It is a feeling we all get.
It's a restlessness.
A pit in your stomach.
It keeps you up at night, leaves you feeling unsure, doubting yourself and apologizing over and over again....
I have struggled with a lot of guilt in the last couple of years, this is what it feels like to me.
One of my favourite researchers Brene Brown writes about the difference between Shame and Guilt.
She writes, "based on my research and the research of other shame researchers, I believe that there is a profound difference between shame and guilt. I believe that guilt is adaptive and helpful – it’s holding something we’ve done or failed to do up against our values and feeling psychological discomfort."
Based on this definition, Guilt can be looked at in a positive way. So why does it feel so terrible?
I have recently turned to trying to find the positive aspects of my guilt. These feelings have been heightened ever since life got busier, and I needed to figure something out! I agree with Brene, guilt can be adaptive and helpful. A way to help us see that we are not living up to our potential. But what if we just can't keep up?
As a working mother, guilt is something that I personally feel every single day. I am blessed to be part of a marriage that is the definition of a team. My partner shares the responsibilities in our home equally and if I am honest he is at times the more primary parent. This should help me, right? This should help me feel better when the guilt tells me I should be spending more time with my kids? Should be a better dog mom? Should be a better neighbour, cleaner, cook, friend, family member?
I am sure many out there can relate to the feeling that there are just not enough hours in the day to do the things that we want to do. The guilt that I have had in the last 5 years has changed since becoming a parent. I feel guilty that I don't make all of their food from food that I grew from seeds in my basement and harvested myself (that was a bit of sarcasm), but I do feel bad that I don't cook as much as I should, I feel bad that I do not document everything they do in beautiful scrapbooks, I feel guilty that sometimes we play on the iPad before bed instead of reading a story, because I am too tired to be patient with my daughter who is now reading to me.
I feel guilty that I sometimes have to work while I am with them. I feel guilty that being a business owner, a Therapist is really a 24hour job. I sometimes am doing too much at a time and that leaves my children with a stressed and tired Mom. I bark at them and am short tempered, not entirely because they are not listening, but because I am not taking care of myself properly. This guilt is really a terrible feeling. I feel guilty that sometimes I break down, that sometimes my husband has to see me in tears after a hard week and I feel guilty that I wasn't strong enough to prevent that.
I work with brave, amazing, intelligent, and insightful clients everyday. I learn so much from them and I take away what they have learned in their lives and I can apply that with my own children. The guilt that I feel when I see myself doing something that one of my clients has mentioned was hard for them as a child, is a wake up call. It takes some good self talk and a lot of trust in my skills as a parent, and my team of support around me to remind me that every action does not create the same reaction. I have to have strong boundaries and good self esteem to remind myself that sometimes my anxious mind can take over and that those situations, those challenges that I see in my office hopefully will not happen with my own children.
This guilt carries over into other aspects of my life, not just in the parenting arena.
At the end of the day, the busier you get the less time you will have to do the things that align with your values. What you have to remember is that you can only do so much. What you fill your life with needs to match what you know you can feel good doing. If I am going to be a good, educated, involved therapist I have to put in the time and effort to do that. This is something that is of great importance to me. It is important to me that my clients all have me at my best, have me offering the support and clinical judgment that is based on new learning, new evidence, and is coming from someone who herself is practicing the same skills. What this means is that I need to feel guilt sometimes. It means that in order for me to be who I want to be as a mother, wife, professional, friend, volunteer, and family member, I will feel guilt. Because there is no possible way for me to be present in all of these areas of my life at the same time without compromising the most important vessel in this equation—which is myself.
When you first have a baby, what is the first piece of advice that most people give you?
Sleep when the baby sleeps.
Why do they tell you that? They tell you that because you have to take care of yourself if you are going to bring up this tiny human that you are responsible for. I didn’t sleep when my first baby was born. I slept when my second was.
What I have learned as I grow as a professional and as a mother is that I need to do this. I need to “sleep when the baby sleeps.” I need to take care of myself in order for me to fulfil all of the other hats that I want to wear. I personally know that the other hats I wear in my life are all hats that help me. They help me to feel fulfilled, feel joyful, feel loved, and feel present. So I know that I need to keep room in my life for all of these hats. This is where the above comes in (the guilt). As I grow and learn to establish these boundaries, life gets easier. I said to a client recently that one of the greatest gifts that I have given myself is the ability to say NO. I am not saying that I am perfect at this by any means, but I am getting a lot better.
Try and take notice right now of what hats you are wearing. How many hats do you need to be wearing? Where are your priorities right now? I personally think that the more hats we try and wear, the more roles we try and fill, the more 'shoulds' we keep 'shoulding' the further down the guilt trap we are going to fall down.
I know that there is one thing that you can drop off your list that will help you to be more present in the things that really matter.
Do you need to have your house perfectly clean?
Do you need to go to 3 different groceries stores to get everything you need?
Do you need to work late every day?
Do you need to get to the gym as often as you do?
Do you need to help that person that asked you to help them move?
What is it that is taking the valuable time away from what really matters to you?
Lastly, if you feel that you cannot get a grip on any of this it is OKAY to have that breakdown. It is okay to ask for help. We need to support one another in finding balance and being okay with 'sleeping when the baby sleeps.'