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