27th June, 2023

What to Do When You Can Never Do Enough as a Working Mum

With Corrina Gordon-Barnes

Photo of Corrina Gordon-Barnes

Listen to this episode

On this episode

On this episode of You Are Not a Frog, our guest, Corrina Gordon-Barnes, joins us to discuss the challenges working mothers face in traditional family units. The conversation sheds light on the value of self-compassion, learning to navigate negative emotions, and striking a balance between work and family life. This episode is for everyone involved in parenting, not just mothers. It’s not just women who experience mum guilt!

For a new perspective on mum guilt and actionable advice for a healthy balance between career and family life, don’t miss out on this invaluable conversation with our guest, Karina Gordon.

Show links

About the guests

Corrina Gordon-Barnes photo

Reasons to listen

  • Recognise and navigate feelings of shame and mum guilt in your parenting journey.
  • Discover the role of self-compassion and reparenting in achieving a balanced life.
  • Understand the impact of societal norms and social media on our emotional state as parents.

Episode highlights


The Challenges of Motherhood and Mum Guilt


The Impact of Perfectionism and Shame in Parenting


Challenges and Mum Guilt in Parenting


Understanding Shame and Overcoming Negative Emotions


Challenges and Strategies for Working Moms


Coping with Guilt and Shame in the Work-Life Balance Struggle


Top Tips for Overcoming Mum Guilt and Shame

Episode transcript

Rachel Morris: Those of you who listen regularly will know that we’ve been talking a lot about guilt and its evil cousin, shame. In all the work I do, I’m looking not just for strategies for listeners, but also answers for me how can I feel better and escape the guilt of not being able to do it all? And this time it’s really personal.

I’ve teamed up with You Are Not a Frog regular coach and relationship expert Corrina Gordon-Barnes to talk about how to deal with all those difficult emotions which arise when parenting and specifically how to do it as a working mum in a high stress job with the demanding work life as well as home life, we talk about just why we so quickly feel like we’re not good enough, the challenges of trying to do it all, and the constant tug of war between work, home and having enough time to properly look after ourselves.

In this episode, we are focusing on working mothers trying to operate within traditional family units. But the issues we talk about in this episode are important for everyone. Whether you’re a mum or not, you’ll certainly be working with a few, and if you’re bringing up children on your own, then the challenges may be even greater and getting a decent work life balance even tougher.

So listen to this episode if you want to know why being a mother can be so challenging and hit so many of our stress and worry buttons and why some of the touchy feely fluffy memes you see on social media about how wonderful it is to be a mum can be so irritating and so unhelpful. And learn a simple five word phrase that you can use to get out of an overthinking spiral when you feel shame or guilt about how you are parenting.

Welcome to You Are Not a Frog, the podcast for doctors and other busy professionals in high stress, high stakes jobs. I’m Dr Rachel Morris, a former GP now working as a coach, trainer and speaker. Like frogs in a pan of slowly boiling water, many of us don’t notice how bad the stress and exhaustion have become until it’s too late. But you are not a frog. Burning out or getting out are not your only options.

In this podcast, I’ll be talking to friends, colleagues and experts and inviting you to make a deliberate choice about how you will live and work so that you can beat stress and work happier.

If you’re a training manager or clinical lead and your teams are under pressure and maybe even feeling overwhelmed, we’d love to share our Shapes Toolkit training with you. Our practical tools are designed by a team of doctors and practitioners who know what it’s like to work in a stretched and overwhelmed system. With topics like how to take control of your time and workload, deal with conflicts, and managing stress. From team away days and half day sessions to shorter workshops, and webinars online or face to face., we’d love to find out how we can help your team work calmer and happier.

We work with Primary Care training hubs, ICS, wellbeing teams, new to practise GP fellowships, hospital trusts and lots of other healthcare providers with staff on the front line. To find out more, drop us an email or request a brochure at the link below.

Corrina: So. Hi. I’m Corrina Gordon-Barnes. I’ve been coaching for 18 years. I’m a certified coach, a professional certified coach with the International Coach Federation and love helping all people, but especially mums. There is something about mums, helping mums, trying to figure it all out, all the things, all the balls we’re juggling, how do we put it all together?

Rachel: It’s brilliant to have you back, Corrina. You’ve been on several times now for the podcast, I think, because you’ve just got this great way of approaching stuff, which is when I first started talking to you, it was real news to me, as you well know, and I found it incredibly helpful.

And so I wanted to get you back today to specifically talk about being a mum and how hard it is, if I’m honest, and why it’s so hard, actually, interestingly, I’ve got three kids myself, I’m a mum to three and my oldest is 18 and is doing A levels and my middle one is 16 and doing GCSEs, and my youngest is 13 and just about to fluke exams. We’ve got triple exam in my house at the moment and it’s slightly stressful.

I must say, I think I’m telling myself quite a few stories about what a crappy mother I am, because maybe some of us aren’t handling it quite as well as we ought to. But you look at it, actually, of course it’s going to be stressful, right? It’s going to be a real stressful time. But for some reason, as a mother, we seem to take on all the stress, the shame, the guilt, the angst, the worry. And I haven’t really met many mums who come up to me and go, yeah, I’m having a great time being a mum. I’m nailing it, I’m getting it right. It’s brilliant. You’re a mum. Do you feel like that?

Corrina: I think you’re so right to start with that. That parenting is unspeakably hard. I had no idea before I had children, people would talk, wouldn’t they, about how hard parenting was, and there was always that part of me that was like, yeah, well, you’re probably you’re probably doing something wrong, aren’t you, really? You know, there’s that kind of like, I’m sure that it can’t be as hard as you make out it is, but newsflash, it actually truly is.

Rachel: It’s harder!

Corrina: Much harder. Do you know what? There’s a few reasons, aren’t there, that I think that it’s so hard? One of the key ones for me is the relentlessness of it, that there is just no break, no proper true break where you can go, okay, I think I’ll just have an annual leave for a couple of weeks. You don’t get that.

So I have a three year old, a one year old, and we lost our first baby, so I’ve been on that journey as well. I’m at the other end of the spectrum from you. So we can cover between us the whole range of what’s tricky in parenting. And yeah, I think looking at shame today specifically because there are so many expectations that we have within ourselves about the parent that we want to be and then that we imagine other people have for us. And I think one of the big things that we do is we compare, and we compare with these two places.

We compare with what we think other people are doing. And there’s that classic about we’re comparing our internal experience with what we see on the outside of other people’s experiences, which is not truth. It’s just the very one dimensional, Instagram-friendly version.

Or not even Instagram people that we’re friends with who say no, yeah, it’s great, and everything’s fantastic, wonderful. And it’s because they don’t want to take their guard down and say, god, I’m struggling so much.

So we compare with what we think other people are experiencing and we find ourselves to be deficient in comparison. And then we’re comparing with that ideal image in our mind that we had maybe before we were parents, or that we have daily as parents where we’re constantly missing the mark of, oh, if only I had said that. If only I had done that. I wish I had been kinder there or more patient here, or I wish I’d wanted to play with my son when he wanted me to get down and play dragons and trains and bin trucks for the 20th time that day. Or, you know, like, there’s this image of who we think we should be as a parent, and we are not that often.

Rachel: I’d like to go straight in there, Corrina, and ask you, do you think that certain mums are I was going to say worse for this, but that sounds like a bit of a shaming, judgmental thing. But do you think some mums are more prone to this type of comparison, internal perfectionism, et cetera, et cetera? Because I used to be a GP, I’ve got lots of friends who are doctors. Lots of our listeners work in high stress jobs, adopters nurses, healthcare practitioners who work incredibly hard and have very high standards for themselves at work.

And I can’t help thinking that that probably just trickles into home life and they have these then impossibly high standards for themselves at home. Do you think that’s just true for everybody or certain types of people?

Corrina: I think you’re onto something there. I mean, I have worked with clients across all sectors, all fields, all ages, and I do see it across the board. But I do think that if you are somebody who is prone to perfectionism, to a lot of self criticism anyway in your work, if you’re someone who cares, who truly does care, and want to help people and be of service and good to other people, then yes, when it comes to parenting, yes, possibly you can maintain that for a twelve hour shift or for five days of the week, or all these kind of discrete amounts of time. But the constancy of parenting, who can maintain that?

Rachel: Well, I think we think we can, right? It’s like we think we can be completely perfect when we’re doing 120 hour shift over the weekend and not drop anything, even though you haven’t had any sleep or keep going for 24 hours or see 70 patients a day. I think it’s the same thing.

And I also think that well, thinking back to when I had very small children, I never made any allowances for the fact I’d just been on call for the day and then got home and then had to do bath in bed because my husband was away and I had no break. I never would think to myself, oh, gosh, give yourself a break, let’s make things easy. I still had the same standard for myself on those days as I did on the days that I had off and I was feeling much more relaxed.

And then if something went wrong or I felt a bit at the end of my tether, or just got pushed a little bit too far and was a bit snappy, completely beat myself up, well, frankly, I still do. There’s nothing like teenagers to push your buttons, let’s face it. But then just feeling absolutely awful and absolutely beating up on myself because of it.

Corrina: Yeah. And that’s really what we’re looking at, is yes, okay. And I like to divide it into four areas. We think, we feel, we say, we do something that we feel shame about. The thinking, feeling, saying, doing it is one thing.

It’s then how we experience the shame about what it was that we just thought, felt, said or did. That’s the bit where we can really free ourselves because that’s where we hurt ourselves by the stories that we tell ourselves about what we just thought, felt, said or did.

And I think if we have a thought, let’s say we had a thought like, oh, my life was so much better before children. Or we have a feeling like, oh, I’m so bored playing this game with my child. Or we say something, something that we might just find horrific later. Like we might say to a child, oh, sometimes I wish you weren’t here. And then afterwards, it’s that shame of oh my gosh, did I just say that to my beloved child?

Or we do something like, we’re a little bit angry and we just think, oh, I wish I hadn’t done that thing. Yes, it would be wonderful to have a time machine and to be able to go back and undo that thing we just thought, felt, said, did. But we don’t have that. So what are we left with?

Compassion, a bit of self understanding, self empathy, challenging some of those beliefs, some of those underlying beliefs about who we think we should be. And normalising. What is normal, actually, across the board, is that all parents are thinking, feeling, saying, doing things which they feel shame about in a minute.

Rachel: I’d like to just go and dig deep into shame because I’m talking a lot about shame at the moment and it seems to be something that’s coming up all over the place with saying no, with parenting, with relationships, all that sorts of thing.

But I was just reflecting. The thing that I think I beat myself up about the most is almost like if I’ve got work to do or I’m on my phone or emailing a friend and my child wants something and I can’t meet their needs is then thinking, oh, what will I think to myself in 20 years time? I’ll look back and kick myself. I didn’t do more, I wasn’t more present, I wasn’t this, I wasn’t that. And then that’s just adding on even more guilt and regret and shame before. I haven’t even had that regret, but I’m predicting that I am going to regret it and that’s making me feel even worse.

Corrina: Yeah. And sometimes these things look really helpful. Like there’s often goes round on social media, you only get 18 summers with your children, make sure you make the most of every single moment.

And sometimes that kind of messaging can seem helpful, can feel helpful because it does have us put our phones down if we are just literally mindlessly scrolling or just kind of caught up in things and we’re like, oh no, this moment’s precious, let’s be here now. More often than not, I think exactly as you say, it just adds another layer of self judgement and shame to what we’re already experiencing.

Rachel: Yeah, I’m glad you said that, actually, because I really react to stuff like that when it gets posted. Because anything about all the golden years, aren’t they so wonderful and all that. Because actually I found it really, really hard. And obviously I love my children to bits, but I didn’t love it when they were toddlers, I really did. I’ve got a friend who loves toddlers. I love little babies, I could have a baby snuggle on me, but toddlers, fine. I loved mine, but I don’t really like anybody else’, sorry. When they’re a bit older, it’s better and that’s just that.

But then I see all this stuff and I feel so guilty for thinking I didn’t make the most of it, I didn’t really enjoy it. But then I look back at what I was coping with, with a pretty full time job, husband away all the time, kids very close together, various relatives really very ill. So having to support those as well, parents that lived a long way away. And you think, oh, my goodness, oh, my goodness, look what you were coping with. But at the time, you don’t look at it. You just beat yourself up for the fact you’re not coping very well.

Corrina: Yeah. And your honesty is so refreshing because so many people don’t enjoy toddlers. Many people don’t enjoy the baby years. I did not enjoy pretty much any moment of the first six weeks, for sure. Now with my youngest being one, I’m like, thankfully passing on all the cots and the things, the little people things liberated from. And I think people saying, I don’t enjoy this, is absolutely critical because otherwise we feel like we’re the only one. And that’s the kind of grip of shame, is that I am the only one feeling this way. What a terrible person I am, that feeling. It’s just me. Because that shame really thrives on isolation and kind of secrecy.

Rachel: There doesn’t seem to be any acknowledgment of people’s differences. I always think there’s people who put the fluffy kittens on social media with those, oh, you really only get 18 years, let’s make the most of it. They’re very different personalities to me. And this was brought on, I attended a sort of toddler group when the kids were little and we used to sort of go off and have little chats and we did this book called Mother Styles and essentially it was Myers-Briggs profiling for mums. And it was like, what are you? And it looked at what your MBTI profile was and what your ideal day would be.

I had a friend who’s very outgoing, very sociable, life and soul of the party. And when we looked at our ideal day, she was like, I’d get up, we’d be in our pyjamas till one in the afternoon. We’d just be chilling out, we’d watch a few, bit of the telly, we’d bake together. And then my husband would come home, we’d have a lovely meal and go to bed.

And I looked at it and I went, oh, my goodness. That is a description of my worst possible time at home with the kids. Not even got dressed, haven’t gone out anywhere, haven’t seen it, haven’t had any adult conversation.

But until then, I had been because I didn’t like just being at home quietly with the children. I needed that socialisation. This, my friend, is a complete introvert. And I hadn’t realised that. And then I suddenly went, oh, my goodness, we’re different. I had taken that to be, I’m a bad mother, because I don’t like that. And it wasn’t. We are just different. And when you’re in isolation, you don’t realise that it is just a different preference.

But we’re so quick. Why is it that we’re so quick to internalise those stories of I’m not good enough, I’m not right. They’re doing it better than me. Is that just something that’s hard ride into us so that we always on edge or trying to make ourselves better, that it is our default, right, often for many of us.

Corrina: What I like. When you were talking then I was thinking, gosh, wouldn’t it be so lovely if we could all just say parenting is really hard and mostly quite rubbish? And then we could be pleasantly surprised, right, by these moments of beauty where I’m like there with my son and he’s just like the clarity of his eyes and he’s just so innocent and his clear little skin and the way that he asks these beautiful questions.

And I could be like, oh, that’s a surprise. Rather than expecting parenting to be wonderful, I can expect it to be hard and then it could be a nice, pleasant surprise.

Rachel: I like that because if you listen to anything by Mo Gowdat, who was, I think it was the chief technical officer for Google, who’s written a book called Solve For Happy and has done some amazing stuff recently on podcasts and things. He literally looked for an equation to work out how to be happy, and his equation was literally this. Now, I’m probably going to get it wrong, but happiness equals reality minus expectations. So if your expectations are too high, you’re going to be really miserable, but if they’re pretty low, it’s going to be good.

Corrina: I think we have to be so honest, and this is why these kind of conversations are so important, so that other mums go, I don’t really enjoy parenting much of the time, do you? No, I don’t really. I actually quite like going to work because it gives me a bit of an escape from parenting. Do you? Yeah.

And I really had a journey with this as a parent who had lost a child, because I then came into my next pregnancy feeling like I had to feel so grateful all the time for this experience because I had already lost. And I wonder if people around me also felt like this, that by contrast to losing a baby, gosh, surely every second then should feel so magical and so wonderful. And I remember going to a, it was a baby loss toddler group. It was for parents, it’s called Sunshines and Rainbows, and it was for those who had had a child either before or after loss. So everybody there had experienced loss and then they’d either had an older or a younger child.

And there was one mum there who I knew had lost and she just was so miserable with her two children, and I at that point was pregnant with my second. So this was hopefully going to be my first living baby. I thought I had to feel grateful all the time, and there she was having lost before and she was really miserable and she was complaining about the toddler and, oh, I’m so fed up of breastfeeding this one and oh, God.

And she just was moaning and complaining the whole time and I felt like it was sacrilege. Like, how could you not be anything but just glowing? And thank goodness that I have these children. And I realised what a pressure I was putting on myself that I had to be so grateful. And of course we’re grateful for our children and of course it’s amazing and we are so, so fortunate. Yes. And we don’t have to feel it every minute of every day.

Pregnancy, I pretty much hated it. It really sucked. And I remember talking with a friend of mine who had been unable to conceive and feeling ashamed that I would say, oh, I hate being pregnant, when I knew she would give anything to be pregnant. So I think there’s something about letting ourselves feel the unpleasantness of things, knowing that that doesn’t make us bad people, that doesn’t make us ungrateful people. It’s just the reality that these things can be both wonderful and hard at the same time.

Rachel: Yeah. And I’d like to pick up on this, Corrina, because we’ve mentioned shame quite a lot and you’ve mentioned just I felt ashamed. How can we feel these negative emotions without feeling ashamed? That’s my core question. I’m trying to find out in all sorts of ways. So shame is such a destructive thing, it’s such a toxic thing. Firstly, could you just tell us a bit about what you understand shame is?

Corrina: Yes, I feel like shame — the best way to sum it up is where you can’t really meet someone else’s eyes because you feel that you, because of who you are. So not even just what you’ve done, but kind of who you fundamentally are is in some way unworthy. That you somehow don’t deserve that connection with someone again, maybe because of what you’ve thought, felt, said or done.

So it’s that feeling that makes you just want to hide away. And it might physically show up as a kind of sinking feeling or a shying away feeling, or just like, oh, my gosh, I want the world to swallow me up and nobody will relate because this is just me being fundamentally deficient, some fundamentally flawed, in some basic way unworthy of connection. Which then, of course means that we don’t seek out the connection. That would be the antidote to feeling shame.

Rachel: Yeah. So it’s about believing that you are not enough. You are flawed, you are deficient. And someone said to me recently, it’s when you have done something that’s conflict with your own internal values, so then you feel ashamed.

So if my value is to be kind and I am unkind, I feel really ashamed. My value isn’t to be incredibly fit and agile. And if someone accused me of not being or I felt I wasn’t, I wouldn’t feel ashamed at all. I just feel it is a shame. I’m not ashamed of that, I’m not.

It has to be an internal value that you hold very dear, doesn’t it, for you to then feel ashamed? So if you’re telling yourself a story that I need to be a good and a good mother, is kind, a good mother spends time yeah, is patient and gentle and all those things that a woman should be, gentle, kind, selfless, loving. And then if I am at the end of my tether and do something that isn’t selfless, I will feel really ashamed about that.

Corrina: Yeah, I leave my child crying for a little bit longer because I want to finish my cup of tea. That is no, because it’s not just our own values, is it? It’s also kind of as you were saying, they’re really, what society is saying, what the social norms are for that particular group. So women mothers being a very specific group that society has lots of underlying beliefs about and not just about mothers, but about our setup as well.

So for example, we have beliefs like divorce is bad for children. We have a kind of a societal belief around that. So then if we are in a relationship that is abusive or is not serving us in some way, well, the society belief is still that, well, children need two parents or they need a solid, that might keep us in a relationship longer than is safe or that is right for us.

Rachel: So I was going to ask you, as you were saying that, can we feel ashamed if our actions are hitting a value that we don’t really hold dear? Can you be ashamed about something you don’t really care about or not? It has to be something you really care about?

Corrina: I think it does. I think it has to be a belief that I think it has to be a social norm that you have genuinely bought into that you believe and have taken on as your own. So let’s imagine that someone this isn’t my situation, but let’s say someone said to me, oh, have you not potty trained your child yet? And they kind of had some judgement about it. And my child was a certain age. Now, that’s not going to bother me if I’m completely happy with the age at which I’m potty training my child.

But if I’ve had my own internal, oh, I really should have done it by now. Oh, he’s getting a bit old now to be wearing nappies still. Then it’s like, it’s not that that person is shaming me, but that person is kind of touching a sore point for me.

So a really helpful five word question that I like to use with this if someone said something to me and I feel that burn of kind of self criticism shame, rather than thinking that they did that to me, I can ask myself, ‘Did I think it first?’’

Did I think, oh gosh, I really should have potty trained him by now? Or let’s say I’ve decided to formula feed my child and someone makes a judgement of that about me. Well, did I think it first that it wasn’t what I should be doing? Because that’s where I can look and I don’t need to worry about what other people are judging me for. It’s about me making peace with my decisions, my choices as a parent.

Rachel: So what if you did think it first?

Corrina: Yeah. Well, then we know that that person isn’t shaming us. So we just get to step out of victim mode. Rather than saying they shamed me and feeling victimised by that, we can say, okay, they’ve pointed out they’ve pointed to something here that actually I’m not at peace with here and how can I get myself to peace with that? Well, there’s a few ways I can question some of the underlying assumptions. Like if a child isn’t potted trained by the age of that means something.

And we can just question, like, is that true? Is that really what’s going on? We can question that. We can also just find compassion for ourselves. One thing that we can do is to look at ourselves, maybe literally in a mirror, as if we would look at a friend and have that eye to eye with ourselves because shame makes us want to kind of look away.

Let’s say, for example, I lost my temper with my child. I said some things that in a clear mind I wouldn’t say, and I can look myself in the eyes. I can own that with myself. I can be in relationship with myself, owning that. And then how would I talk to my best friend about this? You did the best you could in that moment when you know better, you do better. If you could do better, you would do better. What do you need to do better? Do you need more sleep? Probably yes. Can you get almost? Probably no. Are you going to be able to get that sleep? Probably no.

Okay, so have compassion with yourself. You’re running on empty. What is it you would say to your best friend? You’re running on empty. You’re doing the best you possibly can. That one action will not define you as a parent. It will not damage your child forever. It’s about getting that perspective as well.

Rachel: I think that’s so important, that self compassion. I have actually started putting my hand on my heart going, oh, you put of course you’re like that. Of course you’re knackered and snappy. Look at what you’ve just had to put up with! And that really helps me.

Corrina: And that that you’re pointing to there is that reparenting idea that is really becoming popular. I’m just seeing it everywhere at the moment, this idea of reparenting ourselves like that. Because did our parents — bless them, they were doing the best they could — did they say to us things like, bless you gosh, you’re doing the best you can, or did they say, you shouldn’t be feeling that, or you should have done better, or the classic you should be ashamed of yourself.

We were literally given shame as like you should be ashamed, like you should take shame on and run with it may have been the messaging we got.

Rachel: So have a massive dollop of shame because it’s going to do so much good, it’s such a good motivator.

Corrina: And that to go back to your question of why is it our default? Because for some of us, that is what our parents and teachers at school. I remember very distinctly. I can hear a teacher saying, you should be ashamed of yourself, whatever it was that as children we did. So can we reparent ourselves? Can we have that compassion with ourselves and parent ourselves in that way?

Rachel: One thing, I think, that people who are working very hard, lots of medic mums, lots of people who work full time or even say medic mums who are working less than full time, which is pretty much full time, I’m thinking teachers, lawyers, all these people who’ve gone back to work, they want to maintain their career.

They feel really, I’m not saying ashamed is the word, but they feel really guilty around things, like working late around things like not being there all the time, like having to put their kid in childcare, having to get in people to come and help, being late to pick up even when it’s not their fault, all that sort of thing. I think there is so much shame laid on top of the guilt that comes with being a mother with a job and sometimes it feels like you’ve got no choice either way.

Now, obviously we all have a choice about whether we work, whether we don’t work, but we’re talking about within the choices that we’ve made to have a family. We might then have a partner who is not taking on their share of the responsibility. All the childcare then falls on us.

And in fact, I was doing a podcast with someone the other day and they were like, what’s your biggest bit of advice as a working mum? It’s like get good childcare I mean literally, literally get good child care. Because so many of us have just cocked some box for the child care, thinking, oh, I’ll just sort it out.

And then taking all the pain and the responsibility of having to get to that place in time for pickup, having to organise it, having to sort it out when the babysitter drops out, all those sorts of things without sharing it out equally, without actually knowing that we can do it, and then feeling guilty when it falls through and feeling completely irresponsible.

But anyway, that’s a bit of a bit of a side note. But there is so much shame and guilt and worry and fear when it comes to childcare and work and being a working mum. You’re a working mum. I know you set it up very differently, but have you experienced any of that sort of stuff?

Corrina: And so for people who haven’t listened to us before, the reason that it is different for me is I’m married to a woman. And that is so refreshing in terms of this conversation, because there were no assumptions about who was going to be doing what. And so this is what I would offer, that if you are in a heterosexual relationship, and try and think of it as if you had no genders. Therefore, if you are in a partnership, what would you both be doing in terms of what are your strengths?

So I know in terms of my relationship with my wife, when it came to children, we started looking at, well, what do we enjoy? What are we not so good at? And so, like, she’s amazing with the laundry, she’ll do the laundry. I love going to play groups. She’s not so keen.

So we’re kind of just like, okay, what do you like? What do you not like? What are you good at? What are you not good at? And it’s those conversations. That’s how decisions are made, rather than, oh, you’re the woman, you do this, you’re the man, you do this.

Rachel: And I think for many of us, the problem is it’s deeply ingrained gender stereotypes, isn’t it? No matter how feminist you are yes. You still feel guilty if the man is doing a big amount of childcare, even if it’s not even equal, even if you’re doing the lion’s share, you still feel a bit, oh, do you mind if I go to the gym? Or do you mind if I do this? Is that okay?

Why are we asking? And my biggest bane is when people describe their partner as babysitting, it’s like, babysitting, you are looking after your child. But it is deeply, deeply ingrained in even the most feminist of us, isn’t it?

Corrina: Yeah, I think I see that across the board. Definitely this idea that if you’re a woman, your male partner is helping with the housework or helping with the childcare, which obviously assumes that it is your responsibility in the first place, that someone else kind of steps into you can offload to, but that you are the one having that default responsibility.

Rachel: What do you do if the woman really is expected to do more childcare even if they’re working and the man maybe as their traditional role in the family is really to do none? And some of us are in relationships like that where that is the cultural norm it’s expected from our parents, from our children, from our wider relatives. Yet we’re still trying to cope with this really busy job. I mean, what do you do in that sort of situation?

Corrina: Well, I think if you’re talking about medic mums and built into that very identity is the fact that you have an incredibly high pressure, highly skilled career. And so it cannot conform to traditional dynamics where a woman wouldn’t have had a high pressure, highly skilled career.

So we’re just different. I think everybody it’s worth looking at your own individual situation and questioning any unhelpful beliefs. And by questioning, I truly just mean asking is it true? So let’s say in our relationship it’s important for the woman to do more child care than the man.

Is it true? Is it true? And to just literally ask that three word question, is it true? Is is that the truth? For our relationship? Rather than things being unquestioned. Because then they’re assumptions. Is it true that I don’t know, whatever other assumptions there might be, any other default unquestioned aspects of a relationship or a family, they can all be questioned.

Rachel: What if my partner won’t accept me questioning? And in their mind that’s the traditional role that they take as well?

Corrina: Yeah. What do I do? Well, yeah, I mean the first step with any kind of effective communication is to try to hear them and see where they are coming from. So it might look like something like saying, I really, really, truly get that this is what you were brought up with and that this is the dynamic that you expected in your marriage and in your family. I get that and I can only imagine how hard it is for you to try to kind of get your head around this. Here’s what’s not working about the current situation for me.

So it’s like listening empathizing with the other person, expressing, here’s what’s not working for me. This is what I would love instead, can we together talk this through? So it becomes a very collaborative conversation. There’s no blaming. You don’t do enough. That’s never going to lead anywhere. You don’t pull your way, you don’t do this. Where’s that going to go? No one likes being talked to in that way. But can you meet someone in that space of collaboration, figuring it through together?

Rachel: It’s really difficult, isn’t it? And I think there is that conversation to be had and actually most people do respond pretty well. In my household, we have divided the jobs up so that I do the cooking and actually my other half, he’s brilliant, he does all the laundry and that is great. We did swap it round for a bit, but after like five nights of toad in the hole, I’m taking back the cooking. This is not good.

Corrina: And I think action, action after that conversation. So let’s say we have that conversation. Let’s say I have my husband and I’m saying to him, I understand why it’s hard for you to get your head around that it might need to be different and here’s why it’s not working for me and let’s try this instead. I then need to follow through with that, right?

So I need to leave that laundry. If I’m you, I need to leave that laundry and not touch it if the agreement is you’ll do the laundry, I’ll do the cooking, let’s say. Or you’ll do pickups. You’ll do pickups and you’ll figure out the pickups. Not just do them, but you’ll take the mental load of doing the pickups.

You then have to take your hands off and let it go a little bit wrong, knowing that there’s going to be backups if the kids aren’t going to be left at nursery with they’re going to call somebody and maybe your phone’s off and they have to phone your husband instead. You have to follow through with what you’re saying needs to happen instead.

Rachel: That is such a good point, because so many women I know pass on chores, but then manage it all. So you’re doing, great, you’re responsible for the football club and the pickup. So I have a friend who has passed on to her other half, but the other half isn’t on the WhatsApp group.

So she’s having to manage it all. And I think so many times — and this is our own fault — we helicopter around making sure it is perfect. I remember another one of my friends, the other half hadn’t done the laundry, got fresh PE kit when they had been away for the weekend, and then say they’re up till three in the morning doing the laundry for the kids.

It’s like, no, kids don’t care if they go to school in dirty PE kit. They really don’t. So let that consequence, let your other half see that they’ve not done it and experience that consequence. The problem is when the children are experiencing the consequences, so they’re being led in places or things like that. It’s hard.

Corrina: It’s hard and they can live with it. I mean, obviously we’re not talking life and death situations here. Kids can live with dirty laundry. They can live with not going to a certain club because someone forgets about that. That can happen.

So in terms of the consequences at work, what do we do if a colleague doesn’t perform their responsibilities? We are clearer about, well, actually, this is your job and I’m doing my job. Actually, I was working with a couple, they were both doctors and they were not having a good division of labour within the household.

And I said, So what do you do at work? Oh, that’s really clear. We have a very clear list of who’s doing that each day. And that helped them see that actually. Yeah, they can divide out and then leave it to the other person and follow through with that. Not rescue and kind of helicopter in.

Rachel: Yeah. I think we are our own worst enemies most of the times in all of this. I remember reading a very sexist article by India Knight, I think, at the Times called What Would a Man Do? So it’s like if she went away for the weekend or something, her husband would just go, I’m hungry, kids, fish and chips!

Whereas we’re like, husband’s away, right? Got to cook really nice organic food, make sure we have home cooked food, or whatever. It’s just like, oh, I don’t know what to write, cinema or anyone. We don’t make things easy for ourselves because we have this ridiculous, unrealistic expectation of what a good mother should be to live up to. And most of the time, I mean, yes, you might get some criticism from people, but like you said, you don’t take criticism personally. You don’t feel ashamed by it. If you’ve not already thought it yourself, it’s not already in your head, it doesn’t actually bother you.

We’re almost running out of time. But I did want to ask you because I think one of the main issues I have, and I’m sure lots of listeners have, is this guilt and shame of being at work and feeling we’re not really doing a brilliant job with our work because we are trying to get everything done so we can get back to be with the kids.

And then we’ve got the guilt and shame of, but I’m not very enough for my kids and being able to do everything I want to do for them. So we’re not feeling like performing well in either sphere. What do you do? What do you do with that?

Corrina: Empathy, self-compassion. It’s that this is an impossible situation. It’s that real acknowledgment of it’s like if you said to me, I’ve got 20 books to give you and you have to fit them into your shelf, and I have room for five books on my shelf, I can’t fit 20 books on my shelf. It’s not possible.

So I think to be able to say that to ourselves, this is an impossible expectation. I can’t do this. And what is that good enough? Like, what is good enough? And can I have some kind of grace for myself? Can I have compassion for myself? Can I talk to myself as I would to a dear, dear friend and say, you’re doing the best you can, the absolute best you can.

Rachel: I think there are some practical things we can do as well to help ourselves rather than and I think we’re really bad for this is think we can fit all those 20 books onto the shelf. Just, we’ll squeeze in because we can, because we’re super human. No, you can’t. And we all know time does not squeeze for anybody.

Things like making sure you’ve nailed your childcare, you’ve got backup plans, you are giving yourself those buffers in when you’ve got to get to places, not taking on so many different projects out of guilt or shame or feeling that you ought to, or just being realistic about how your day has gone or going to go. And I think it was you, Corrina, your phrase, catchphrase I use all the time, it’s you can argue with reality, but 100% of the time, reality is going to win. Is that one of yours?

Corrina: That is, I think it is Byron Katie, who is my great great teacher and the master of making friends with reality. Yeah. You will lose 100% of the time if you argue with reality. If you say it should, I should be able to do it. It’s an argument with reality. You can’t.

Rachel: Yeah. I had someone I was coaching once, she was a GP, and she found her days on call incredibly stressful and she felt she didn’t have much control over how the days went in the practice. Then she’d get home and she felt like she was snapping at her kids and just not being a really great mom and just feeling the whole day just went pear shaped from the minute she got home.

And we talked about, okay, well, what are you in control of? What could you do? And actually she realised that if she just talked to her partner and said, on the Monday evening when I come back from work, can you do the kids? You sort out the tea, you do it, that’s your night, you’re on. I’m going to go for a swim on my way home and I’ll be much more relaxed when I get home and I can just go and give them a cuddle and a kiss and get them into bed. And it transformed her week by just acknowledging what was happening and doing rather than feeling shamed and guilty for not being the best mum on a minute, she’s like acknowledging reality and going, I actually can’t be, because what would you say to your best friend?

Of course you couldn’t be. You’ve just spoken to 70 patients like, you’re not going to have anything left for your family unless you just go, chill out, build yourself up first, do a bit of exercise, then you can get home and give them a hug and a kiss at bedtime because actually, what’s going to be better for them? You being around for 3 hours but stressed and grumpy, or you coming in for ten minutes and being lovely and available.

Corrina: Yes. And I think to add on to that, because that’s a brilliant example, is I think often we worry about kind of messing our kids up if we’re not fully there with them and fully present, we’re not going to give them somehow something. And actually, I believe they’ve looked at researchers, looked at relationships, being parented by, basically what’s better: to be parented by someone who was so perfect; they were there for you all the time and all your needs were always met and you never wanted for anything, versus parents who were incredibly human and messed up a lot and repaired?

And they showed you what repair looks like, which is like, Mama shouted at you earlier. That was not my best moment. I’m really, really sorry that I did that. I’m going to take care of XYZ so that I don’t do that next time. We’re then modelling to our children the kind of relationships that actually we want for them to have in the future.

We don’t want them to feel that they have to be perfect parents in the future or they have to marry perfect partners in the future. We’re showing that we’re all human, we all mess up, we all get to repair, we all get to do tomorrow a little bit better maybe than today or at least have a little bit more compassion for ourselves tomorrow than we did today.

Rachel: That is so important. I’m definitely in that second category of mums, mucked up again and again and again. But I think we think our kids have this expectation on always being there, always being perfect, that we think that’s what they want. And I guess they would probably say that’s what they wanted.

I remember when my kids were really little, someone very wise, sage said to me, by the way, toddlers demand 110% of your attention. If you’re giving them 50%, they’ll want 60. If you’re giving them 80, they’ll want 90. If you’re giving them 120, they’ll want 150. You can never give them enough attention, so don’t even try and win at that game.

But how you show up is so, so important. And recently, and I’ll probably have to do a podcast on this soon, I’ve got myself a pretty burnt out state just because of work and everything coming on and everything that’s going on, the family, blah, blah, blah. And it took someone saying to me, you have got to start looking after yourself and spending some time in yourself.

I can’t possibly. My family need me. No, you do it. And after a month or so of doing that and a Mother’s Day meal and I have told this story in the podcast before, so apologies to anyone who’s already heard it, but my husband asked the kids, what do you particularly appreciate about your mum? And my son said, well, you’re not nearly as stressed as you used to be.

My initial thought was, that all you’ve got to say about me? Yes, thank you. But let’s let’s realise he’s a 16 year old boy, you know, so that’s pretty good confidence.

Corrina: Pretty good. I’ll take that.

Rachel: Yeah. Actually, it’s better for me not to be there and to be making and to be refueling and reenergizing and making sure that I can be 100% there when I am and kind of compassionate than to be there all the time and strung out and trying to be perfect and beating myself up.

Corrina: Yeah, I’m really imagining that mum that you described who went for a swim on the way home, that’s the mum that I want to tuck me in at night, not the one that’s, like, running harried in because that’s what she feels she has to do.

Rachel: Yeah. And kids don’t actually like it when you’re around 100% of the time anyway. How can they get into naughtiness if mum’s always around, right? Especially when they’re teenagers. Anyway, probably shouldn’t say that.

Corrina, gosh, we talk about this so much more. But what would your three top tips be for someone who is feeling a lot of guilt and a lot of shame around being a working mum and around the fact that they can’t do it all and they can’t argue with reality, what would help?

Corrina: So question some of the underlying beliefs. So identifying what are those underlying beliefs which are driving some of the feelings, behaviours that aren’t really working for you. So those might be beliefs like mums should, I don’t know, cook home cooked meals every night or mums should be smiley or anything, anything at all that is making you that believing that thought is having you feel shame.

Question those thoughts. Is that true or could something else actually be true? Number two is when it comes to comparisons, really look at what you’re comparing with. So are you actually comparing with other people’s real lives as mums or is it what they’re showing you as mums? And are you comparing with your own idealised version of a mum which doesn’t actually exist, it’s just your imagination?

And three is gosh have compassion for yourself and empathy with yourself. Look at yourself in the mirror, eye to eye, because that’s that antidote to shame, being like let’s hide away and disconnect, eye to eye in the mirror to say, I am doing the absolute best I can. If I could do better, I will do better. As I learn better, I’ll do better. Tomorrow is another day, whatever it is that’s going to have you have that conversation with yourself like you would have with a best friend, and stand by yourself, you are undoubtedly doing a brilliant job.

Rachel: Brilliant. Those are really, really helpful. I think my three tips, just to add on to them would be number one, nail your child care. My biggest regret is that we didn’t get a proper nanny who was there all the time. We just cocked some box with various things and we could have not done some holidays and paid for a nanny. Frankly, there were decisions that we made that I think we could have done differently, which would have really helped me.

Corrina: And my guess is that there was some kind of underlying belief, like what did it mean? What was the story you made up about what it would mean if you had a nanny? That you weren’t taking responsibility for your children or you couldn’t afford it or whatever the beliefs were there?

Rachel: I think it was mainly that we couldn’t afford it, but actually we could have done. There would have been sacrifice in other ways, but it would have been, I think, sacrificing other stuff like holidays, possessions, clothes, haircuts, meals out in order to have peace of mind around your childcare, in order to feel better is worth it. Really is. So that’s number one.

Number two, you do you. You do you. So, that comparison thing. But we are all so different and you need to be the best you, not the best somebody else. And that will mean having to spend some time by yourself. Reenergizing and the final thing is what you said earlier, good enough. Good enough parenting. And actually perfection is hard as a child. It’s hard to live up to a perfect mum. It really, really is.

Corrina: And it’s hard for future partners to live up to. If you’ve had a perfect mum, gosh, who are you going to end up with? And what expectations are you going to put on them?

Rachel: That is a really good point. And something I think is really important to say is and I remember reading it in a book once, that someone had gone over to someone for dinner and halfway through the meal, they had to go upstairs to the loo. The bathroom was upstairs and they found the mum clearing up their 14 year old’s bedroom and making their bed and stuff. And he just looked at her and said, I feel really sorry for your son’s future wife.

And she just went pale and went, oh, crap. Yeah. You are training your children for their future partner, so you’re doing a favour for their future partner. Do not train kids to expect you to be at their beck and call for them to expect everything to be perfect and for them not to have to take any responsibility for themselves, because otherwise what sort of adults are you going to turn them into, right?

Corrina: We should have some kind of slogan, like ‘Be crap so your future daughter or son in law gets an easier time.’

Rachel: Be crap. Your future in laws will love it or something. We need to work on that slogan. That is a better social media slogan, Corrina, than the whole kitten. Oh, you only get 18 summers left with them. It’s all fluffy. It’s just like, make sure you’re crap enough for the future.

Corrina: That their future partner gets to be a human. Really, I mean, truthfully, yeah.

Rachel: Be human. If any listener can come up with some good slogans, let us know. We’ll post it in the Facebook group. That would be really good. So, yeah. Oh, well. Right, Corrina, we’ll have to get you back, talk about this more because there’s endless stuff we could talk about. But thank you so much. And I know you work with people a lot around relationships and decisions and parenting, so if someone wanted to contact you, where can they go?

Corrina: They should come to corrinagordonbarnes.com. I’ll spell that. Corrina. That’s the Bob Dylan way. corrinagordonbarnes.com.

Rachel: Be wonderful to have you on. Thank you so much. Go well and speak soon. Speak soon. Bye.

Thanks for listening. Don’t forget, we provide a self coaching CPD workbook for every episode. You can sign up for it via the link in the Show Notes, and if this episode was helpful, then please share it with a friend. Get in touch with any comments or suggestions at hello@youarenotafrog.com. I love to hear from you. And finally, if you’re enjoying the podcast, please rate it and leave a review wherever you’re listening. It really helps. Bye for now.