Sunday, 4 August 2013

Mother's Guilt: Why we need to give ourselves a break

We have all heard the term “Mother’s Guilt,” but I didn’t fully understand the extent of its overwhelming power until I had kids of my own. Little Miss M was only 6 months old when I found out I was pregnant with Master Q and upon seeing the positive pregnancy test I felt a sense of bereavement. I felt like I was abandoning her, she was still a baby and would really still be a baby at 14 months old when Master Q was due to arrive. I felt regretful that she would soon have to compete for our attention and worried about what effect it would have on her. With Master Q the guilt started while he was still in the womb. I stopped taking Pre-Natal vitamins after the first trimester as I was suffering from some unpleasant side effects. My decision to do this resulted in an overwhelming sense of guilt. And this was just the beginning.
Fast forward to the present and the list of things of which I feel guilty about on a daily basis could go on forever. Giving them yoghurt for lunch and dinner, having the TV on 12 hours a day, not reading to them enough, not teaching them enough, sending my daughter to day-care, not taking them to the park enough, giving them Panadol, not giving them Panadol, the list goes on. But will all these things really have the impact on our kids that we think they will, or are we just being too hard on ourselves?
Before kids, in our previous incarnations as bona fide career women, we were in control and if we weren’t feeling ‘up to it’ we could call in sick. No such luck with this gig. When we are handed these little bundles of joy we are also handed a completely new set of circumstances. When people say ‘it changes your life forever’, they are not overstating it. The adjustment to becoming a new parent is like nothing else. You are sleep deprived within an inch of your life, you have no idea what you are doing and this little wriggly, crying human is depending on you for everything, including keeping them alive! Now does that seem crazy to anyone else?
The pressure we put on ourselves to be perfect Mums as well as domestic goddesses is huge, yet it’s these expectations we place on ourselves that are to blame. Why do we feel that we have failed if the kids have toast for dinner, if we haven’t cleaned their teeth two nights in a row or that our bed is left unmade? The kids will still be able to annoy the hell out of each other with a stomach full of toast, they will get a second set of teeth and you’re just going to go back into the bed later, so why beat yourself up?
On days when I feel like it’s all getting on top of me (and those days are many) I find myself questioning how my lovely neighbour who has five kids and her own business manages to do it all and always seem so happy. I hear her over the fence cheerfully playing with her children and talking to them with a voice like Mary Poppins. I, on the other hand, quickly close the window when I am wrestling with Miss M’s pooey nappy hoping she can’t hear me yell like a banshee! Is it possible that it’s just me? Am I not tough enough, patient enough, self-less or even worse, caring enough to be a ‘good’ mum?
Thankfully, it’s not just me.
Recently the usually upbeat and patient mother of five came over to drop off some clothes for Miss M and to put it nicely the poor thing looked like she hadn’t slept in a year (well it’s probably more like 8 years!). When I asked how she was, her response was, “Struggling”. Now it sounds like an awful thing to say but I felt happy! I felt relieved that even this ‘Supermum’ couldn’t keep it all together. And that’s where the problem lies. We find ourselves constantly comparing ourselves to other Mums who appear to have it all worked out. But mostly that’s all they are, appearances. Behind these facades they too can be seen wearing their pyjamas until midday, second-guessing every decision they make and counting down the hours until their kids go to bed’s to save themselves from insanity.
In the end it’s the relentlessness of it all that I find the hardest. Your shift as a Mum never (never) ends. At work you get to go and have a coffee or walk down the street for lunch, you can even go to the toilet without coming up with a logistical plan to ensure your co-workers don’t kill each other or themselves while you are gone. There are no such luxuries in this job. When the hard days seem to outnumber the good days I start to wonder whether I am cut out for this. But what choice do we have? As my neighbour says, when you’re having these kind of days just get up in the morning and put two feet on the ground, that’s all you can do.
When it’s all said and done most of us wouldn’t want to give up this job for the world. So the least we can do is lessen the guilt we feel for not living up to the expectations we have unrealistically set for ourselves. How? Well I’ve compiled a quasi-6-step program to overcoming Mother’s guilt.
Step 1. Don’t Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda yourself to death. We all make mistakes, tomorrow is another day and we can just try again.
Step 2. Vent to other like-minded Mums.  You don’t feel so bad when you know your friend has just put ‘Finding Nemo’ on for the third time in one day.
Step 3. Take time out for yourself. This one is easier said than done. Not just logistically but psychologically. I know I am struggling with this concept at the moment, expecting that I should just be able to power on through it, and that ‘real’ mums don’t need a break. But it’s not true, we all need some ‘me time’, so let go of the guilt and take time out.
Step 4. Accept that most of the time you will not be the ‘perfect’ Mum you hoped you would be, but make sure you celebrate those brief moments of brilliance.
Step 5. Sit back for a minute and observe your kids; take credit for the part you play in creating these beautiful, funny little creatures.
Lastly, Step 6. Be kind to yourself. Being a parent really is the hardest job in the world. There will always be things we will feel guilty about, but that just shows how much we care about the little buggers!  
Now if only I could stop feeling guilty for the time I’ve taken to write this!

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