A true account from a working mum
The baby is crying, there are 57 unanswered emails in your inbox, the electricity bill is due and the dog has just tracked mud through the entire living room. Motherhood is a hard enough gig in and of itself, and when you throw working and household commitments into the mix, the pressure can cause us to feel like we aren’t doing enough in any part of our lives. Enter… Mummy guilt.
Prior to having a baby I’d feel guilty about something every once in a while.
Maybe I’d had one too many M&M’s.
Since I’ve had kids I haven’t stopped feeling guilty…
I didn’t spend enough time playing with him.
I didn’t get the house clean because I was playing with him.
I cleaned the house and now I won’t let her play because she’ll mess it up.
I didn’t take her outside to play and it’s beautiful out.
I let them eat biscuits.
I don’t let them eat biscuits.
I hide the biscuits from them so I can eat it.
I don’t plan educational activities for the kids to do on a daily basis.
Who am I kidding? I don’t plan educational activities for the kids to do ever.
I didn’t breastfeed long enough.
My pregnancy diet is probably to blame for my middle child’s food allergies.
I let him watch too much TV.
Sometimes I use the TV as a babysitter.
Anything can turn into a reason to feel guilty.
You become conditioned to think that you should be able to do everything because you’re the mum. And when you can’t do everything, then there’s something wrong with you. Studies confirm this near-universal phenomenon of mother guilt, with surveys consistently finding that employed mothers are the most time-pressured group in society.
As a mother of two and Founder of Business Jump, Natasha Stewart knows all too well the chaos of trying to balance the competing priorities of caring for a family and meeting work obligations.
In fact, it took a horrific period of postnatal depression for her to finally realise that she needed to revamp my patterns of working, and living.
“In 2012 my second child was born, and he was a really difficult baby—he didn’t sleep through the night for more than two years. And at the time, I was running an online business from home, working 24/7, caring for two young children. I was stressed, strung-out, running on fumes alone thinking I had to do it all.
“Looking back now, it’s no surprise that I cracked under the weight of all those expectations. This period of my life felt like I had my happiness robbed from me, but I now credit that experience with providing the wake-up call I needed to live life differently”
“I KNOW I SHOULD PLAY WITH HIM BUT I JUST HAVE SO MUCH TO DO…”
Finding sufficient time to meet work and family commitments poses immense challenges for modern families.
A recent study showed that in particular, employed mothers endure insufficient time for necessary or discretionary activities, and the intensity of to-do lists means multitasking and merging work and home boundaries is the norm.
And despite becoming very very efficient at multi-tasking, it simultaneously distorts women’s experiences and diminishes the quality of time they spend with their family.
So what’s the solution?
Good question. It’s a tough one.
To start with, workplaces and policymakers need to find better ways to encourage employed fathers to share the responsibility for home- and family-related care and organisational work. Such measures may reduce the time stress and time inequity women endure, particularly in the time management control centre of the home.
Here’s how Natasha shed the mama-guilt shackles and reclaimed her time.
TIPS FOR SURVIVING MUMMY GUILT
I decided to work smarter, not harder
I created my business to provide a gateway to live the life I want—I outsource and automate as much as possible, leaving me with the juicy stuff that I love to work on.
If you love what you do and aren’t bogged down with admin-heavy tasks, then work feels like play. Now my business provides this same gateway to other mothers who want flexibility outside of the 9 to 5.
I swapped the quest for ‘work-life balance’ to ‘work-life harmony’
We put so much pressure on ourselves to get the right work-life balance; it often ends up causing more stress than it should.
Instead, I work towards achieving harmony between family and business—that doesn’t always mean spending equal time on both, but recognising that it’s a constant state of flux!
I now take time out for me
Postnatal depression taught me so much, but perhaps the most important is how crucial it is to take time out to care for myself. The in-flight emergency rundown tells you to fit the oxygen mask to yourself first for a reason.
Make time for that walk on the beach, massage or yoga session on your own and keep in touch with your friends and go and get a coffee with them — your kids will reap the rewards of a healthier, happier you.
REASONS TO CUT YOURSELF SOME SLACK
Guilt Trip: Yelling
The Number one answer from mums when asked what makes them feel most guilty is yelling.
Give yourself a break: Yelling is as much a part of motherhood as changing diapers and making mushed avocado on toast. “But if the decibel level in your household is always high, it’s time to examine the tools in your parenting toolbox. Try counting to 5 and if you get close to five, they know they may lose a privilege. And they really don’t want that to happen.
A code word — something you can say that lets your child know you’re about to really lose your temper — can also be very effective. This works for the child, too. If your child senses the parent is losing control, then the child can use the code word and the parent will understand that ‘Hey, I need to back up and get a grip. That way, you can reset the situation to a calmer note.
Guilt Trip: Not wanting to play more
Somewhere along the line, “playmate” became another facet of the mum job description. But in today’s crazy-busy life, slowing down is hard enough, and slowing down to play yet another game of Little Mermaid and the Princess Ponies is — well, it takes a saint.
Give yourself a break: First, reconcile yourself to the happy fact that children don’t need to be entertained their every waking hour (least of all by you). And when you do decide to spend time with them, really do so, even if it’s only for half an hour. Focus on what you’re doing, rather than on the to-do list in your mind.
Finally, realize that you do a lot for your child every single day. “At the end of the day, I try to tell myself, here are five things I did that my kids loved,” says Heidi Arthur, a mum of two in Beaumont Hills, NSW. “You do the best you can on all fronts and try to ignore the rest.”
Guilt Trip: Wishing you were free
Who among us hasn’t wanted to simply walk away from the sleep deprivation and the crying and the chaos — at least sometimes — and then felt guilty about feeling that way? But this is an example of guilt trying to tell you something: It’s important to take some time for yourself to recharge.
Give yourself a break: The experts all agree — schedule regular “you” time, and keep it sacred. It’s your time and your family knows that if you get to do that, then you are a nicer mummy to everyone.
Guilt Trip: Working
When I returned to my old job in Public Relations, invariably the conversation with the other new mum in the office turned to guilt. Even though my son was at daycare having an absolute ball with the other kids, and I loved my job, I still felt pangs.
Give yourself a break: The twinge of guilt is always going to be there but there are several ways to deal with it.
Find a sounding board. Friends, Facebook groups and even blogs can be a huge help. Just knowing that there are other women in the same boat, with the same struggles, always helps, because it puts everything in perspective.
Finally — and this is true for all these guilt trips — accept the feeling and move on. Don’t let it bring you down.
So take a deep breath and repeat after me: “My kids don’t need me to play with them for hours.” Now go hug them and tune out your guilt — at least for today.
Images from Captain and the Gypsy Kid and Pinterest