Do you suffer from mammy guilt?
These days, mothers seem to carry around a constant low level of guilt about not being a good enough parent, so is it time we started to challenge what have become impossibly high standards of parenting?
Published 07/09/2016 | 10:46
Maybe it’s time to let go of the mummy guilt and embrace the ‘bad-mom’ mantra.
If anyone can convince the mammies of Ireland to loosen up and ease off on that all-consuming mommy guilt, it’s Mila Kunis and Kristen Bell.
In their new movie, Bad Moms, the A-list stars are giving the middle finger to the insane standards mothers face today. In the bad mom universe, mothers swear, drink and have the occasional meltdown, which is as it should be.
No, their characters, albeit fictional, aren’t beating themselves up that they’ve missed their children’s parent-teacher meeting, and more importantly, they embrace the idea that as a parent, it’s okay to make mistakes.
Whether you missed out on your baby’s first words or have on occasion, swung by a McDonald’s drive-through to replace a forgotten school lunch, every mother can relate to that constant low-level hum of guilt that accompanies parenthood.
If you’re doing your best, then why do you still worry that your children are spending too much time on the iPad or getting too much or too little discipline?
Beating yourself up about being a bad parent is natural enough, but unless you’re letting your children play in traffic or staring at your phone while they sing you a song they learned in nursery, you’re probably not doing enough to scar them for life.
Three years in, Kristen Bell who has two daughters, Lincoln (3) and Delta (1), with her husband Dax Shepard, is refusing to accept the pressure placed on mothers today.
“We’re all striving to be better, and we need a lot more forgiveness from our friends and also from other moms, but particularly from ourselves.
“I made a commitment with my husband to be second-child parents, even with our first. To accept the logic that they are very durable. We have a rule in our house where if it’s not going to result in a hospital trip, you’re allowed to try it. If that means jumping off the edge of the couch, then I’ll get the ice pack ready. I really think that allows them to learn their limitations better because you fall off that couch once, you’re not going to do it again. But if I help you every time, you’re never going to know.”
Embracing some of the things that make you feel guilty will actually free up your head space and make you calmer and more able to focus on the time you do get to spend with your kids.
Let them watch TV
If you can’t remember the last time you had a shower without tiny little fists knocking on the door to come in, then you might need to re-evaluate your TV rules. Many parents subscribe to the ‘one hour of TV a day’ rule, but being this strict doesn’t give you any wiggle room for the days where it’s too rainy to go outside or where they’re simply acting like little monsters.
TV shows today are much more educational than they used to be, so letting them watch back-to-back Doc McStuffins while you get the dinner sorted or catch up on some work isn’t the end of the world. Besides, new research conducted by University of London academics, found kids who watched three or more hours a day were three months ahead of those who watched less than an hour a day. Not only that, TV also exposes some children to a broader vocabulary than they get at home. So when your little one starts using words you can’t even understand, you’ll understand why.
Say ‘no’ to school bake sales — this is time you could be doing something fun with your child. Say ‘no’ to finger painting — they’ll get bored after 10 minutes but it will take 40 minutes to clean up afterwards. Say ‘no’ to sticking around at other children’s birthday parties — this is time where you could be napping (and the kid’s parents probably don’t want you hovering around anyway). Say ‘no’ to a second story at bedtime — your time to yourself is important and you need it to keep sane and be a better parent.
The only problem with saying ‘no’ is that you will often feel guilty.
“Saying no 100 times a day is part of being a parent,” says Tom Phelan, PhD, a clinical psychologist and author of 1-2-3 Magic: Effective Discipline for Children 2-12. “Once you accept that, you won’t feel as if you’re doing something wrong and guilt won’t be a factor.”
And remember, you don’t have to say ‘no’. If your child asks to play on their iPad, you can answer with, “Sure — after you’ve picked up your toys.”
Here, you’re actually saying ‘yes’ to the request, but with a stipulation.
Let them eat junk food
You are not a gourmet chef and, most likely, you don’t have time to sit down with your toddler and cajole them into eating what you’ve prepared three times a day.
The scenario is often the same — you make them dinner, they refuse to eat it. You feel so worried about them not eating that you give in and let them eat toast, even though you know it’s giving them bad habits. The solution? Cook something you know they’ll like. Eating chicken nuggets and beans two or three times a week won’t kill them (and feel free to ignore parents who boast about the exotic foods their little ones are munching).
Donna Stewart, a mum-of-two who lives in Swords with her husband and two children, says: “After a long day, sometimes the only thing I can reach for is a takeaway menu but it comes with a side order of guilt. I feel bad that I haven’t prepared a meal from scratch, but there are days when I simply don’t have the time.
“I know it’s irrational but I think a lot of how I feel is influenced by the mommy bloggers I follow on Facebook. I feel like they would judge me if they knew my kids didn’t have fruit and vegetables every day. I think it’s important for parents to remember that they are not super human, once convenience food is the exception to meal times, who cares?”
It’s okay to yell (a little)
You swore that you would only ever speak to your children in calm, soothing tones but when it’s 3am and they’ve just woken you up because they fancy a game of hide and seek, tempers can fray.
“Yelling is as much a part of motherhood as changing diapers,” insist Devra Renner and Aviva Pflock, co-authors of Mommy Guilt. “But if the decibel level in your household is always high, it’s time to examine the tools in your parenting toolbox. Instead of feeling guilty about losing your cool, try tackling the problem now.
“A code word — something you can say that lets your child know you’re about to really lose your temper — can be very
effective. This works for the child, too. If a kid senses a 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.”
Or you could always open a bottle of wine and scream at the gobshites on Don’t Tell the Bride.
Ignore that working-mom guilt
Just as full-time mothers face unfair judgement from their peers, so to do working mothers who often come under intense criticism for working outside of the home.
TV3 star Lucy Kennedy, who is expecting her third child in December, knows all there is to know about mommy guilt.
“We’re all the same, whether you’re on telly or not; it doesn’t matter how glamorous the perception is of your life — we’re all tired, worried, guilty parents. I think I’ll always have that guilt from working,” she said.
“I’m only gone from their lives for four hours a day, but in those four evenings a week I miss bath time and bedtime so I feel guilty about that.”
“I think the second you give birth, you’re guilty. I had no guilt prior to having children. I didn’t care if I was in work tired.”
Clinical psychologist David Kavanagh says: “Some childcare experts believe that a crèche is one of the worst places you can put a child under three years of age because of the lack of attention that is given to the child which will affect its developing brain”
“An expert opinion such as that is not only ridiculous, it simply reinforces the guilt people already feel. As a consequence of that, it can be a traumatic experience when new mums re-join the workforce and are forced to leave their children with a stranger. Knowing that your child is in the best care possible however, can help alleviate that guilt. As a working mum, you are also taking time to focus on your own wants and needs in a professional capacity, and that is to be admired.”