MUM GUILT! If your a mum you’ll know this term (if not the experience of it) all too well. It’s like a ferocious predator on the hunt. Even on the good days its laying low in the grass, watching its prey, waiting for the right time to pounce, keeping it’s victims on constant alert. Then it launches it’s attack, catching its prey when it’s at its weakest or most vulnerable. If you’re lucky you’ll make a narrow escape and come off with nothing more than a few scratches but if you’re anything like me and a million (I may be exaggerating for dramatic affect) other women out there, your predator will rip you to pieces and drain you of life, consuming your flesh and leaving your carcass for the vultures.
You may feel this is an overly dramatic analogy but others may relate to the overwhelming feeling that mum guilt can lead to. It’s that often overlooked element of Motherhood that we all try to pretend we are not experiencing because it may make us look like we are weak or not fit for this prestigious role of Nurturer/Carer/Teacher/Role Model/Mentor/Guidance Counselor, etc. It’s that wretchedly ugly, life threatening, self abusive demon called ANXIETY!
What is Mum Guilt?
The dictionary describes guilt as: a feeling of having committed wrong or failed in an obligation. So Mum guilt in turn could be described as: a feeling of having committed wrong against one’s offspring or failed in a motherly obligation.
How does that apply to us? Because we wouldn’t ever do anything wrong by our kids or fail in any way to meet an obligation now would we? When we enter into the blissful wonderland of Motherhood we become perfect human beings in every sense of the word do we not? After all we are a representation of not just adulthood but womanhood and everything that encompasses, guiding the next generation of humans onto the path that leads to human perfection. Am I right?
No, of course not. No human being is perfect. Being human is hard. It’s messy, it’s scary, it’s ugly and its a journey of self discovery that takes practice and perseverance to simply become the best version of our imperfect selves that we can be. So of course we are going to do things wrong or fail in an obligation, and guilt is inevitably going to result if we have any tiny morsel of empathy, sympathy or compassion toward our children.
Sometimes that guilt can be a powerful motivator, forcing us to make changes that create a better environment for our family and build better relationships but other times it can send us into a downward spiral of despair, hopelessness and self loathing that can leave us curled up in the corner wishing the earth would swallow our sorry selves and replace us with someone who would most certainly be better at doing what we need to do and handling it with all the class and finesse of a well polished british princess (or at least an unrealistically strong and courageous disney princess).
I can fall somewhere in between the two descriptions, handling it like a pro one minute and having a complete breaking down the next. My mind can wane between “I got this” and “I am a going to lay face down on the floor and die, if one more thing goes wrong.”
Where does Mum Guilt come from?
When I read the dictionary description above, I feel an overwhelming sense that there is a staggering amount of circumstances that could be considered a slight, a wrong, an injustice or a down right tragedy and a plethora of reasons why those circumstance may lead to Mum guilt.
How would you define a wrong against your child? Would it be the major things like, forgetting to pick them up from daycare one day (I fortunately have never done this by the way, but there’s a fear I might, so I’m constantly checking the time). Inadvertently booking a non-refundable flight for 2 for a romantic getaway with the neglected spouse, on the weekend of your daughters ballet concert? (all hypotheticals). Punishing a child (after accusing them of lying) for eating your once-a-month chocolate bar treat and then finding the wrapper under your own pillow? or in all-seriousness, not being able to provide for your child, whether it be physically or emotionally or mentally? Not being available (due to work, illness, or separation)? Exposing them (whether intentionally or unintentionally) to violence, abuse or criminal activity? All things that probably should cause guilt if you love your kids and want to change how you relate to them.
Or does your mum guilt like my mum guilt come from just about every scenario where your child might end up with a quivery lip, a shaky voice, tears in their eyes or a full-blown tantrum? Scenarios including but definitely not limited to the list below:
- You forgot to buy their favourite cheese, the kind in the individual plastic wrap, not the block cheese, the grated cheese, the smelly cheese or the one with veins in it.
- You gave your child crackers in a bowl instead of directly out of the packet.
- You refuse to press play ‘PJ Masks’ for the 200th time that day.
- You ask them to stop throwing sand all over your head and down your shirt front.
- You won’t let them empty all the contents of your cutlery drawer on the floor so they can find the wooden spoon in order to engage in a sword fight with their younger sibling in which you know fingers could be lost or at least severely damaged.
- You gave them the wrong coloured plate, bowl, utensil, cup or straw.
- You didn’t accurately measure the contents of the bowl or cup when dividing food or beverages between siblings.
- You gave something to one child that another child wanted.
- You spent more time with one child than the other.
- You took 5 minutes to do something you wanted to do and ignored your child for the entirety of those 5 minutes.
- You left the room momentarily to put some laundry away.
- You dared to go to the toilet and not invite the child to join you.
- Your dared to ask your older children to clean their rooms or do their chores.
- You couldn’t get your teenager the latest iphone and instead they have to suffer the embarrassment of a pre-paid generic smartphone.
I could go on but I won’t as I think you all get the jist and don’t want to be reading my ramblings for the next century. The point is, does your mum guilt come from situations you can control and possibly avoid or is it coming from all the tiny little things that are simply products of this ever increasing out of control existence known as ‘Life’?
It doesn’t help that we live in a world that is critical, judgemental and sometimes down right nasty and we have now a universe of information blasting out of our computer screen or smart phone from a million different sources telling us who we should be and how we should parent.
Too Many Opinions
Do you ever read an article or blog post and feel guilty because you never ever considered how textures and patterns had an emotionally stimulating effect on a newborn’s intellectual abilities and dramatically increased their chances of winning the nobel prize by the age of 20? I mean, how could you not have known that? What kind of a parent are you and why aren’t you stimulating your baby’s brain with copious educational pattern books?
Ok so I completely made that up but is it really that far fetched?
Once upon a time, back in the olden days (let’s say 200 years ago) when there were no such things as televisions, computers, the internet, radio’s or youtube, people relied on each other for both entertainment and information, imagine that! If you wanted to know something about raising a child, you went to your mother, or grand mother or even a neighbour. Your community was the only source of information available to you, if no one there knew it, you were pretty much on your own and had to just wing it.
I’m pretty sure most people survived, I mean, we still had Nobel prize winners, Presidents, Inventors, Medical Professionals, Government Leaders, Einstein, Men on the moon, the Hubble telescope, the Sphinx! The internet itself was created without the internet and the vast array of information it delivers every day, so why is it that these days we are relying on Instagram to get a picture of what the perfect family looks like, or facebook for all the opinions of the multitude or flicking through blog post after blog post (mine are acceptable of course) to find out what type of food can make our babies smarter or how many educational toys are enough to stimulate their cognitive reasoning without overwhelming their senses, or how many days at daycare they can do without becoming codependent needy adults with separation anxiety and addictions to alcohol, cigarettes, food or chocolate or all of the above?
The fact is that since the invention of the internet, there has been an enormous increase in not just the information available but in the opinions of others. If you want to know what someone thinks about a matter, just google the keyword ‘know-it-all’ (you can probably think of something better than that) and you’ll get a thousand blog articles, tweets or facebook posts about the topic filled with every Tom, Dick or Harry’s (or is it Tina, Didi and Hermeine’s) take on the subject.
Gone are the days when all you had to worry about was Aunty Joan’s comments at the Christmas party each year about how bottle feeding causes detachment issues. Now you can shake your head, roll your eyes and scoff at a hundred different people and their opinions every single day! There’s so much information available at our fingertips that you could search every minute of every day and it would take you years and years to get through it all.
Is it little wonder that we are feeling overwhelmed and anxious? Is it a surprise that we are never quite sure we are doing anything the right way? Can we ever be confident that we are doing what is best for our children when there are so many other ways to do things that could potentially be more beneficial for them? I mean surely that guy down the road who has never had kids but sounds like he knows everything and has a PHD in early childhood development would be correct if he said that co-sleeping was not at all beneficial for your child, even though you and your baby have never slept better since you started doing it, right? WRONG, you gotta do what works for you and your child.
We need to stop worrying about what everyone else’s opinion is because guess what? you have an opinion too and your opinion about your child is far more important than someone else’s opinion about your child.
I’m not saying you should ignore all the advice and research out there, but take it with a grain of salt. Read some things, listen to some people, try some things, but ultimately you are the mother and you have everything already inside of you to be the best mother to your children than anyone else can be, because YOU are their MOTHER, no one else is, they can pretend to be but they never will be. You know them better than anyone else, from their annoying little pet-peaves to their adorable individual little quirks and characteristics, you know them back to front and upside down and you know what keeps them alive, what excites them, what irritates them and what makes them laugh, cry, shout and jump for joy.
If you give them opportunities to learn, play, explore and experience and your doing the very best you can every day to keep them healthy and breathing, then your doing an amazing job. Stop listening to all the voices in your head that tell you your not doing enough, or your not giving them enough or that YOUR not enough. At the end of the day, when they wrap those little arms around your neck and kiss your cheek, you know your doing enough because they love you and love does make the world go around right? I mean if all they ever learn in their life is to love, would that be so bad?
Now all of this is of course, just my opinion as a mother of 5. That opinion is by no means the right or best opinion, because I haven’t got it all perfect and under control, I probably feel like I’m failing at least 50% of the time, I’m still working it out and still learning as I go after 16 years of being a mum, especially since my littlest ones (3yrs and 20mnths) are growing up in this world of information that was really only just beginning when my oldest ones were little. In my opinion, if you feel like you have to do it all, be it all, have all your plates spinning at once or juggle a hundred balls in the air, then you’ll inevitably fail. I don’t know anyone who can do all that without falling apart at some point, but that’s a blog post for another time.
Thanks for reading this article, I hope it was helpful to you in some way. Feel free to comment or ask questions at the bottom of this post, your feedback is welcome and encouraged.
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