It’s that all-consuming, gut-wrenching feeling almost all mothers experience at least once in their lives (probably more) in relation to various aspects of raising their little ones.
You might be a FTWM, PTWM, SAHM, WAHM or even pregnant – whatever the acronyms are, you probably wouldn’t have escaped this sense of guilt unique to mothering. We promise to bring you ways of tackling this feeling soon.
But this article is for you, dear husbands/fathers. What the mother of your child experiences in terms of mum guilt is so much more than regular guilt. When she feels mum guilt, it’s like her heart is on fire. It’s a harrowing experience that can even trigger depression and feeling like a terrible mother in some.
We’re here to give you some valuable pointers about some situations that often trigger mum guilt, and what you can do to protect your wife from this not-so-pleasant experience.
Mum guilt starts early…
It starts early
The moment your lady finds out there’s a second heart beating inside her, she is overwhelmed by feelings of love, wonderment, anxiety… and guilt. Now you might be wondering where the guilt factors in at this stage in your partner’s life.
But it’s there. It’s when she gives in to temptation and eats that bar of chocolate or has a glass of wine. The moment she does this, the guilt attacks – “what if I get prenatal diabetes because of the chocolate?”, “Omg, I shouldn’t have had that glass of wine, what if I’ve put my baby at risk?” and so on.
What you can do
Understand that pregnancy is such a huge responsibility for your partner and as amazing as these nine months are, your wife has to carefully calculate each tiny decision she makes… right down to eating that square of chocolate.
This is because she feels completely responsible for the welfare of your developing baby. While you might wonder why she stresses so much about that chocolate (for example), she does this because of her unfathomable love for your baby and this is linked to anxiety about even the smallest thing that could potentially harm him.
So, read up and research on what’s safe and what’s not for women during pregnancy. When you notice her hesitating to do something she likes because of the pregnancy, but is totally within safe limits, reassure her that you’ve got her back and that she shouldn’t second-guess herself. Your baby will be just fine.
If you are able to rid her of her anxieties through understanding her emotions early on, then you’ve successfully thwarted the mum guilt that is bound to emerge after a decision made when anxious.
Choices and decision are never easy for most mothers, and often give rise to guilty feelings. | Image source: iStock
After your baby is born, the choices and decisions your wife has to make become even more difficult, with the ‘wrong’ choice leading to multiple pointing fingers from various segments of society.
Diapers or cloth nappies? Breastfeed or bottle-feed? Traditional puree feeding or baby-led weaning?
In a nutshell, from now on, she will never put herself first and every little thing will be carefully weighed for its pros and cons – from the diapers and wet wipes she chooses to the design of the onesies she buys (does it have attached pull-over ‘gloves’ to keep those little digits warm?).
Given this, when something goes wrong, e.g. your baby gets a nappy rash, she blames herself and so the mum guilt strikes: “I should have bought softer wet wipes, I should have changed her diaper more often, I’m such a bad mum…”
What you can do
Get down and dirty with baby duties and let your wife clearly know that she doesn’t have to shoulder the whole load. Except for breastfeeding, you can do everything your wife does when it comes to baby care.
Discuss choices in relation to your baby without letting your wife take full responsibility of your baby’s health and wellbeing. She needs to feel like she’s in a solid partnership, not running a one (wo)man show. If she decides to bottle feed, understand her choice and point out the benefits. If she continues to breastfeed for more than a year, applaud that decision too.
If a mishap should happen – from nappy rash to baby rolling off the bed – reassure your wife that it is not her fault (because inside, she’s blaming herself so bad) and take an initiative in proactively finding a solution to the issue and what caused it.
Remember that your baby’s welfare is both of your responsibility and not one that your wife should carry on her own.
Career or family? | Image source: iStock
“Should I stay or should I go?”
Perhaps the biggest mum guilt-inducing factor is related to work.
Many times, if a mother decides to head back to work, then the guilt involves feeling that she is neglecting her children, that she is not spending enough time with them, that her decision is negatively affecting your child’s development in many ways.
If she decides to stay at home, then her guilt might be related to feelings that she is not contributing financially to the household, that you are working so hard and she is ‘taking it easy’ at home (even though she is on her feet all day and most of the night); the list goes on.
Support her and be her strength. | Image source: iStock
What you can do
Assure your wife that whatever decision she takes, she does this with your child’s best interests at heart and most importantly, that you know this. When the time comes for her to decide (or even if she has no option but to head back to work), please talk to her in advance about her feelings, her emotions. Reassure her that you are there for her and your baby every step of the way.
If she’s feeling guilty about returning to work because your child will have to go to daycare, jointly research best daycare options for your child. Visit these places together and choose one that both of you are comfortable with. Knowing that your baby is well cared for while she is at work will give your wife peace of mind and negate those guilty feelings.
If she feels bad about not contributing financially, point out that by staying at home, she’s actually helping to save money that would have otherwise been spent on childcare (whether a maid or a centre).
Mum guilt is not something your wife inflicts on herself, by herself. It has come about due to unfair and nuanced societal pressure on mothers to be ‘perfect’, to never fail, never let down their kids, their family. It is due to a long history of pressure on mothers to be selfless, even at the expense of her own happiness.
We’ve only just scratched the surface of the many mum guilt-inducing situations. There are many more, and there’s always a reason for a mother to (be made to) feel guilty at every phase of her child’s life.
This needs to stop.
Dear husbands, dear fathers, you can be the change. You can initiate that shift in thinking that is needed to help stop mothers from feeling guilty about every choice they make, starting right now. Give it a go, please?
We would love to hear your thoughts on the topic of mum guilt. Do share them in a comment below.