • Recognise ‘mum guilt’ as a helpful prompt from you to yourself to check you’re getting your priorities right for your child, yourself and your family.
  • Remind yourself that there is no such thing as a perfect parent, what your child needs most is your loving attention, a sense of security and time to play and explore and doesn’t necessarily require the newest toys or schedule of activities.
  • Look after yourself. Caring for yourself as an adult – for example by working, seeing friends or pursuing sports or interests whilst your child is well looked after by family, friends or in trusted child care – can recharge your batteries and make you a more calm and patient parent.

Mum Katie reveals how she took steps to tackle her mum guilt…

Katie from Mummy In A Tutu also explained to GoodtoKnow how she was able to overcome mum guilt.

She explained, “Don’t get me wrong, I used to be all about the mummy guilt. When our babies are born it’s like we receive an injection of it and it runs free in our veins forever more!

“However, it occurred to me randomly one day that I needed to cut myself some serious slack.”

For Katie, it was all about realising that her daughter couldn’t be happier, even if she hadn’t perfectly washed and ironed all of her clothes!

She wrote, “Take a look at your child – if, like mine, they’re happy, clean, healthy, fed and loved then guess what?! You’re doing a brilliant job. IF you manage to do some painting with them, or take them to the park, or have every item of their clothing wash, dried, ironed and back in their drawers five minutes after they have taken them off then that’s brilliant too, but it’s not a necessity.

“So if you’re going to kill yourself doing all that then stop, take a breath, and remember that in the long run if the washing isn’t done that day, it doesn’t matter.”

“Reading back, I swear the me from three or four months ago wouldn’t have recognised the person writing this now,” Katie continued. “I used to suffer hugely from mummy guilt for the tiniest thing. Then I realised that the energy I was wasting worrying and feeling bad could be spent getting the things done I was worried about in the first place, and if they didn’t get done, well, there was always tomorrow.”

Survey results and mums’ comments based on GoodtoKnow content from 2017.