Guilt is something so often associated with motherhood. But why? Is it really an inherent part of motherhood or can we understand the core of guilt and rid ourselves of it to have a more enjoyable, connected, present mothering experience?
I believe guilt is a socially constructed concept rather than an innate feeling. It is much more connected with motherhood as a social concept rather than with the way that you as a mother does her mothering. This is because mothering is the act of being a mother, the physical laborious work of being a mother and mothering your children, while motherhood includes all the definitions that society has given. These include what a mother should do, should look like, should say, should think, should feel. So many shoulds! The concept of guilt is created by old-fashioned cultural beliefs about humans that include that we are selfish or need to be coerced and punished into doing things.
Here’s an exercise for you. Write down your definition of the perfect mother. What defines her? What is she doing, feeling, thinking, saying, wearing, looking like - anything that comes to your mind. Be as detailed as possible in your definition. Now, look at this description and here you will find two things. You will find your values and you will also find the social constructs of what you’ve internalized as the definition of motherhood. Are there things in this list that bring up feelings of guilt for you? Why?
As Marion Rose so beautifully and accurately says, guilt is an emotional stick that we pick up and beat ourselves with. Guilt often comes when we compare ourselves to some definition of something we think we need to be but feel like we are not it. We feel that we’ve let ourselves down.
If we look even closer at guilt, we can maybe hear our own parent’s voices speaking to us. Children internalize their parents' voice as their own inner voice, and we have done the same. Are these comments something you may have heard from your surroundings as a child?
Guilt doesn’t have to be an inherent part of motherhood. It doesn’t make us more compassionate and attentive mothers either. When we feel guilty we are less connected to ourselves and to our children, so it isn’t even effective! We guilt trip ourselves and then do the same thing again. It’s based on behaviorism and fails to look at the internal, deeper reason for the feelings.
So instead of picking up the guilt emotional stick, what can we do? Well, the antidote to guilt is self-compassion! Can you imagine that instead of being hard on yourself and shoulding yourself into something you think you should have done or said, that you could cut yourself some slack and be understanding to yourself. What if your inner voice would sound something like this “I know you really wanted or really tried for that to happen and I know it’s so hard to accept that it’s gone otherwise, and I’m still here with you and I still love you” or “there is nothing wrong with you and there has never been”.
Marion Rose calls this voice the Inner Loving Presence. It’s the process of mothering yourself. Telling yourself what you wish your loving, caring, attuned mother would have said to you as a child. It’s looking deep inside into what you would have really wanted to hear and feel in those moments that were hard where you needed love instead of criticism. This process is deep and it takes time and a willingness for introspection but I believe it’s so worth it. Heck, for a life without guilt - I’m there standing in line with you!
More info about Marion Rose https://marionrose.net/
Do you want to understand yourself and your guilt better? In the one-on-one Mother's Mentoring program you will have the chance to go deep into understanding your own experiences as a woman and a mother, the societal values and your childhood experiences. I will guide you through a series of sessions where guilt will only be one of the topics we unveil. Are you interested? Schedule a free Discovery Call with me here to find out more.