Guilt is a powerful, uncomfortable emotion which can often show up during the experience of single motherhood.
Guilt can spill out in so many ways, for example:
- Guilt about the breakdown of the relationship with your child(s) father
- Guilt about the impact of separation on your children
- Guilt about being stressed, irritable, or sad around your children
- Guilt about going on a new date, using an after-school club so you can go to the gym, or prioritising needing to work.
The reality is guilt can show up in all sorts of ways in single motherhood. Guilt can show up when we have done something we regret (e.g. having an affair) or even if we have done nothing that society may consider ‘wrong’ at all. Because guilt can be about how we perceive a situation and ourselves, rather than an objective truth.
Guilt serves an evolutionary purpose. By making us feel bad, it brings our attention to a problem behaviour or situation, which then gives us the opportunity to repair it, resolve it, or learn from it. However, when guilt remains present, unchecked and unchallenged, all that happens is it festers and eats us up, making our mental health suffer.
Guilt can make you feel sad, miserable, shamed, anxious. It can bring that heavy feeling in the pit of your stomach, or that ache in your chest. It can make that inner voice you carry become critical and attacking of you, who you are, what you deserve. It’s really pretty awful.
So if you are experiencing guilt in your single motherhood journey what can you do to help?
Firstly you can be kind to yourself. Then be a bit kinder. More of this in a moment.
Secondly, it is important to remember that you are only human and whatever has happened, you are not alone in being in a situation where, for whatever reason, the relationship has broken down and you are navigating single parenthood for you and your children. And sometimes no matter what we do, this is the outcome. And sometimes the absolutely right one.
Thirdly when guilt shows up, see if you can notice this, name it and identify why it has shown up -what are you feeling guilty about specifically?
Fourthly ask yourself some questions to gently explore the guilt – are you being fair to yourself in the level of guilt you are carrying? Are you actually to blame or responsible in this situation? Did you intentionally cause this situation? Are you doing the best you can? If a friend were telling you about this same guilt they were carrying, what would you say? Do you think people deserve to feel guilty forever? Does it help you or your children to stay feeling guilty?
Fifth on the list –is there action that is fair and reasonable for you to take to help with this guilt?
Lastly, can you give yourself permission to learn from this (if needed), be kind to yourself (absolutely), speak compassionately rather than critically and give yourself permission to let go of the power guilt has over you. You can make this choice. No-one deserves to carry guilt forever, including you. It is okay to reflect, resolve, learn and let go.
Surviving Solo Motherhood: How to Look After Your Mental Health and Boost Your Emotional Wellbeing as a Single Mum by Amy Rose and Dr Emma Cotterill is OUT NOW (Welbeck Balance, £12.99)
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