You can’t pour from an empty cup: Working through mum-guilt

Guilt. I’m assuming all of us, as mums have felt it at some point. Some mums feel it more than others. But I’m sure – if you are a mum – you know what I’m talking about.

It’s that feeling you get in the pit of your stomach, the horrible voice in the back of your mind that makes you feel like crying. It’s that feeling that you should be doing something even if you don’t want to and that same feeling of wanting to do something but you can’t right now.

It’s the feeling that you get when you don’t know what’s right or what’s wrong. You feel like you are being pulled in many different directions and you might get torn in half. The feeling of helplessness. This feeling of not being enough. The feeling of not having enough time.

We can feel guilty for something we have done, for something we didn’t do, for a thought we have or for something we forgot to do. Becoming a mum has made me realise that guilt is somehow a huge part of motherhood.

It took me four kids to realise I had mum guilt

We all experience mum guilt, working mums, stay at home mums, mums who have their own business, single mums, married mums, mums with one child and mums with multiple children. And it is so hard to get rid of it. As soon as you think you have mastered the guilt, a small incident sets us right back.. I know I‘ve been there, I am there. 

And to be honest, I think it took me four kids to fully realize that I can’t pour from an empty cup – at least not for long. It took having four kids to realize that my cup needs to be constantly full, overflowing in fact, in order to give so much to my family and to keep showing up for others the way I want to. 

I can’t be the mother I want to be for my children when I am exhausted, when I’m not feeling good, physically and emotionally. 

Self care is NOT selfish

That’s why I make sure that I keep on pouring energy into myself, that I practice self care. And that self care is not selfish. For me personally that is through exercise, yoga, meditation, reading, just having time alone, time with my husband and time with my friends. And it is actually also my work because I love what I do. 

I’ve made the choice to work and to have four children and I am there for them. But I’m not there every second of every day. I have learned that being a mum does not mean you have to be with your child for twenty four hours. Being a mum does not mean you have to give up everything else. 

I need to be there for myself as well. I have learned that and my children have learned it as well. I have also learned to ask for help, I know we all want to be perfect at everything we do and we want to do it all alone. But honestly it is not possible. And that is okay. 

Asking for help is not a weakness. But often it is not only about asking but also about accepting the offer of help. I’m very quick to  say “No thank you” to the offer of help and I know that so many other mums are as well. Asking for help or accepting help is making sure you are also living your life. You are looking after yourself.

Asking for help and accepting help means you are not totally exhausted all the time. Asking and accepting help means you can do other things, things that bring you joy. Asking for help and accepting help means you can fill up your own cup so you are able to pour from a full cup. 

Here’s how I nourish myself every day

That is why I choose to work on myself every day. To be a better person, a better mum, wife, daughter and sister:

  • By accepting and forgiving myself.
  • By not comparing myself – or my kids, or my family – to others.
  • By realizing that I was chosen to be the mother of my kids. I am the right person for them.
  • By realizing that I am not perfect, nobody is. And that is what makes us all interesting and human.
  • By realizing that I am doing the best I can so that it is good for all of us.
  • By realizing that little things count as well.
  • By realizing that I don’t have to give up myself and my dreams completely to be a mum or a wife.
  • By trying to see the other side of the story as often as possible. The positive side instead of the negative one.
  • And by doing practical things like being prepared and planning ahead so that situations don’t surprise me or my children.

Emilia Ohrtmann is a multi-passionate entrepreneur, blogger and co-host of the Mums in Biz Podcast. As a website designer and consultant, she helps female entrepreneurs start their dream businesses. She is a certified neurolinguistic programming (NLP) coach and always on the lookout for new opportunities.

Emilia left the corporate world in 2007 when she moved with her husband to Houston, Texas and started her first design business. She hails from Germany, has lived in four different countries and with her husband and their four children she currently calls Dubai their home.

It is Emilia’s passion to support women to become confident and to be their true selves and she is the author of It’s Your Life: How to Choose Confidence (Panoma Press). You can find out more here.

Photo by Bonneval Sebastien