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Does maternal guilt really exist?

I don’t know if I’m a bit of a heartless cow or just good at compartmentalising but I don’t get the whole maternal guilt thing.


There I’ve said it.


I don’t get that mothers feel guilty when they leave their children and obsess over every choice they have made and beat themselves up for anything that might be a bit sub-optimal but was the best that they can do at the time.


I especially don’t get working mothers’ guilt.  Guilt that appears to come from the fact you are doing something for you, away from your child and not there pandering to them all the time.  I wonder if this is all a construct of the media, a way to get us to buy self help guides, to watch TV shows offering solutions to something that doesn’t really exist.


I understand regret – I regret those times that I wasn’t there to cuddle them when they were poorly, the firsts that I have missed, the times when they tell me that they miss me because they haven’t seen me for a few days.


But I do not feel guilty.


And let us be clear – I’m a Catholic and I know what feeling guilty feels like.  I feel guilty if I can’t face taking the girls to mass each week and suffering through an hour of trying to make them behave like mini grown ups rather than exuberant pre-schoolers.  I know what guilt is.


My husband doesn’t feel guilty that he goes out to work – that he barely took any paternity leave, that he has only done nursery drop off a couple times – it just is a part of his life that we find the best childcare we can and then leave them confidently with that carer.


I hear other mothers discussing how guilty they felt about teeny, tiny decisions taken at haste in a normal day and I wonder why they are beating themselves up over something that ultimately won’t make a difference in the grand scheme of things.  I’m doing my best – yes sometimes I am a bit shouty, or short, or distracted but I am doing my best.  And I know that when things are out of balance we will find a way to sort it all out and get life back into the right order.


I read about mothers feeling guilt about working, about not breastfeeding for longer, about controlled crying and want to run over and give them a shake and say you made the right decision for you at that time with the information and situation you had.


And perhaps share with them what a kind midwife told me that childhood amnesia means they won’t remember any of the ways you messed up in the early years and that they were designed to survive – it takes an awful lot to mess it up sufficiently to damage them.


Evolution is a wonderful thing.


Or maybe I am just an emotional pygmy – what do you think?

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20 comments to Does maternal guilt really exist?

  • Hoo-bloody-rah. Loved this post. Good for you. I’m so glad to hear a woman saying she’s not prepared to buy into all that mother guilt.

    I would like some of whatever you’re having.

  • Love this post too. And it’s so true that dads don’t feel the guilt that we, as mothers, are supposed to feel.
    I have felt sad (and still sometimes do) when I’ve had to spend too much time working and not enough time with my children. I have felt torn between my children and my clients many times. Equally I’ve often felt happy to have a rest away from my children. Once a month we do have a weekend off from them. I’m sure I’m supposed to feel guilty about that. I don’t, I just love it. And I love the feeling of all being back together again on a Sunday evening too.
    Guilt is something we choose to feel and we should stop feeling guilty and start enjoying being mothers and women.

  • I think it can be just another way of one upping other mums.
    ‘What do you mean you just feel bad when they’re ill? I care about my kids soooooo much that I feel guilty 24 hours a day.’

  • So with you on this one. i never felt guilty for any of the choices i made and believe me i have been judged because of them.

    I hate the fact that now i have not been working for about a year i feel like i have to say that i am happy to stay at home and not get a job.. which is so far from the truth.. My youngest still goes to a childminder twice a week so i can have time to myself… No guilt here….

    • I am judged often on my choices, mostly in the context of I must be so misereable because I am not making the same choices as others

      Time to myself – I need it and I’m better when I’ve had time away and some space to myself

  • Loraine B

    I’m with you on this one. I went back to work when DS was 13wks old and never felt any guilt. I was the main earner and I had no choice, there were bills to be paid and DH was in a low paid job, I was a manager and well paid.

    It’s helped my son become confident, a better problem solver (as he’s had to think things through rather than being given answers all the time time), he’s chatty, good mannered and a happy boy. He knew from a very early age that Mum and Dad both worked, my parents did the childcare and then it was off to school. I wasn’t there the first day and my Mum loved that she got to do all those things again with my son. Exhubby never felt bad about working, travelling or any of the necessary things he had to do and DS never resented it. I think it’s too easy to beat yourself up over imagined slights, injuries and upsets that are nothing more than a storm in a teacup in the grand scheme of things. As long as children have a positive routine, continuity and love, you can’t go far wrong 🙂

    • I think if you have good childcare and a loving family when you are together then the rest falls into place. My girls are confident, happy to be left and leaving them when they were young has made that easier. Which is not to say that we don’t all miss each other and love being back together

  • Ali

    I thought it was just me! I have had no guilt whatsoever about going back to work – the biscuit gets a much, much better mummy when I’m not spending the whole time with her. And she is thriving! Even better, she actively enjoys our unstructured time together, just pootling around the house, shops etc, as she is so busy the rest of the time. Win/win!

    We are women/wives/friends/colleagues as well as mothers

  • I am so with you, we all make the choices that fit for our families, little point then wasting time lamenting over what could have been.

    I occasionally feel little twinges of wishing things had worked out differently, then I slap myself around my head and count my blessings.

  • (Guiltily, obviously…) I have to admit that I do feel the guilt. I think you’re right – we make the best decisions we can with the information we have available at the time, and I try not to feel bad about those ones. But occasionally I make a decision despite what I think might be best for my daughter, because I want something different for myself. And then the guilt kicks in! I should probably learn from the fact that it usually works out, and it’s usually something incredibly minor that means sod all to her, and quite a lot to me. And of course, selfishness is about being yourself, which is quite important in the scheme of things.

  • I’m with Mel. I feel guilty all the time, about pretty much everything. Why? I have no idea, because intellectually, I am absolutely with you. I know, (and get very ranty about) that we make the decisions we make because they are the right decisions for us, in those circumstances, at that time. I also know that it’s going to take a lot more than me shouting at my children when they won’t get out of the bath, or ignoring them screaming because I just have to finish that bit of work, or plonking them in front of the telly so I can get on with the laundry, permanently to damage them, but I still feel guilty. I feel guilty even when I’m certain that I have done the right thing. Because what if I was wrong?

    But then I’m generally useless about not revisiting my decisions, over and over again. I still wonder what life would have been like had I done different GCSE’s, so I suspect that this might just be part of my make up.

    But if you work out what it is that you’ve got that I don’t, please may I have some of it?!

  • I think I’d feel guilty being at home with the kids all the time and messing them up…
    I like the way they spend 3 days a week in the hands of people who know what they’re doing 😉
    That said, I miss them when I work, and they do my head in when I’m at home, because the grass is always greener on the other side, isn’t it?
    Guilt is unproductive and reactive. We could all do without it, and just take responsibility for our actions and stand by them.

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