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Mum Guilt: Where does it come from?

Updated: Jul 17, 2023

Mum guilt. It affects the majority of us as mums, it can take over, hold us hostage and stop us being our unique, confident selves.

Why is mum guilt a thing?

Understanding where mum guilt comes from can be the first step to reducing it. We might all experiencing it in different situations but often it exists due to two main reasons:

When I first realised how much these two things impacted my thoughts around guilt, I suddenly saw all the subliminal messages that surrounded me, telling me I wasn’t a good enough mum, that I was doing the wrong thing and I should be doing it differently. And it was only then, that I could start to reframe how I thought about it.

1. Childhood experiences

Guilt typically comes from a place of not feeling good enough and these thoughts can stem from our own childhood. Perhaps your parents, as well intentioned as they might have been, always expected more from you

For example, you come home from school with your report and your parents say;

“you got a B in your test, why didn’t you get an A?”

This is likely to have left you feeling that you aren’t good enough, you need to do more and be more. If this was a common way your parents spoke to you it’s likely that that has invaded your unconscious and becomes a critical voice in your head. No you’re a mum, you’re questioning yourself and feeling guilty that you’re not a good enough mum because you’re struggling to balance work and children or you didn’t make it to your child’s sports day.

Or another example of being compared to your sibling/cousin etc:

"Look at your brother/sister, why can’t you be more like them?”

This might leave you feeling inadequate, some how lacking something that others have and maybe you subconsciously start to compare yourself to others. Now you’re a mum you’re looking at other mums who seem to manage to do it all effortlessly and putting yourself down for not being the same.

It might be hard to read this. I want you to know that you can love your parents with all your heart and still recognise the effects of your upbringing. As you know, being a parent is tough and they were probably doing there best. On the flip side, if you have actively disengaged from your parents as a result of your upbringing, that's ok too. Everyone's experience of childhood is different and your feelings about it are valid.

2. Society

Society expects soooo much from us as mums and in every decision you make this this can be a factor. Here are some examples of where how it might link to mum guilt;

Other people and the comments they make.

You return to work and a colleague says

‘oh you must miss your children so much’.

Maybe you do or maybe returning to work gives you a sense of freedom and fulfilment and yet immediately you feel guilty that you should be missing your children more. Maybe you must return to work for financial reasons, you don’t want to be there, you do miss your children and now you feel extra guilt about it.

You talk to another mum who works and they say:

"oh you’re just a mum"

‘Just a mum’ oof,! Yes, you are a mum (which is hard work) AND so much more but this comment might leave you feeling you’re not enough, you no longer have an identity and you feel guilt around not being productive enough.

The systems in society and the lack of priority for parents from the government

For example, the lack of childcare funding meaning you either have to work insane hours to make ends meet or you have to return to work so you don’t have that big gap on your CV (regardless of the fact that motherhood gives you so many new skills!). Whatever its is, you then feel guilty about putting your child in day care.

Or perhaps you can’t afford to put your child in day care because work doesn’t cover the cost. You may feel guilty because you’re not being ‘economically productive’.

And when the government talks of sending letters home to get stay at home mums back to work they back up the idea that mums aren’t contributing to society unless you work. What they’re failing to realise it that looking after the next generation is one of the most important things that anyone can do, whether that’s through you staying at home with your children or whether that’s having affordable childcare and well paid nursery staff that means your children are well looked after while you work. The point is, it should be a choice, not something that is done through guilt from the messages we receive.

Social media

You might look at those perfect little squares on Instagram, or those tiktok videos where parents seem to do it all, have it all, there houses are spotless, there children well presented, the picture of perfection. No one is perfect, we’re human and yet what is presented on social media is this perfect image of motherhood. Rarely do those squares and videos show mums with dishes in the sink behind them, or with grubby finger prints over their tops, or crying children, or unwashed hair or dark rings under their eyes (don’t get me started on filters!).

If you’re looking at those and already have feelings of not being good enough, that critical inner voice or perfectionist tendencies, they are likely to trigger those mum guilt feelings.

This was a longer blog than I intended. I’m passionate about reducing mum guilt and as a result I have a lot to say in these posts! The first step is being aware of where it comes. We have to be aware to understand that nagging mum guilt is not our own voice, it's the voices of other people.

If this has resonated with you. Know you are not alone, you are good enough and you are worthy of reducing this mum guilt.


Look out for my my next which will focus on the steps that follow this so you can pave your way to a guilt free journey through motherhood.

Mum guilt is a common topic over on my Instagram page @therapy.for.mums

If it’s something you struggle with and want to overcome it, get in touch for a free 15 minute discovery call where can discuss how we can work together.

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