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Why didn't anyone warn me how bad mum guilt would be?

Journalist Nicola Bonn shares the reality of mum guilt – and wonders why it's kept a secret, pre-parenthood

Young girl grips her mothers arm tightly and hides in the crook of her arm. Her mother gently strokes her head and talks into her ear.
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I will never forget sitting in an NCT class with a breastfeeding specialist who told us that once we gave birth, our newborn babies would slither up our chests, latch on and start feeding. This was the first of many perfectly painted truth stretches that I was fed before I became a mother.

I could probably fill this and many other articles with the others but I’m sure you’ll be able to relate to being told that giving birth doesn’t hurt that much, the instant bond that you have with your baby will take your breath away and newborns are easy. (True for some but not for most).

There are also the things that no one even mentions. These tightly held secrets are only available to those who are actual members of Club Parent. The biggest secret of all to my mind is mum guilt.

Brunette lady with fringe
Nicola Bonn speaks openly about mum guilt

Experiencing mum guilt

I had no idea that such an emotion/affliction existed until I looked into my one-day-old daughter’s eyes and felt my first pang of all-encompassing guilt and horror that my milk wasn’t coming in. I was already failing her and she’d only been on the planet for 24 hours.

Mum guilt is something that every mother that I have ever spoken to suffers with. I had a particularly enlightening conversation with my own mum, who told me that she still feels it today, even though my sister and I are grown adults with kids of our own.

I don’t know whether this guilt is something that has been born out of society’s expectations of us as mothers (I’ve never heard the term dad guilt) or whether it is an innate genetic flaw that rears its head as soon as we give birth, but I do know that it can shake the very core of the strongest of us.

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My own mum guilt takes me on a constant rollercoaster ride of emotions. When my daughter and son were babies I had postnatal depression (I’ll write about this in more depth in a future article) and the guilt around not feeling on top of the world about becoming a mother or instantly bonding with my children was overwhelming.

All I saw around me were mums who seemed to be dealing with everything easily…natural mums if you will. I was the opposite, dreading being alone with my babies, finding everything a challenge and feeling sick with guilt because of it.

Tired mother holding her newborn child at home after tying to pump.© Getty
Mum guilt comes in many guises

Reasons for my mum guilt

As they have got older the nature of the guilt has changed but it’s always there, nagging away like an evil gremlin on my shoulder (Particularly when I’m due my period and it has the power to reduce me to tears). Who can relate to some of the following?

- You’re so selfish for working late and putting them into after school club

- Why did you let them watch TV for so long while you were finishing that meeting?

- You’re not doing enough arts and crafts with them. You’re not as hands on as the other mums.

- Why did you give them fish fingers when you could have made them something healthy?

- They’re growing up so fast. Make the most of them!

- Why haven’t you booked that dentist appointment yet?

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If you are a fellow mum guilt sufferer, I have no cure but I will say that it’s important to reflect on all the great things we’re doing too.

It’s so easy to get lost in all the ways we perceive that we’re failing our kids and to let all the wonderful, loving things we do slip by. It may be a cliche but we’re only human and juggling all the moving parts of life is so damn hard. So let’s promise each other that next time the mum guilt Gremlin strikes, we’ll put it back in its box and be kinder to ourselves.

Follow Nicola on Instagram and listen to her Outspoken Beauty podcast.

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