If there’s one thing that mums are often good at, it’s hanging into guilt. And yet usually guilt serves no purpose other than to make us feel bad and de-motivated. So how do we learn to let it go?
Hands up, who’s been on a guilt trip recently? You know, that occasion when you just can’t help feeling that you could have done something better?
If you raised your hand, you’re in good company. Leadership coach, speaker and author Joanna Kane explains why, and shares her tactics for waving goodbye to guilt.
Why guilt is a bad emotion
It’s no big surprise that so many working mums feel guilty. As a mum to two young children, I can relate to that – especially when I go away on a business trip. But as understandable as our feelings of guilt may be, they’re not actually that useful for us as an emotion, and only succeed in making us feel worse.
It can also get in the way of us being truly present in a moment, and really enjoy being at work or with our family (no doubt leading to even more guilt!).
When we’re present and not caught up in the emotions that can often accompany our thinking, we tend to feel more focused and more grounded. We’re happier and more productive and energetic partners, colleagues, businesswomen, mums and friends. So there are lots of great reasons for waving goodbye to big, bad guilt forever.
Eight clever tactics to help you let go of guilt
But if you’ve spent a lifetime honing your familiar (and probably quite comfortable by now) feelings of guilt, how do you stop, and replace them with healthier thoughts and feelings?
To help you learn to leave guilt behind and enjoy the time your spend with your family (and when you’re away from them), I have put together eight clever guilt-eradicating tactics.
1) Define your own vision of success
Make sure you have your own definition of success and what’s important to you, and try and be honest with yourself – otherwise you’ll be trying to live up to someone else’s expectations of how you should be, act and look. This is not a long term recipe for success, and will only lead you to put even more pressure on yourself.
And try to stop judging your own journey and accomplishments against other peoples’. You’re not in competition with them, and have no idea of the battles and insecurities they themselves may face.
Set goals that are desirable and achievable to you (and in line with your values) and concentrate on working steadily towards them. Then let everyone else set and work towards their own.
2) Stop trying to please everyone
You know the saying – you can please all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time? The truth is that you can’t keep everyone else happy all the time, and trying to do so will only lead to more misery for yourself.
Other people may have very different values and opinions of what it means to be a mum, and what you should or shouldn’t be doing. But that’s just their opinion. As long as you are making the best decisions in the circumstances for you and your family, and are being authentic to your needs, you can be confident that you are doing your best.
If someone wishes to judge you – let them. That’s their problem, not yours.
3) Know your boundaries
In order to make sure you are taking care of your needs, you need to know your own boundaries. After all, if you’re not sure when enough is enough, how will anyone else?
So consider where your boundaries lie (this will be different for everyone) and be clear about them with others, so they can know how and when to respect them. And make sure you stick to them yourself!
By being clear about your boundaries with everyone (including yourself) you can make the right decisions at the right time, without feeling guilty. An example of this is leaving work. If your work day officially ends at 6pm and you need to leave on the dot to make nursery pickup, be clear with your manager and colleagues about it.
That way you can leave work confidently, with a clear conscience, rather than scurrying out feeling guilty. (You can read more about leaving work on time without leaving a bad impression here.)
4) Stop trying to be Wonder Woman
This may come as a shock to you, but you’re not Wonder Woman! It’s an impossible ideal to live up to and if you’re not careful it can sap the joy from life and cause yourself a lot of additional stress – which can impact your health if you’re not careful.
So stop trying to do it all. Know where your limits lie and accept them. For example, if you’re not the best cook in the world, don’t feel bad because you’re not whipping up Michelin Star quality meals from scratch every night. As long as your children are eating a healthy, balanced diet, they’ll be fine.
Our talents, energies and interests all lie in different areas, so celebrate what you do well, and accept what you’re not so good at.
5) Accept that perfect doesn’t exist
Just as Wonder Woman doesn’t really exist, there’s no such thing as the perfect mum, the perfect employee, the perfect partner or the perfect friend – they’re all a myth too. So if you’ve been frantically trying to live up to a perceived ideal, it’s time to stop.
Holding onto an image of the perfect woman, whether that image is created by the media, your family, the society around you or yourself, is unhelpful. It’s up to you to decide what works for you – anything else is just setting you up for disappointment and feelings of inadequacy.
And as far as being a working mum goes, there’s no universal ideal either. What works for one family may not be right for you. So try not to judge yourself, or let others judge you. Make choices that make you and your family happy – that’s about as perfect as you can get.
6) Nurture yourself
If you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t have any mental or physical energy to give to anyone else. So make sure you look after and nurture yourself. Again, this isn’t always an easy one for working mums as so many other things can take priority (I always say, “Put on your own oxygen mask first” – it’s a good reminder that we can’t help others if we don’t save ourselves first).
Many women often feel guilty when it comes to taking time out for themselves but it’s necessary. But not only is a bit of self care crucial for good mental health, but what is the message that you’re giving out about yourself if you are consistently putting yourself bottom of the pile?
Whether it’s a regular yoga class, making the time to eat healthily or doing something that makes you feel good, try to prioritise yourself at least once a day. As the famous ad says, “You’re worth it.”
7) Maintain a healthy work-life balance
Maintaining a healthy work-life balance is a continuous process, and one that you need to keep reviewing as the needs of your work and family life evolve and change.
If you have a partner, keep talking with him or her about what’s working well and what’s working less well. Honest conversations are crucial although not always easy sometimes. Burying your emotions and feelings and ‘putting up with things’ will only make you feel worse, and quite possibly resentful in the long term.
Housework is a particular bone of contention for many women. We often feel guilty if we’re not on top of it, but sometimes struggle to get it done (and can sometimes feel resentful that it has become ‘our’ responsibility). So learn to speak up when you feel things aren’t in balance – you may find this article helpful.
8) Try to keep things in perspective
If things start to build up, try and keep a healthy sense of perspective on it all. I realise that’s not always easy when you are up in the middle of the night with young children and you have a big important meeting the next day or a long commute, but you do have a choice in how you think about things.
Life is short in the grand scheme of things, and none of us likes to think of our own mortality, however it can be a useful reminder of what’s really important. So if negative feelings and guilt do surface, try to imagine how tiny you really are – and trust that this moment, situation and feeling will pass. Then let it go.
Let go of your guilt for good
So if you suffer from feelings of guilt, stop! Practise these techniques and learn to let go, and start enjoying your work and family – happy and confident that you are doing and being your best. That’s all anyone can ever ask of you, after all.
Joanna Kane is a leadership coach, inspirational speaker, author and founder of Trailblazers. You can find out more about her on her website.Joanna Kane