Mother's Guilt

Growth requires guilt - Rethinking mother's guilt


Many of us mums are plagued by mother’s guilt.  And often it has a toxic impact that steals the joy of motherhood away from us.

But what if I told you that we need to be able to tolerate a certain amount of guilt?  Not because we need to endure it to be a good mother. But because growth requires guilt.  So if we want to grow and develop in our life then we need to learn how to tolerate it in a respectful way.

Let me explain what I mean, and to do this I need to share some insights from my three year training in systemic coaching.  Our deepest human need is to belong.  As no man (or woman) is an island, we can only belong in relationship to others (a relationship system).

The process starts at birth as we bond and belong.  This is the first system we encounter and belong within – and we call it family.

Our relationship systems have rules that protect our belonging.  Some of these rules are spoken but many are unspoken.  From these experiences we develop our personal conscience.

“The personal conscience emerges out of a lively cocktail of land-of-origin and family-of-origin bonding experience, innate personality type and events in our childhood.”

John Whittington – Systemic Coaching and Constellations

Over our lifetime we gather and internalise attitudes and beliefs about our relationships that become deeply embedded within us.  They tell us what we need to do to belong and they become our internal rule book.  Our personal conscience tells us whether we conform or violate these rules.  And many of us feel on a daily basis the impact of this rule book. You only have to look at the judgement that hangs around motherhood to feel the impact of this. 

When we act in alignment with our personal conscience we feel we belong and therefore feel ‘innocent’.  But when we act out of alignment and risk our belonging we feel ‘guilty’.  

As a result any personal growth or development requires us to become guilty in relation to the systems in which we belong.  I personally became aware of this after having my first child and returning to work. I became so consumed by my mother’s guilt I considered giving up my work completely to ease my guilt.  After much soul searching I realised that my loyalty to my own mum (who had been a stay-at-home mum when I was child) was at the heart of my guilt.

So I had to tolerate my guilt in order to grow into the mother I wanted and needed to be. 

“It takes courage to make the transition from our original conscience group.  When this movement into guilt is facilitated with respect and acknowledgement for what was given and what was received it can bring profound growth and strength.”

Alasdair Kidd – As referenced in Systemic Coaching and Constellations

So for us to grow and change we need to be able to tolerate feelings of guilt.  The challenge is being able to respectfully acknowledge our guilt and resource ourselves to tolerate it.  By doing so we’re able to take a step closer to authentic happiness and thrive as working mums.

This is even more important if we want to step into a new paradigm of motherhood.  If we want to update our internal rule book of how we want to be a working mum (perhaps letting go of self-sacrifice or martyrdom) then tolerating the guilt of change will be vital.

I hope this insight into the nature of growth and guilt liberates you.  That you’re able to move forward with a fresh perspective on your mother’s guilt.

If you have any questions or would like to explore this concept in more detail then get in touch – as always I love to hear from you.


We’re genuine, like-minded women, just like you!

We’re a community, reinventing how we combine work and motherhood without sacrificing our sanity and wellbeing.


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