In therapy: stop the mum guilt

With Mother’s Day coming up, our resident columnist, psychotherapist Jess Henley, PGDip, MA, shares advice about motherhood guilt trips

So, what is it?

The reality that you didn’t become superwoman when you gave birth seems impossible to accept, and you always feel guilty about something. That you’ve gone back to work; that you haven’t gone back to work; that someone else is looking after your child; that the house isn’t perfect all the time; that you’re not giving your partner enough attention; that you’re not the best friend you used to be; that you’re not the party person of old. The list goes on, and on, and on…

How does it manifest?

You can’t enjoy anything 100%. You’re with the kids, but your mind is on cleaning the house; you’re at work, but your mind is with the kids. You’re constantly distracted, often jittery and on edge, and never fully present – which means you’re not making the most of anything.

How to tackle it

Set firm boundaries. Being present is key to managing guilt, because it often sets in when you’re doing one thing but feel you should be doing another. Structuring your time with boundaries will help – this means you’ll know exactly how your day is going to pan out, which enables you to be more present with each activity. For example, if you leave work early – at, say, 4.30pm – to collect the kids, then give 100% focus to work while you are there. Don’t spend your working day worrying about your children – it won’t make any difference to their day and will only add stress to yours.

Once you’ve left work, become 100% focused on your kids. Have ‘play time’ and ‘house time’ when you get home, so that when you’re with your kids, they get your full attention. Then, when you’re doing house admin, you can let go of any guilt, as you know your kids have had mum-time. They’d much rather enjoy a fully focused mum for 30 minutes than a distracted one for an hour. If work thoughts creep in, put them in a ‘work box’ in your mind – and close the lid until you’ve dropped off the kids the next day.


Write a list in order of what’s most important to you and pin it up where you can see it. When you’re playing with the kids but the house is a mess, use it to remind yourself of what’s more important to you: their happiness, because they’re having some quality time with you, or the fact that the dishes need doing. Remember – the dishes will never feel upset if they don’t have your attention!

Be kind to yourself

Stop comparing yourself with every other mum (I’m confident they’re all feeling guilty about something, too) and be gentle with yourself. You’re doing a great job! Parenting is such a personal journey – as long as your children are content, then go easy on yourself. Having a happy mum is worth so much more to them than having an accomplished one.

This column was written when schools were fully open and people could go out to work.

If your thoughts are spiralling out of control and you feel excessively anxious or depressed, talk to your GP. Or contact SANEline, a mental health helpline, on 0300 304 7000.

Jess in an integrative psychotherapist with a keen focus on using mindfulness to bring clients into the present. She’s also written a book The Little Stress-Relief Workbook – Decrease your Stress Levels and Enhance Your Life


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