Young mothers experience piercing guilt from time to time. This guilt is distinct. That feeling that we are not doing enough for our children. That we could be more mindful, more interactive, more connected, more present and more involved with our children.
The experience of guilt is especially acute for us if we are working mothers. We tell ourselves, so what if we are following our passions or trying to establish sufficiency for our families, we need to be fully present for our children when we are back from a busy day of work.
After an angry outburst at our kids we tell ourselves that we should have been more patient with them, at the end of an exhausting day we tell ourselves we should have enough energy to engage them in play and sleep.
Our desire to be more and be better with our children becomes replaced with anger at ourselves that we are not doing enough. This simple desire to be better gets replaced with a downward spiralling self-confidence-that perhaps we are not a good mother, that we can’t face difficult phases of motherhood without breaking down and loosing it. It also gets replaced by resentment towards everyday demands of our life, and those we love. And in turn, we react in ways that make us feel guilty. The cycle of guilt completes itself.
Guilt as arising from our inner critic
There is often a consistently present censor within us, just below the surface that is involved in scanning situations, telling us what the appropriate action for the situation should be and how we are continually falling short of reaching that perceived right response. Guilt arises from within our inner critic. When we are falling short of being the ideal person we want to be, we beat ourselves with guilt. And when we beat ourselves with guilt it only perpetuates more guilt.
At other times we become good at pushing guilt away without assessing it. When we do that we can’t even remember the point at which we began to grow resentful towards the people around us. So guilt while not a friend it is also not an enemy. Guilt comes with a message and when we use it as thus we can learn to overcome it without sidestepping the experience of a joyful motherhood.
Uncovering the message
We live in a world of distractions, it is easy to look away and think of something else in the face of difficult emotions. With guilt we try and overcompensate, or dive into depression for being ‘bad’ mothers to our little babies. But sitting with guilt as difficult and uncomfortable as can be, also has a healing element to it.
How do we sit with guilt? Here are some ways:
- Meditate: When you can sit for 10 or 15 minutes with the discomfort of guilt, with the voices of your inner critic telling you how badly you have done thus far, how you can do better and so forth, when you can sit with this discomfort like it were mere clouds in the vast sky, like it were just thoughts and not facts, that it were partial truth and not the whole story something within shifts. A consistent practice of meditation brings you back to your present moment, helps you look at what is important now even though you did a mistake before. It helps you shift gears, drop the story and be for yourself and your child in the present moment. Embrace Now is an audio meditation available for you to purchase and download. This meditation helps you ground yourself into the present moment regardless of how hard it seems.
- Guilt Release Meditation: Guilt Release meditation is a guided meditation for women that focuses on releasing the toxic effects of guilt and helps you stay present to the gifts of motherhood. You can read more about this meditation here.
- Journal: Journaling is a powerful tool to open up to the truth behind your distress. To eventually unfold the meditative acceptance of what is. When you sit with your guilt and write about it, examine what is behind this feeling, look at what this guild could really be about, you gradually unfold a knowing.Often, guilt is just a tip of the iceberg. Journaling can often uncover things that have nothing to do with our behaviour towards our children or our inability to be more or better. It may uncover the need to find our calling, a need for connection with our partner, a need for finding ourselves, our confidence and our enoughness. While journaling can help this way, if you are not given to writing, then find your quite place and contemplate about this. Journaling this way can give voice to your true calling and desires. When you attend to this calling , eventually your need to respond to situations increases and the need to react to situations decrease.
- Switch and Flow: In the book Mindfulness Starts Now, the authors talk about getting off the wrong trains (of though) and being in the present moment. Guilt can take us all the way to Timbaktu and back and on a very slow and painful journey at that. This only pulls us down instead of encouraging mindful action. While you are with your child, in the moment, just switch out of that unhelpful thought process and stay in the moment, adjusting and accommodating space for yourself and your little one as you interact with her.
- Increase Resilience: if we can trust ourselves more, trust that we are already the ideal parent, we are enough and there is no need for striving, that we are more light than darkness, we will be able to step out of this place of beating ourselves up. We will recognise qualities of love, perseverance, patience and confidence. Because our brains have a tendency to focus on the negative, the process of increasing resilience is the process of looking in, being for ourselves, pouring compassion for ourselves and seeing the good in ourselves so that our brains can wire in a way that looks at the positive in us. When we see ourselves as enough, as being enough, having enough, moments that bring out guilt are just fleeting. We can look guilt in the eye, acknowledge our mistake, adjust our perceptions and move on.