If you’re suffering from mum guilt, you’re definitely not alone. Almost nine in 10 mums she currently sees in her practice share some form of mummy guilt, says clinical psychologist Vyda S Chai of Think Psychological Services.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re a CEO of multinational company or a part-timer crunching numbers at home – that nagging guilt is the great mum equaliser.
But believe it or not, this feeling is entirely normal. After all, much of parenting involves “trial and error”, she says.
Here, we ask millennial mummies to share their common guilt trips, and the experts on how to leave that emotional baggage behind.
Mum guilt trip #1: Taking time out for yourself
You desperately need some time away from the spit-ups and soiled diapers, but don’t feel good leaving your little one with another caregiver. Vyda says one of the most important things mums can do for their kids and marriage is to take time out to do things they love to recharge.
Moreover, it’s not healthy for both mum and child to interact only with each other all the time, says Patricia Koh, chief executive and education ambassador of Maplebear Singapore. Giving your child opportunities to interact with other loving caregivers provides different forms of stimulation that will boost her development too, she adds.
What to do
Ease the transition by handing your kid to her new caregiver properly, says Patricia. The early childhood educator advises doing a few practice runs, and not rushing the process.
“Take time to settle your child, and don’t just disappear suddenly after handing her over to the person. It helps if you could sit with your child for a while and interact with her new caregiver so she feels safe,” says Patricia.
It usually takes about a week for most children to get used to a new caregiver or environment. To set your mind at ease, get your child’s caregiver to update you regularly on your little one’s day, she adds.
(Also read: 8 steps to take when Baby has separation anxiety)
Mum guilt trip #2: You’re physically there, but your heart isn’t
Knowledgeable, well-read and a whiz at multitasking, millennial mums want it all, which is why more are opting for flexi-work or work-from-home jobs for better work-life balance. But some work-at-home mums (WAHM), like freelance designer Jenn Wong, say the reality isn’t always Insta-perfect.
“People always think WAHMs like me get the luxury of spending a lot of time with the kids. For sure, my body is physically there, but my brain tunes them out a lot, especially when I’m rushing deadlines,” says Jenn, who has two kids.
What to do
Planning ahead and strategising your day will allow you to work more productively at home.
“You can’t expect to do productive work when your kids are around. Divide your day into several blocks of time so you can plan when to do your work, for example, when your child is taking an afternoon nap,” advises Patricia.
Mumpreneur Audrey Tan says scheduling her work-from-home days helps her better manage her time so she can be emotionally available for her three young kids whenever they need her.
“I’ve learnt to ‘be in the moment’ and not answer work-related calls at certain times if I can help it. If I can’t fit all my work in when the kids are around, I’ll just sleep less,” she says.
Vyda says while you should acknowledge your kid’s complaints about your working habits, try not to become overly guilty or apologetic. She adds it is important to not let guilt manifest into unhappiness and anxiety in front of the children.
“Young kids are quite intuitive, especially in regards to their parents. If they sense your guilt and unhappiness, they will pick up on it and react anxiously. Remind yourself that, ultimately, you are working to provide a better living standard for your family,” she says.
Mum guilt trip #3: Youtube is your go-to babysitter
Past research and child development experts say screen time is bad for kids’ development. But frazzled mums, like Jenn, say they use this trusty digital babysitter on a daily basis to reclaim some sanity.
“Parking them in front of Youtube videos probably isn’t good for them – all the experts say so. I feel guilty, but it’s the easiest way to keep them quiet when you need to get some work done at home,” says Jenn.
What to do
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), best known for its previous hard stance on banning screen time in kids under the age of two, and limiting it to two hours for older kids and teens, now says some screen time might not be all that bad. This is especially if there is parent participation.
While its new recommendation says that babies aged 18 months and younger should not be exposed to any digital media, parents of kids aged six years and older may set their own restrictions for screen time use – but it should be monitored.
Patricia of Maplebear Singapore however, feels the problem with screen time is that it’s hard for kids to part with it once they are exposed to it. Try not to make screen time a habit, she says.
Get your kid to do quiet time – read a book, string a necklace, do some arts and crafts – or get someone to come over and play with the child instead, she suggests.
Mum guilt trip #4: Not feeling the love
All mums love their children, right? So why aren’t you feeling that magical bonding with your baby?
According to Vyda, it is normal for new mums to feel emotionally drained, especially in the first few months after having a baby. Up to eight in 10 mums may experience the “baby blues” in the first few days after birth due to hormonal changes, she says.
Being emotionally overwhelmed can also trigger intense emotions such as anger, which can affect your ability to think and act rationally, she adds. No surprises then, that yelling is the top guilt trip for over 1,000 mums surveyed by authors Devra Renner and Aviva Pflock of Mommy Guilt.
What to do
In most cases, the baby blues are short-lived and fade within two weeks after birth, says Vyda.
But watch for signs of postnatal depression such as a low mood, inability to enjoy anything, tearfulness, lethargy, lack of appetite, a feeling of hopelessness and guilt.
If these symptoms are affecting you daily activities and last for more than two to three weeks, seek professional help, she says.
Flexibility is the key to navigating this life-changing adjustment. “Try to let go of your fixed ideas of how things should be, and enjoy things as they are,” says Vyda.
At the same time, Hubby and other family members should offer support to the new mum, she adds. It could be as simple as being there to listen about her struggles and fears, or offering a helping hand to cook or do the dishes.
“The first few months of motherhood are exhausting, and every new mum is learning. There is no need to criticise or induce more anxiety,” says Vyda.
Mum guilt trip #5: Feeding Baby formula
Breast milk is considered the ideal food for babies, and health authorities like the World Health Organization and Health Promotion Board recommend that mums breastfeed their babies exclusively in the first six months of life, and continue for up to two years of age or longer after solids are introduced.
But not all mums are able to, or enjoy, breastfeeding. Treasury manager Grace Loh, 36, was wracked with guilt when she could not produce enough breast milk and had to feed her baby formula milk instead.
Her son was born with a medical condition that made it difficult for him to nurse properly. To make matters worse, Grace struggled with a low milk supply after being re-admitted to hospital for excessive postpartum bleeding.
“These days, everyone says that breast is best. The pressure to breastfeed can be extra stressful for many mums who struggle to do it, like myself,” she says.
What to do
Most breastfeeding issues are often preventable and can be resolved with professional support and help.
But this can be tough for Singapore mums facing work stress and lack of support from bosses, which are among the top reasons why most mums stop exclusive breastfeeding at four months, says Dr Wong Boh Boi, senior parentcraft consultant and founder of Parentcraft by Dr Wong Boh Boi.
If it’s due to a poor milk supply, Dr Wong advises holding out for at least three months to see if breast milkboosting measures work.
Even if you can’t breastfeed exclusively, mixed feeding – a combination of formula and breast milk – still provides Baby with the goodness of breast milk, she says.
Even so, Dr Wong cautions mums against being too fixated on their breastfeeding cause, adding that she has encountered depressed and exhausted mums who end up with bruised breasts because they spend all their time trying to increase their milk supply.
“If nothing works after months of trying, perhaps it is time to let it go and spend more time bonding with your baby through other means such as infant massage, singing and playing,” she says.
Mum guilt trip #6: Not keeping up with those Insta-perfect mums
Whether it is feeding your kid prettily plated meals or making that Pinterest-worthy sensory play box from scratch, you probably feel like you’re never doing enough for Junior.
While such feelings might have been around since motherhood existed, social media takes the parenting pressure a notch up.
Vyda says: “The number of ‘likes’ and scrolling through other mums’ posts to see how well they are juggling work and family life can make another mum feel like she is not doing enough. These days, there’s so much more information about what babies and children need that we’ve doubled the fodder for self-recrimination.”
What to do
First, remember that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. “People generally have the propensity to post happier and jovial pictures of their day rather than their moments of desperation and despair,” says Vyda.
Audrey says the next step to guilt-free parenting is to acknowledge that you can never be good at everything. So mums, stop #FOMO-ing.
“For example, I’d love to whip up fancy meals for my kids, like those I see on social media, but I’m not afraid to admit I’m not very good at cooking. These days, my helper helps me prep their meals so I can use that extra time to bond with the kids,” she says.
Mum guilt trip #7: Not going organic
Clued in on the latest health trends, more millennial parents are going organic. To match the rising demand, local stores are offering a wider range of premium speciality products. Agapebabies.com for instance, has doubled its organic brand offerings since 2009.
Jenn says mum guilt spurred her to pay top dollar for her children’s food choices initially, but she stopped as it was financially draining.
“One of my acquaintances likes to ‘diss’ other mums for feeding their kids ‘junk food’ but, honestly, not everyone can afford to go organic – not when a whole chicken costs almost $50!” she says.
What to do
The truth is, there are currently no large studies to prove that an organic diet helps kids grow better or lowers the risk of disease.
Organic food may contain lower amounts of pesticides and other nasties, like antibiotics. But the AAP says the most important thing for children is to eat a wide variety of food, whether they are conventionally or organically farmed.
Patricia believes in moderation and doesn’t think the occasional treat like fast food would hurt. “Can you imagine how a child would feel about their lunchbox of alfalfa sprouts when they see other kids tucking into a bowl of fishball noodles in school?” she quips.
“It’s great to instil good eating habits early, but when healthy diets are taken to the extreme, kids may feel deprived.”