Mum guilt

As mums, we can go through a whole range of emotions related to our kids in the course of a day. But guilt has to be number one.

What is guilt?

A dictionary might define guilt as the uncomfortable feeling you experience when you've done something that you believe you shouldn't, or vice versa.

Based on that definition, we can feel guilty about pretty much anything when it comes to our kids, especially not having enough time or money to spend on them. It's not a feeling that's exclusive to mums - anyone caring for children is likely to find themselves confronted by guilty feelings.

'Everyone experiences guilt; it's a natural human emotion. Some people experience more guilt than others, and I think it's common for a lot of mothers to feel guilty,' says chartered clinical psychologist, Dr Abigael San.

Back-to-work mum guilt

According to research conducted by Bounty, the mum guilt biggie is going back to work. Nearly half the mums surveyed said they are torn between loyalty to work and to their family.

We don't need any help feeling guilty, but could it be that the guilt we may feel about the issue of working or not is fuelled by the angle that the popular press takes on working mums? A recent Children's Society report that our children's wellbeing is being damaged highlighted a number of causes of the 'damage', but according to the papers, it's all down to mums going out to work and getting divorced.

Mums talk guilt

Even without the media's help, it seems that being a mum is bound up with feeling guilty, as expressed by madzsargeant on Bounty's forums:

'Let's be honest, one of the character traits of being mothers is guilt. I feel guilty about everything: if I go to the shop and leave ds at home with dp and he cries, I feel awful. If I have a night out with the girls I feel guilty. If I feel like I haven't had enough one to one time, I feel guilty. I'm pregnant with baby number 2 and I'm already feeling guilty about things for her!'

Does this from sez128 sound familiar? 'I start a new job next week, and for the first 4 weeks I have got to work full time so am feeling guilty already about having to leave the kids.'

Or this from mum, Elspeth Watson who commutes across the country to work: ' Now where do I start re guilt? On the first day of the snow, I arrived at work after a 7-hour journey - and wish I was a proper mum and had stayed at home to play in the snow. And I am not even sure why I went to work that day... I didn't have anything really pressing, and would much rather have been throwing snowballs.'

And last, but not least, from pepsipaula on the forums: 'I have a 2 year old loving little boy... the problem is I feel guilty for not being able to breastfeed... I just couldn't persist with it or have the confidence to keep at it ... I don't feel like I bonded with my son.'

You name it. We'll feel guilty about it.

So why do mums feel guilty?

According to psychologist, Dr Abigael San, it's because we're so close to our children: 'Guilt is what is called a secondary emotion. It is "other oriented" - it's what you feel about the effect of your behaviour on someone else, as opposed to say, shame, which is about how you feel about yourself. In that sense, guilt is closely related to empathy [being able to share someone else's feelings]. A mum is so in tune with her baby and feels incredibly responsible for and empathetic towards him or her, so her feelings of guilt may be greater or more frequent.'

Maybe that's why we get so tired: all that guilt can be exhausting, especially if you feel it too often. 'Guilt can be destructive if you feel excessively guilty and aren't able to think about anything else,' says Dr San.

However, because of that crucial link with empathy, it's not all bad news. 'Guilt is actually a good thing because it allows us to look at our behaviour and modify it - repair damage if you like,' says Dr San. 'If every criminal felt guilt instead of shame there would be fewer crimes.'

Or as Bounty mum, sophsmummysarah puts it: 'Yes, I feel guilty about not having enough time, but I have to keep reminding myself that I'm doing the best for my girls and that's all I can do. Guilt is inherent being a mum and if you are feeling guilty you are probably a good mum as you are wanting the best for your child.'

Top mums' guilt-busters

To help beat those guilty feelings, psychologist Dr Abigael San suggests:

  • It's important to have regular time away from your baby or child/ren. Start with a couple of hours once or twice a week before you try a whole weekend.
  • Think about all the things that you're doing well. It's easy to over-focus on what you think you're doing badly.
  • Remind yourself how well your child is turning out, which is thanks to you.
  • Remember, you are not the only person responsible for your child (your partner, a relative, their school, for example, are all involved in your child's upbringing) so you shouldn't feel guilty about everything that happens to them


It is really good to read the above comments from other Mothers. I went back to work for 2 & 1/2 days a week when my son was 11 months. I was studying at the same time and wondered why I was suffering from tight chest and rushed to hospital on two occasions not being able to breathe..... the guilt had truly got me. I felt bad for going back to work and when I wasn't at work I felt bad for studying, if I didn't study I felt bad and thought I would fail my course! To cut a long story short, my son, now 15 months, LOVES nursery, appreciates both Mummy and Daddy time, spends time with his Nan half a day a week and although I still feel guilty, I have passed my course, which means I can be freelance and therefore have more time with my Son and I make sure that I show him and give him as much love as i can when I am with him. Phew..... feel better. thank you
felt very relieved after reading this article, I know now that I'm not the only 'crazy' mum feeling guilty and anxious all the time!! I normally find it so tough to talk to others about it, but after reading this article I feel like it's ok to discuss these feelings...my daughter is going to start school this september and my 16 month son is at nursery while I work 30 hrs a week...i feel so guilty that i'm not able to give both of them more time!! i have so many things in mind that i would like to do for them & with them, but just can't get everything done n that makes me guilty, anxious n depressed... keep feeling like i'm a terrible mum! Like others I read about here, I am torn between the financial need to work and my desire to stay home & give more quality time for my kids! My hubby has been helping me overcome this anxiety n encouraging me to go out n have regular "me-time" at the health club or time out with the girls... I have just gone out for one but still couldn't stop thinking/worrying what the kids were doing at home while I was out.. I guess it'll take some time before the guilt reduces! I am looking forward to the next dinner out with my friends though!!
I'm glad I'm not the only one that feels like this. My baby boy is just under 5 months now. I will be returning to work on 12th March just for 3days a week, as each day passes I feel more and more guilty. I try and go out for a couple of hours when my partner is off work but even then all I can think about is seeing is cheeky smile. I'm going away at the beginning of march with my mother-in-law and leaving my partner home with the baby, I am dreading it to be honest. Luckily enough when I return to work my father will be having the baby as my partner will be working. I think I'm more worried about missing him grow up.
Just after returning to work having had our second child my eldest broke his leg and had to stay in hospital meaning my youngest had to stay with my husband and other family members while I stayed at the hospital. The guilt was two fold my baby breaking his leg and leaving the other. But, we are home now and my youngest is actually more confident to leave me and is always very happy to see me. A little absence seems to reinforce the bond. Make the most of the time you do have together it won't be long before they are off being little individuals and giving them independence and confidence to strike out alone can only be strengthened by providing the opportunity to 'go it alone' in a supported environment such as childcare. Most people are a success in their own right and a lot of them didn't have the best upbringing in the world we are by our very nature survivors our children don't hate us for working but they don't like being distanced and guilt can create that. Enjoy the moments you do have and your children will cherish them too.
I have had to go back to work after 14 weeks, my baby was almost 6 weeks premature and we were in hospital for 3 weeks. I had to move house so all my savings went into a deposit and I couldn't afford to live off SMP. We went through 2 months of colic and reflux which is under control but still there. I feel so guilty that I'm leaving her every day and having to work, my husband doesn't seem to understand the bond between a mother and baby and thinks I'm being stupid and that I'm working to provide a good future for my baby. I know he's right in the long term, but I feel like I should be there for her still and I'm worried she'll not see me as her mum. I feel awful as I can't take her to childrens centres as they're all on in the week and there's nothing on of a weekend and I feel guilty that she's missing out and not interacting with other babies.
Feel so much better for reading others stories of guilt!I return to work in 4 weeks,part time & my daughter will be attending nursery 2 days a week.We have started weekly sessions in the nursery to help her adjust-I left her for 30mins today & felt so guilty I sat crying in the car!It doesnt help that she is crying as soon as i go to leave the nursery room.It is so hard trying to juggle home & worklife-I keep reminding myself that I'm returning to work so that we can have those holidays abroad & days out!
I have been a full-time working mother since my son was 3 months old. My husband has been at home with him everyday and baby has always been fine with him but I have felt guilty about it since the day he was born and still feel guilty now. A few months ago someone told me that it was self-indulgent to feel guilty and that it didn't help anyone or anything. She was absolutely right and I try to remember that but it doesn't help when you come from work and your child has been feeling under the weather and you feel that, had you been there, you may have been able to make him better. Most of the time I feel OK about it and other times I feel terrible. It's the only thing that I worry about - everything else in life is fine. Baby is growing up so fast though. I look around, on the few occasions when I manage to get out of work and take baby to playgroup, at other mothers and can't believe how lucky they are to have the freedom to be with their babies all day. I miss him so much.
Tell me about GUILT!!!!!!!!! My 7 year old has decided that I don't love her anymore because i am still breastfeeding her 16 month old baby sister and can't come and tend to her in the middle of the night if she is unwell because half the time i am up feeding the baby who still won't sleep anymore than 3 hours at a time without a feed!!!!!!!!!!!! Wants to move in with her gran because she is the only one who apparently gives her any attention!!!!!!!!!!!!! Wouldn't mind but number one didn't sleep a whole night through till she was 6 years old! But how do you get someone so small to accept that this situation won't be forever and that no matter what she believes there is no one in this world who could ever love her more than her own mother?
This is such helpful reading, I work very hard to not feel guilty a lot. I work three days a week in a demanding job and my son is in nursery and has been ill so much since he started which has resulted in me taking a lot of time off work. It has taught me that while my career used to be my number one priority, now my family is my ultimate priority and that's all there is to it. It is still hard though, like today when I take my little man to the doctors again and he has conjunctivitis and an ear infection and so I will be taking tomorrow off work again and cancelling three big meetings. Bigger picture I am there for my baby no question but I am still learning to deal with the cancelling everything at work thing. I'll get there one day!
Well what useful reading I have just done today...and you mknow what, I don't eel guilty at all. I have 3 beautiful children and it's true I have had a big hand to play in how they are vturning out...my youngest is 15 monts......lie is great and i am looking forward to going back to work at some point...i will enjoy it...even if it's part time for the first yr or so.....thanks to bounty....explaining guit is important.......i am really looking forward to having a life again.....my eldest is 16yrs and at a crucial time in his schooling career. my daughter is 11yrs old and she is a great friend......and i am reliving being a child with my little baby......