How to overcome mama guilt – and put yourself first

We know how hard it can be to make time for yourself as a mama, especially during the school holidays. So we're thrilled to share this guest post from Dr Alison Pike. It's full of useful (and vital!) tips that will help you to leapfrog over your mama guilt and get on with meeting your own needs...

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A huge barrier for mamas taking time out for themselves is guilt.

The voice in our head says that we should devote ourselves to our children, and that taking time for ourselves is selfish.

Fortunately, the evidence is clear – the best thing that you can do for your children is to put yourself first!
The next time the guilt-voice rears its ugly head, remember this:

1. Maternal wellbeing is most important

Psychologists have studied what makes for the best possible parenting. They have looked at everything from economic factors, to marital quality, child temperament, and social support. The ingredient that comes out as most important time and again is maternal mental health! That means that taking time for yourself, time to recharge your batteries and look after your own wellbeing will make you the best mama that you can be.

Sometimes it helps to fake-it-till-you-make-it. If taking time out makes you feel guilty, pretend that it doesn’t. If your children moan about you going out, say that it’s important for mama to have time with friends, in a bright cheery tone. Someday, you might just believe it yourself.

2. Be a role model for self-care

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Us mamas want our children to be healthy and happy.

A key way that children learn is not by what we tell them, but by what we show them.

We are role-models for our children. That means that children should see us exercising and eating right, and also taking the time we need to look after ourselves.

I want my children to look after their mental wellbeing as well as their physical health, and I can show them how it’s done.

Many mamas only feel justified in having time away from their children when they are working. It can be tempting to lie and say that we are working when we are actually going to the gym, or getting a manicure. But what a powerful message to your daughter (or son) to say, “I’m going to meet a friend for coffee.” If there are protests, follow up with, “It’s important for me to have time with friends, just like it is for you.”

3. Give your children quality time with their father and/or other caregivers

Another major bonus to taking time out for yourself is allowing the other caregivers in your children’s life to have time with the children without you there. 

Whether intentional or not, mamas can be dominant, and overshadow or even undermine others’ involvement.

Building quality relationships with several different kinds of adults is great for children.

By taking yourself out of the equation sometimes, you are enabling this to happen.

Research shows that many mothers act as “gatekeepers” when it comes to access to their children. This is a natural maternal instinct, but it’s worth questioning. Perhaps their father or auntie may not serve them the most nutritious meal. Perhaps they won’t get a bath. Maybe they’ll go to bed late.

Stepping back, is that really so important? Compared to children enjoying multiple relationships with adults who love them?

4. Quality, not quantity, is key

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Research is also clear that it is the quality of parenting that’s important, rather than the quantity of time that parents spend with their children.

Different mamas have different lifestyles and temperaments that mean that some mamas will thrive spending a lot of time with their children, whereas other mamas will enjoy equally terrific relationships with their children in less time.

Another tip (if you have flexibility) is to schedule childcare at typically low quality time.

A few years ago I needed a few extra hours at work. The obvious solution would have been to get a babysitter to pick up the boys from (pre)school. Instead, I thought through our time together, and realised that I would be better off having a babysitter take them to school rather than pick them up.

I got to keep the relatively fun after school time for myself, and offload a time often punctuated by rushing, stress, and arguments!

5. Put Your Own Mask on First

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Flight attendants have it right. In order to help our children, we need to be sure that we are in tip-top condition ourselves.

As a University teacher, I have talked to hundreds of young adults.

A challenge for many students is worry over a parent back home. Many times this is unavoidable – a cancer diagnosis or redundancy, so I certainly don’t blame parents for this.

However, I am happy for those young people who are able to take their parents for granted.

What a gift for children – to have only themselves to worry about!

The same is true for younger children. It is a large burden for young shoulders, worrying about the well-being of their parents. By taking care of ourselves to the best of our ability, we are doing the very best by our children.

Hear more on parenting from Alison at her event ‘Psychology 101: for parents’ at this year’s British Science Festival.

Book your tickets here:

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Thank you for such a vital post!

Thanks Alison, there are so many useful ways to shift your mindset as a mum here. I really remember the first time I handed my littles over to my in laws so that I could start going to a regular yoga class for myself - it felt so hard, and yet it had such a positive impact on their relationship, and on my ability to parent calmly and with love - making time for yourself as a mother makes such a huge positive difference to everything.


It is bliss having my grandchildren to visit. Mummy is always saying 'no' to things. I am allowed to say "yes'.

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