Before I became a mother I'd heard of the phenomenon of 'Mum guilt', but I had no idea how real it would become. As a new mother, navigating the unknown is hard enough without the feelings of guilt that creep in when you least expect it.
The thing with guilt is that it's usually caused by unrealistic expectations. These can come from ourselves, our family, our friends or society itself. We form an idea of what good mothering is based on a whole range of factors, and that's how we set expectations for ourselves.
Regardless, mum guilt is a thing. But it is a thing you can deal with constructively and more on from. Here are three commonly experienced 'mum guilt' moments, and why you shouldn't feel guilty about these things.
Feeling guilty because every moment isn't interactive
This one hit me pretty early on. I felt like every moment my baby was awake, I had to be interacting with her. Surely if I missed even a second of interaction she'd end up socially incompetent? And so I ran myself ragged in her waking hours (which admittedly are short during the first few weeks) trying to interact with her.
The thing with newborns though, is that they're just not that interactive! That being said, it took me quite a few months to be okay with being quiet and just being near my baby. Sometimes I'll be sitting in her room on the floor with her, but I'm just a quiet observer as she plays. And it's great, because sometimes she needs the company but not the interaction.
I still sometimes feel guilty when she's in her bouncy chair and I'm making breakfast, or loading the dishwasher. I feel like I'm being lazy for putting her somewhere and not carrying her around or playing with her. The thing is though, the dishwasher isn't going to load itself. I need to eat. I need to pee. So it's okay to have moments in the day when you're not interacting with your baby. Both they and you will probably be grateful for the break!
Feeling guilty when you leave the house without your baby
This one hits me still, and my daughter is 6.5 months old. In fact, this was the inspiration for this post! This morning, I went out to buy some new jeans because my favourite ones had worn out (sob!). I parked the car and automatically went around to her side, opened the door and... no baby. Oh yes, she's at home with her dad.
I felt guilty that she wasn't there. That I'd left her at home to get some 'me time'. Walking down the street I felt strange having my hands free, not pushing a pram. Am I even a mum if my baby isn't with me? Of course I am, and reflecting on the day I feel a bit silly for feeling guilty.
The thing is, it's okay to want some time to yourself. It doesn't mean you necessarily want to be away from your baby. You are still important, and you deserve some time to go shopping, or do something you enjoy.
Sometimes it's nice to just sit in a cafe on your own and enjoy a coffee, without having to rush out of there with your takeaway cup because baby is getting fussy. Relish those moments, and then head back and snuggle your baby. Both they and you will benefit from your improved mental state.
Feeling guilty about what you feed your baby
Okay team, this one is HUGE! There's so much 'advice', however well meaning, around feeding your baby. Whether it's pressure to breastfeed, puree vs baby led weaning, choosing to wean to formula, using pre-packaged foods, the list is endless.
Personally I've had a few moments of guilt lately when I've thought of switching my daughter to formula. She's been exclusively breast fed her whole life, but lately she's started acting like a little kitten when breastfeeding. Yep, baby nails + grabbing + boobs = OW. I have scabs and scratches everywhere.
I've had moments where I've thought maybe it's a sign we should just start giving her formula. We're giving solids as well, so we're on the road to weaning anyway. This is the part of the though process where the guilt hits. "Breast is best (or so I've heard) so I should carry on breastfeeding". "I don't want to give her formula because I've read that cows milk is bad". And so the guilt trip continues.
The thing is, you've got to do what's right for you.
I'm still working on this one, so I don't know how it'll all pan out. But I know that whatever choice I make will be right for us. My baby won't remember if I switched her to formula. She'll remember the feeling of a full tummy when she goes to the bed, and the comfort of the cuddles.
Have you struggled with mum guilt? What other situations have you felt the guilt creeping in?