The 7 Stages of Guilt Every Mum Suffers and How to Make it Stop

Mum guilt. It’s a b*tch of a thing and something that we ALL experience.

It arrives the moment you find out you are pregnant and doesn’t go away. Ever. And what do we do about it? Nada! We just put up with it ruining brief snippets of our lives.

That’s right – mum guilt follows you around like a bad smell for pretty much the rest of your parenting life. Because once you become a mummy, mum guilt is part of the package.

Like grief, there are several stages of mum guilt. And, like grief, it does get easier to manage these feelings of inferiority by overcoming them with a healthy dose of logic. But before we get to beating the shitty mum guilt fairy, let’s delve into the various forms of mum guilt that are bound to strike you during the next 30 years or so. (That’s if they haven’t already.)

 Stage One:  I Shouldn’t Have Eaten That

AKA Pregnancy

Yes, that’s right, just because the baby is still cooking doesn’t mean mum guilt hasn’t arrived. Oh no. You will probably feel pangs of guilt about what you eat, how much weight you gain (or don’t gain), how you sleep and how you give birth. Here at Mum Central, we say—don’t sweat the small stuff!

Stage Two:  I Should Be Cherishing Every Moment

AKA The First Year

Time and time again we are told how quickly that first year flies by and how we need to cherish every moment, every memory, every milestone. And when you start to feel tired, and overwhelmed and frankly, over looking after a baby 24/7, you start to feel guilty for feeling this way.

During those early days, the guilt comes on thick and constant. Guilty about breastfeeding, about not breastfeeding, about rocking them, about letting them cry, about feeling alone even though you’re with them constantly, about wanting a decent stint of sleep, about NOT wanting to be touched for a few solid hours. It goes on and on.

child hanging onto mum's leg, mum guilt

Stage Three:  I Shouldn’t Leave Her

Returning to work? Thinking about going out without the kids tagging along or thinking about any social interaction minus the baby? Major mum guilt moment!

One of the hardest parts of parenting, in my opinion at least, is finding that balance between being with your kids and doing things on your own.

Most parents have to work. Or at least leave their kids once in a while. And this is when the guilt fairy swoops in with thoughts like, “I’m missing out on her childhood,” and “I shouldn’t leave her in the care of others.”

Anytime you leave the house, do the drop-off or make a plan to catch up with child-free mates, the guilt fairy is bound to follow you. And poop guilt glitter all over your catch-up. Darn that fairy.

Stage Four: I Should Bake Something Healthy 

AKA Junior Years

As they get older the mum guilt starts to take on a new form. Snacks are a prime example. Why? Because good mums feed their kids healthy, homemade snacks. Not chicken nuggets. Even if that’s the only thing yours will eat.

In addition to snack guilt, you will probably also feel the twangs of mum guilt as you find yourself longing for bedtime, just so you can have a moment of peace. You will feel guilty for rushing their bedtime story (if you read them one at all. Bad Mum), guilty for letting them watch YouTube, for yelling at them for making a mess, and for not wanting to play Go Fish for the gazillionth time.

The other thing about mum guilt is that not only does it sh*t all over your day, but it also hits you in the face when you’re lying in bed awake at 2am. That’s when you start questioning yourself. “Should I be doing more?” “Could I be doing more?” “Am I a bad mother?”

young girl holding up middle finger, mum guilt

Stage Five: I’m Raising Little Turds

AKA The Tween and Teen Time

As you put away the toy cars and Barbies, a new sense of guilt arrives – the “is their bad behaviour all my fault?” guilt.

Tweens and teens can be right little arseholes, thanks to a healthy dose of new hormones. But, naturally, we tell ourselves their bad attitude isn’t their fault- it’s ours. Hello, guilt!

Stage Six:  I Should Have Done More

AKA Empty Nest Syndrome 

As the kids embark on the next chapter – adulthood, us mums can relax, right? Mum guilt exits the premises with the kids. Sorry, but not quite. Sure, the worries about breastfeeding and co-sleeping fade into nothingness, but now you’re left feeling guilty that perhaps you didn’t do enough to prepare them for the big, bad world.

Fears around spoiling them too much or not spoiling them enough all start to engulf you in a wave of ‘should haves’ and ‘shouldn’t haves.’ And every bad decision they make? It all comes back to our inadequate parenting. Or at least that’s what mum guilt leads us to believe.

Stage Seven:  I Shouldn’t Have Said That

AKA The Nanna Days

Even as your kids have kids and you put on your Grandma hat, mum guilt still rears her ugly head every now and again, especially when you offer unwanted advice or let an opinion slip. And, of course, watching your own daughter struggle as she attempts to navigate through new mummyhood is pretty much the epitome of Nanna guilt. After all, just because she’s all grown up doesn’t make her any less of your little girl. And mum guilt knows this all too well.

No matter where you are in your parenting journey, you can expect the mum guilt fairy to be nearby, waving her wings in your ear.

But just remember, love is what fuels mum guilt. The pangs of mum guilt are simply the price we pay for loving our babies, no matter what stage they are at.

mum central

Flicking Mum Guilt Away

Yes, mum guilt is part of being a parent. But it’s still no fun to feel, especially when it’s negatively impacting your life. If you’ve had just about enough of the guilt swooping in, just remember that you’re doing what’s best for you, your kids and your future. 

Beat guilt with reason – You shouldn’t have to validate your decisions to anyone. But sometimes reminding yourself about the positive outcomes of your decisions can help with mum guilt.

Stop trying to be perfect – It’s too exhausting. If you’re striving for perfection, anything you do won’t be good enough.

Ignore the social media lie – Swooning over another parent’s picture-perfect vacation and feeling guilty that you can’t afford something similar for your kids is not helping anyone.

Relax – The more anxious you feel, the worse the guilt becomes.

Look at the big picture – Sure, you effed up dinner and forgot about Bookweek (again). Don’t sweat it. Keep the big picture in mind – one night of cereal for dinner and a dodgy Where’s Wally costume made at 11pm isn’t going to matter in the grand scheme of things.

Looking for more proof that you’re kicking goals, even if mum guilt suggests otherwise? Check out Sometimes Good Mums Drink, Swear and Lose Their Sh*t Too. 



Avatar of Jenna Galley

Born and raised in Canada, Jenna now lives in Far North Queensland with her tribe. When the mum-of-three is not writing, you can find her floating in the pool, watching princess movies, frolicking on the beach, bouncing her baby to sleep or nagging her older kids to put on their pants.

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