Recent research has shown that 80% of mothers returning to work suffer from the guilt of leaving their child or children at home. What’s interesting to me, is it doesn’t matter whether you’re a stay-at –home mum or returning back to the office; as soon as the subject of guilt comes up, straw polls of peers, colleagues and clients has everyone slowly raising their hands and whispering yes, that’s me!
Whether you’re feeling guilty because you wish you were doing something, anything other than playing trains and cars for what once again feels like an eternity (even though it’s actually only been about 15 minutes). Or, you’re the classic working mum who has received the biggest shock of her life, when reality dawns, after returning from maternity leave. As despite delivering great work, in less time, you can’t help but feel the eyes of the office like lasers in your back, as you leave at 5 o’clock on the dot every night. Whether these feelings are warranted or not doesn’t matter, all you know is, that it feels even worse when you get home and are only half focused on your little one, as your attention flits between your mobile and your iPad, wondering what else could be done to prove that you’re pulling your weight. And your sex life, let’s not even go there….. Although, you’ve kept the plates spinning for quite a while, often you feel on the verge of breaking point, weighed down by the guilt, that goes hand in hand with feeling as though you are doing everything badly. So, if you’re sick of feeling guilty all the time and are ready to let it go – what can you do about it??
First of all understand that feeling guilty isn’t always a bad thing, when guilt is doing its job properly, it’s alerting us to the fact that certain aspects of our behaviour, are causing someone else to be treated unfairly. It’s there to let us know when we should change what we’re doing for the ‘greater good’. However, the problem with guilt is, that it’s really good at hoodwinking us into feeling like we’re doing something wrong, when that isn’t the case. So the first step towards ditching these negative feelings for good, is testing your emotions to see if they are pointing towards a truth, or fooling us.
Ask yourself the following questions:
What am I feeling guilty about right now?
Is my behaviour really causing someone to be treated unfairly?
If the answer is yes
Sense check your belief by looking for evidence?
What is specifically telling you (outside of the little voice in your head) that you are being unfair. Often, asking the question of the person you think you are harming, can completely change your perspective when you hear what they have to say about your guilt.
If there is no evidence, or the answer to Step 2 is no
Look to see if you are falling into one or other of guilt’s most effective traps .
- Trap 1 – Mary Poppins Perfect
- Needing everything to be just so all of the time, which proves you are good person and in turn a perfect mother and perfect partner and of course, the world then can keep on spinning!
Whilst the need to be perceived and feel as though you are nailing it, all of the time, is incredibly common, it is also completely demoralizing, as you only ever set yourself up for failure with this ideal. If that’s you, know that good enough, most of the time, is really great! So, give yourself a break and choose to stop feeling guilty!
- Trap 2 – Super Woman Syndrome
- if you think it’s possible to hold down a job, clean the house, prepare all the dinners, be creative, spend 2 hours a night playing trains and be sexy in the bedroom all of the time, or even most of the time. Once again you have a one way ticket to Fail City!
Take a step back and assess whether you have got too much on your plate. If you have, congratulate yourself for surviving this long and then see what you can start saying no to. Prioritize. Put the most important things the top of the list, closely followed by the things you want to do and then everything else waits or gets binned. Don’t think about it, just do it, it’s incredibly liberating.
The flip side of this coin of course, is that the guilt really is there for a reason and there is evidence to support the fact that your behaviour really is ending up in someone being treated unfairly. If this is the case don’t let this be another excuse to beat yourself up; start looking for practical solutions to change the dynamic. Know that even the smallest changes when applied consistently can have dramatically positive effects, not only on how you feel about yourself, but also on the rest of the family. Small things like turning your mobile phone off between 5pm and 7.30pm, so you can be completely present, or getting up 20 minutes earlier in the morning, so you’re not having to hurry the kids out of the door really can have transformative effects on the way everyone interacts with each other
Just remember, most of us are juggling huge amounts every single day and some days we will sail through everything with ease and some times, it’ll feel like it’s all going to pot. That’s life and it’s normal, so rather than wasting our extremely valuable time and energy on feeling guilty, let’s just be kind to ourselves and next time you look in the mirror tell yourself you’re doing an amazing job…And mean it!!