Mum guilt is a universal experience - but what are the biggest triggers? Experts reveal how TV, friends, and grandparents have an affect

Feeling mum guilt is more common than you might first think

mum with a baby
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Experts and parents have candidly revealed the biggest triggers causing them to feel ‘mum guilt’ - and, unfortunately, it seems that there's no escaping them. 

Mum guilt is something all mothers will have experienced at some point or another, no matter how secure they are in their parenting style. It's a universal emotion and while there are loads of tips on how to tackle mum guilt, there's no stopping the emotion when it starts to creep in.

But what's triggering so many to feel it? According to research by Wild Nutrition, a whopping 50% of parents feel the guilt when taking time out for themselves, while the second and third biggest contributors to mum guilt are social media's 'mumfluencers' and unrealistic depiction of parenthood in TV and film. 

The research also found that the feeling can also be brought on by a mum's friends and family, with, sadly, almost a third of women saying that their own mother was one of the reasons they had unrealistic expectations when it came to parenting.

But it seems that we don't even need others to compare ourselves to and can bring on the feeling of mum guilt just fine by ourselves. One parent revealed on MumsNet, “For me, I felt mum guilt when my daughter was on her first day of nursery and I was in the hairdressers enjoying some free time before I was due to start work.

“That was because, when I dropped her off, she was crying and was probably feeling a bit confused/overwhelmed and there I was in the hairdressers pampering myself."

But the mum said she felt this guilt was 'normal,' explaining, “In my opinion what wouldn’t be normal would be things like sitting down for a five min cuppa and feeling guilty over it.”

In response, other mums shared they felt guilt over the opposite situation. “I feel guilty that I’m not at work! Would she benefit from nursery? Am I being lazy by not working?," one mum said.

"I feel guilty when I see family so often because I feel like I’m not working hard enough by myself and taking the ‘easy’ option by visiting family and letting them play with her for a bit," they added. "I feel guilty for spending money on toddler groups when I’m not working much.”

So what can mums do to ease the mum guilt they're feeling? According to psychotherapist Anna Mathur, we all need to remember that, "It's not you, maybe the standards are out of reach?

She explains that we so often feel 'not good enough' because there's always some expectation attached to motherhood, either one that's self-imposed, one placed there by society, or one enforced by social media and those around us. 

"The next time you don’t feel ‘good enough’, question whether it’s because you need to try harder, or because the bar of your standards is sitting out of your reach," she says. "We need a margin for humanness in the standards we place for ourselves, or the standards we accept as the norm."

If you are struggling with mum guilt, learning about the '9-minute theory' that can be used with kids of all ages might help ease the feeling when it creeps in. And a therapist reveals why self-care is essential for mums - but have we been doing it all wrong? Plus, can you spot the signs of parental burnout? A parenting coach shares 7 symptoms and ideas on how you can cope with it

News writer

Charlie Elizabeth Culverhouse is a news writer for Goodtoknow, specialising in family content. She began her freelance journalism career after graduating from Nottingham Trent University with an MA in Magazine Journalism, receiving an NCTJ diploma, and earning a First Class BA (Hons) in Journalism at the British and Irish Modern Music Institute. She has also worked with BBC Good Food and The Independent.