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How can parents manage the feeling of 'Mum guilt'?

Summer break represents a season of no school, holidays, sunny weather, and quality time with family and friends. As a parent, the well-being of your children often takes center stage, leaving little room for personal self-care. You likely find yourself juggling chaotic schedules filled with endless activities, family commitments, disruptions to regular routines, noisy homes, and still trying to manage the ongoing demands of work life. During these busy times, parental self-care becomes even more crucial yet often neglected. Parents face many challenges during summer break, with mums carrying an added burden of "Mum guilt." To enjoy a more fulfilling, happy summer, here are some nurturing parental self-care tips for your well-being during the summer.

Understanding the Challenges

Parenting is both rewarding and challenging, and the summer break is no different. There's the pressure to keep the children entertained, the disruption of routine that can lead to chaos, and the financial strain of holidays and activities. Parents also place a strong expectation on themselves to make summer a magical time for the family, which can feel overwhelming. The quest to be a "perfect parent" or have the "best summer ever" may be counterproductive to those goals. A recent study of parents published in the U.S. by Ohio State University reveals that 57% of parents reported burnout. The report highlights that children show fewer signs of mental health issues like anxiety and depression when parents spend more time in unstructured play with them and limit the number of structured activities. Additionally, the mental health of parents directly influences that of their children, with higher levels of parental burnout correlating with more severe mental health problems in children.

The Phenomenon of 'Mum Guilt'

The feeling of 'Mum guilt' is a common experience for many parents. It's a pervasive sense of not doing enough or making decisions that might somehow shortchange their children's happiness. This guilt can be particularly intense during the summer when social media and conversations with other parents bombard you with images and stories of perfect family moments.

Why do we feel this guilt? It stems from high societal expectations and personal aspirations to excel as a parent. Additionally, there is often an internalised ideal that as parents (and particularly as mums), one must sacrifice their own needs for the sake of the children's well-being. Glamour Magazine U.K. highlights how social media preys on these maternal expectations. Many mothers feel pressured to make each summer holiday memorable for their children, wanting to provide fun experiences and undivided attention. When reality falls short of expectations due to bad moods, bad weather, or boredom, the Mum guilt sets in.

Self-Care Strategies for Parents

Acknowledging the pressures and managing Mum guilt are the first steps towards better self-care. Here are some strategies that parents can adopt, especially during the hectic summer months:

1. Set Realistic Expectations: Accept that you can't do everything. It's okay for your children to be bored sometimes or for activities not to go as planned. These moments can teach resilience and creativity.

2. Schedule 'Me' Time: Just as you schedule children's activities, schedule regular intervals for self-care. This could be anything from a quiet coffee break to a walk in the park. Thirty minutes alone is enough to provide a vital recharging for your emotional and physical energy.

3. Connect with Other Parents: Sharing your thoughts and experiences with other parents can provide support and reassurance. It helps to know you are not alone in feeling overwhelmed or guilty.

4. Stay Active: Physical activity is not only good for the body but also for mental health. Incorporate family activities involving exercise like biking, hiking, or even a simple football game. This benefits everyone and helps manage stress.

5. Mindfulness and Relaxation: Techniques such as meditation, yoga, or deep-breathing exercises can be incredibly beneficial in managing stress and anxiety. Even a few minutes a day can make a significant difference. Be mindful as well of how much time you spend on social media. Comparing your everyday moments to the highlights on social media sets unrealistic expectations.

6. Set a Sleep Schedule: Fewer responsibilities and commitments do not mean all routines go out the window. Set expectations for your kids at the onset of summer on a bedtime. It is good for your kids to get proper sleep and it benefits you as well to have a little time at the end of the day to yourself!

7. Plan Ahead but Be Flexible: Having a plan can reduce anxiety but being flexible is crucial. Not everything will go as planned, and adapting to changes can help reduce potential stress.

Embracing Imperfection

Embracing imperfections can be a path to relief and ultimately helps alleviate 'Mum guilt.' Summers don't have to be perfect to be wonderful. By prioritizing self-care and accepting that some days will be less than ideal, parents can enjoy the summer break more and model healthy lifestyle habits for their children. Remember, taking care of yourself isn't just a luxury—it's a necessity that makes you a better parent. So, let go of the pressure to create the perfect summer and instead focus on creating a summer filled with love, laughter, and cherished memories.

Being a perfect parent is not a realistic expectation. A great parent is present, setting expectations for quality time together, and teaching your children how to experience not only joy but also how to navigate boredom and disappointment. When feelings of guilt set in, take inventory of where those feelings are coming from. Remember, summer memories are just one piece of your child's collective experience of growing up. Each moment, whether perfect or imperfect, contributes to their growth and development. So, be kind to yourself and remember that you're doing a great job.

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