We’ve all been there at some point. You feel guilty because your baby cries and you cannot for the life of you figure out why. You get mad at them and feel so horribly guilty for it because they are so beautiful and innocent. Maybe you accidentally bumped their head on the car when putting your little one into their seat, maybe you disciplined your preschooler and they are so upset it feels like it’s tearing your heart out. You needed to go back to work because of finances or maintaining positions in your career (current feels). Or it could be ensuring both children equally get enough attention and love, and do they eat enough fruit and veg? And this one, the absolute peak of my guilt, the most I have ever experienced- “I am depriving my child because I am unable to breastfeed”.
When we look back, we usually see how trivial the guilt is, and how we were simply doing the best we could at the time. However given the fact I’m on my second baby, and I do have that foresight, I wanted to buck up and deal with it NOW so I can enjoy my baby and preschooler without the constant negativity lingering. After moping around for a couple of weeks I set out with determination and put into practice techniques I had learnt to overcome this type of situation (yet had pushed them to the back of my mind while I had my little pity party).
Us parents just want the best for our children. We’d do anything within our capabilities to secure a safe, healthy and happy future for them and instill values that ensue success. But if you are a dweller or a worrier like I am you almost create the opposite environment for them by letting all of the guilt take over from what is important. Reading this you may feel it is time to make a change, as I did. I will give some pointers but first of all, committing to putting the effort in is the guts of change.
“Do or do not. There is no ‘how’.
You are already choosing, in every moment of every day what to give a f*ck about, so change is about as simple as choosing to give a f*ck about something else”
The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck
Here are the strategies I use to redirect my thoughts into more positive ones:
- Get that nasty and negative word vomit out in a thought diary. Buy yourself a nice little journal, Kmart have some nice plain paged options. Just pick up a pen and let all of your thoughts flow out onto the paper. I believe there is something about physically writing with a pen on paper that can tap into your psyche more so than using a note app on your phone. This helped me to reduce the amount of negative talk to myself, and helps to stop me alienating myself from my friends and family.
- Go outside for a walk. The vitamin D does wonders. Just getting out of your house, which apparently contains more toxic allergens in the air than being outdoors, puts you back in touch with reality. Notice the sky, trees and birds or that freshly cut grass smell. Which brings me to…
- Practice mindfulness. Ever find yourself completing a task and can’t remember actually doing it? Or sometimes like me I count out the scoops of formula as I tip them into my baby’s bottle, but my mind wanders to irrelevant thoughts about things I feel guilty about and I lose count. It takes time, but as soon as you feel yourself doing it, stop and bring yourself back to earth. Remind yourself of how consuming those negative thoughts are and refocus your energies only onto the task you are undertaking at that moment. For example, now I try to count out loud when filling the bottle.
- Write lists. We often feel guilt when we forget something. Eliminate that by writing lists such as daily tasks. Number them in terms of urgency to ensure you prioritise. Cross out the tasks when you complete them so that you have a visual of the achievement. Buy a cheap little notepad for your shopping lists (mine is from Coles and has a magnet so I can keep it on the fridge). Make it known to the family that if they want something at the shops, it needs to be written on the list. This can also apply to goal setting. Create small goals that work toward a bigger achievement. For example, my husband and I are in week 3 of the Max and Maxine’s 12 week Challenge. I need to write shopping lists and follow a written plan to execute the goals.
- Yoga. Just yoga. What a way to relax and recentre. I was the first in my family to ever try yoga and have been a fan of it for about 12 years now. If you let it, it will mentally and physically strengthen you. You learn deep breathing, how to forgive yourself and literally breathe out guilt and negativity not relative to the moment. If you have tendencies of being a control freak or a bit neurotic (like me), yoga slows you down and helps you to make that space in your mind you otherwise would not have. Try YouTube or online vids for some classes if you can’t leave the house: Yoga With Adriene
- Eat and drink water regularly. We would all feed our kids first of course. But you cant be your best if you don’t fuel your body appropriately. Prepare your meals and snacks for the dayahead hthe night before and ensure you nourish your body. Just commit 5 or 10 minutes to it before you relax for the night. I am way more sensitive to unhelpful self talk and lashing out if I dont eat. Hangry is a thing!
- Take 10 minutes a day for “you time”. Don’t mistake how important this is for mental health. It seems somewhat contradictory because you might feel guilty, like you should be doing housework constantly or “living” for your spouse and your kids but if you forfeit this time you are almost guaranteed to put yourself in a mentally weaker state of mind that lets those nasty green gremlin thought and guilt patterns back in.
- Experience new things with your family. It doesn’t have to be much, maybe you go for a drive to a new park or drink a coffee and babycino at a nice new cafe. If you have more time or finances then book a little family getaway. Make it fun, and if you fear it will turn sour then limit the time you do it for. Memories are worth more than any gift you ever receive and this is an effective way of redirecting thoughts and generating all the happy hormones we all love and crave.
- Commit to a gratitude or bullet point journal. What POSITIVE, AMAZING, FUN things did you see, hear or do today? What made you HAPPY? I have never journalled religiously every day but limiting daily writing to bullet points pulled me out of a horrible guilty rut I was in when I gave up breastfeeding. It consumed me until I decided enough was enough and I wanted to direct my energies to positive things. Be it my children, feeling grateful for having a roof over head, sunshine or a nice food I tried. Anything positive small or big is good enough to talk about and before you know it you will have retrained your brain! There are some beautiful gratitude journals out there such as “I am happy, I am here”
- Hugs. Hugs all day, every day. Get that oxytocin flowing.
- Distraction and diversion. If you fudge any of the previous things up do not waste any time and get up and aim to complete one of them asap! Some guilt about life is normal but we do not need to further pressure ourselves and dwell, creating layers of it that will taking longer to dismantle. Be proactive. You’ve got this. Start with a small happiness inducing tasks and keep up the momentum as much as you can. If it slows,start from the start. Time can only help you to get better at it.
Above all, take it easy on yourself. Failure is normal and natural. We are programmed to think it is a negative experience but it is one of the biggest drivers of motivation if you let it be! Taking any action at all is better than doing nothing. And it’s less for you to fe guilty about later. I hope these tips are useful for someone out there struggling with mum guilt, dad guilt, any type of guilt really.
✌ Sha xoxo
“The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck” by Mark Manson
“The Happiness Project” and Happier podcast by Gretchen Rubin
“I am happy, I am here” gratitude journal
“Remarkability” by Lorraine Marks