Him: ‘What are you writing about?’
Me: ‘Mum guilt….and, I guess, how I’m trying to let go of it’.
Him, in a completely non-ironic way: ‘What’s Mum guilt?’
Thinking back on our conversation now, what struck me the most was how amazed I was that he had no clue, whatsoever, what I was talking about. He wasn’t trying to make a point or be funny; he just had no inkling that I carry around this, oftentimes crushing, Mum guilt with me, day in, day out. Guilt over things I’ve done and not done, said and not said, decisions I’ve made about tiny and massive things which impact on family life.
It’s not to say that my partner loves the kids any less than me, or worries less about them, just that he has an inner confidence and belief that everything he does and the decisions he makes (well, most things – I’m not including long bike rides and all day bank holiday drinking sessions in this), are done with me and the kids in mind and to make things better for all of us.
Regular readers of my blog will know that I’m far from the perfect parent – I make mistakes ALL the time, constantly worry over and question myself when I make any parenting decisions, shout too much and generally make a bit of a pig’s ear of this parenting lark. So, if I willingly accept and even embrace my inadequacies, why do I give myself such a hard time for not being the picture-perfect Mum spinning all the plates and never once dropping one?
Today, for example, I’ve felt guilty about the following (I’ve been making a list on my phone as things occur to me):
1) Being snappy with the older 2 when they got up because I’d been up with the baby since 5am and was tired and grumpy
2) Scrolling through Instagram and Facebook at 5am whilst feeding the baby, instead of giving him my undivided attention
3) Saying ‘shush’ a lot to the 4 year old who was trying to get me into a long conversation about Star Wars when I just wanted to drink my cup of tea in peace
4) Hurrying the boys along with everything they were doing, even though we had no real place to be, just because I wanted to get everyone dressed and through the bathroom before the baby needed to nap
5) Shouting quite a bit
6) And shouting a bit more (I blame tiredness)
7) Having to get housework jobs done; sorting washing, cleaning the bathroom, making dinner, when the boys wanted me to join in their games
8) Making the older two watch the baby for 10 minutes whilst I pegged the washing out and then stood in silence for a few minutes in a quiet room
9) Not having a paid job, meaning that we can’t always do/buy/go everywhere and everything that the kids want
10) Taking 30 minutes every morning to do a workout in my front room, despite the fact that I’ve made everybody’s breakfast before I start
11) Trying to persuade the 4 year old to have a 30 min nap on the settee in the afternoon just so I could have some peace, even though I knew this would mean he’d play up at bedtime
12) Letting the kids watch TV for an hour so I could try to write some sentences that actually make sense
13) Getting cross at them for moaning when I made them turn the TV off
14) Putting the kids to bed early just so I could have some quiet time
15) Using my kid free time to look at pointless stuff on my phone instead of doing anything constructive
And so, it goes on…
I showed the list above to my partner and he found it hilarious. ‘Don’t be so ridiculous’ was his initial comment, ‘why would you feel guilty about doing all that stuff?’. I guess he has a point. Reading it back now it’s not like I’m doing anything to cause them harm or upset, and I’m sure parents up and down the country do exactly the same things with their kids without feeling a scrap of guilt about any of it.
So why have I been feeling guilty about all of this stuff for so long? It’s partly because I’ve been finding it increasingly difficult to separate myself from the boys and carve out my own time and identity which doesn’t involve me being Mum/maid/chef/tutor/taxi etc. As I’m not working out of the house (see point 10 above), the huge majority of housework drudgery comes under my remit, along with the all the kids’ and life admin stuff. Its suffocating, and there’s always something that I could be doing, so if I’m not doing something for the kids, my partner, or to keep the house ticking over, I feel idle, selfish and, you’ve guessed it, GUILTY.
I love to cook and prepare healthy and nutritious meals for the family, for example, but it loses its appeal at times when the kids are being hard work and I know they’ll likely moan and groan when presented with a lovingly created lentil and vegetable bake. But I feel guilty if I don’t cook from scratch every night, because it’s not like I’m ‘working’ or anything. And raising kids and keeping the house running with a partner who works away a lot isn’t really work, is it? The people, (mentioning no names) who enquire when I’m going back to work clearly don’t think so…
I think that’s one of the main problems with being a stay at home Mum – there’s no job description, no defined roles and responsibilities, no boundaries as to where your role stops and another role starts (and no pay or holidays). It’s endless; encompassing tasks such as providing continuous snacks, wiping bottoms, helping with spellings, ensuring there’s clean clothes to wear, admiring snails on the garden wall and negotiating screen time. With a job role that’s so wide ranging and full on, it’s difficult not to take shortcuts and shirk the odd responsibility every now and then. And then feel guilty for doing so.
Mum guilt isn’t just a stay at home mum thing for me though. I’ve worked in full time and part time positions since having the boys, and both came with their own share of Mum guilt too. When I first went back to work on a part time basis after having number 1, I loved being able to dress in work clothes again, talk to adults about non-baby related stuff, drink a hot cup of tea and have a wee alone – simple pleasures! For those 2 ½ days a week I could be me, not just a Mum. Despite feeling more like myself again, part time is hard work. Neither a full-time member of the team, nor a full-time Mum. Half and half, so not really enough of either? Forgotten, on occasion, in work communications and not involved in projects because meetings are scheduled for non-working days. An afterthought almost, not great for the self esteem. Frustrations, I’m sure, that lots of part timers, mums in the main, can relate to. Add to that the constant worry about whether you are screwing your kid up for life by putting them in nursery so young, and it’s a whole mess of emotions to deal with.
Mums who work full time when their kids are really young are often frowned upon, and harshly judged – ‘Well, they must not want to spend time with their own children, how very un-Mum like’. I know that I felt I was missing out on a lot when I worked full time and the boys were small, but bills don’t pay themselves. Mama got to work!
Maybe we need to stop using the phrase ‘working Mum’. We don’t refer to Dads as ‘working Dads’ do we? It’s just a given that Dads work. Yet for some reason, Mums who work get given a special title, which all too often is seen as having a negative impact on their children and family life. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t springs to mind!
So, how am I working on trying to let go of this guilt that’s been dragging me down recently?
1) I’m stopping comparing myself to other Mums who seem to have their shit way more together than I do. I’m never going to have sleek hair, perfect make up and well behaved kids on the school run. Isn’t gonna happen, so I’m letting it go.
2) I’m focussing on the good parenting stuff that I do. I’m here every day, every morning and every night. I’m the kids’ rock, the thing that keeps this family running when their Dad is away with work more often than we’d all like. Not working means that I can be there for the Brazilian carnival day at my eldest’s school later this month for example, and that matters to him, for now at least. I also make a mean bowl of porridge and the best broccoli soup. Just saying.
3) I talk to my friends, sisters and Mum who understand where I’m coming from, pour me a glass of wine, give me a hug, a talking to, or a virtual kick up the bum (whichever is needed more). Surrounding myself with strong women who are muddling through this Mum thing too, who support and ‘get’ me is helping me to get more of a perspective on my life, and in turn, give myself less of a hard time than I used to.
4) I’ve accepted that I’m not actually Superwoman. I’m human, and relatively sleep deprived at that. Mistakes will be made, and I can’t be in two places at once. There are also more kids than adults in our house, and that ratio skews stuff towards chaos rather than order. Quite frankly, the fact that we are functioning relatively well, and everyone is where they need to be, dressed and with a full tummy is enough for me most days!
5) I’m making myself be selfish and carving out those slivers of time for myself, away from the kids if necessary. Half an hour each morning, usually whilst it’s still dark outside, getting my sweat on by chucking some weights around my front room, and I’m a much nicer person and a better Mum too. Nights out with friends drinking lots of wine help too. Invigorating myself with occasional away time means that I can be more present and focussed for the time I spend being just Mum.
I’m a definite work in progress though. I had to stop myself giving in to the guilt earlier today when I refused to read yet another story to my 4 year old after nursery (we’d already read about 5). A meltdown ensued, so I asked his older brother to take over and went to make a cup of tea in peace (and had a quick scroll through my phone, obviously). By the time I returned, the three of them were sat together reading nicely. Which lasted for about 5 minutes. I’ll take that!
And the world didn’t end because I put myself first for a change. Baby steps you see. Mum-guilt, be gone!
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