Harry is a heavy breathing, nose-dripping, lung-expelling, snot demon right now. If he’s not wiping his nose on his sleeve it’s generally the sofa, or me. Dropping him off at Nursery on Friday, I felt a twinge of something. It wasn’t indigestion. It certainly wasn’t broodiness passing the baby room. It was the dreaded mum guilt. I think they must IV that stuff in to our systems on the labour ward. Post-natal checks: baby feeding well, mother’s internal organs still fairly internal, able to walk, able to feel guilt about everything – DISCHARGED.
Leaving him in the petri-dish of germs that is nursery, he looked all red-eyed and distraught. I knew within five minutes of me leaving he’d be charging around and hijacking the trikes like some boy racer but I couldn’t help but feel penitent. It eased once I was on the sofa with a gingerbread latte in my hand but only after emailing to check he’d settled.
It’s funny how the mum guilt hits us all but so differently. There are quite a few things that I’ve been fairly chilled with that I know have assailed others. I was fine with bottle feeding and didn’t feel I was doing my little man a disservice. I retired the baby monitor at about a year and didn’t feel the need to check he was still breathing every five minutes. He began nursery one day a week at fifteen months, even though I’m a stay-at-home mum, and I waved goodbye and trusted he was in great hands.
But… this doesn’t mean to say that the mum guilt doesn’t sneak up and bite me on the arse with regularity. I love a list, so here are the many reasons this week alone I have had to beat myself with:
- He watches far too much TV (we’ve been in a lot with his cold)
- We’ve been indoors a lot (with his cold)
- I’ve got frustrated with him when he’s woken more than once (he’s teething, full of cold and I’m tired)
- Leaving him at nursery when he’s teething and has a cold
- Spending far too much time on my phone (thanks to blogging/instagramming and Facebooking… about him)
- Spending far too much time getting ready myself (high-maintenance mama)
- Not giving him enough vegetables
- Giving him too many processed meals
- Giving him too much sugar
- Not doing enough activities to support his development
- Having a history in education and still not doing enough activities to support his development
- Having tonnes of simple, fabulous ideas on instagram and still not doing enough activities to support his development
I could go on, but I think you get a flavour of it. I identified with one of the fabulous mums I follow on instagram who commented that the guilt hits you every time you don’t give them your undivided attention and stimulate their little minds. Another friend pointed out that the guilt doesn’t go anywhere as they get older. Will I ever shift this hair shirt of shame? Mum guilt is like a dementor, sucking the positives out of the many wonderful things you do do on a daily basis. Why is it we flagellate ourselves rather than being kind and a little bit gentle? I have to say, being a mum is one of the hardest jobs I’ve ever had, and I’ve had some tough jobs in my time – haven’t we all.
However nothing prepared me for the all-consuming responsibility of having one little person. for whom I am responsible for every aspect of their life – head to toe, inside and out. From trimming toe and fingernails before they scratch themselves or you (oh that one is fun – tempted to let them grow like Edward Scissorhands rather than battle it out with clippers) to trying to teach them the importance of sharing, manners, safety, communication, honesty, self-care, independence, healthy eating… The list goes on and on and on. How are we mums, dads and carers ever supposed to get every aspect 100% spot on when you are the teacher, police, social worker, doctor, cleaner, bum wiper, best friend and agony aunt 24/7. Throw your own needs and demands in to the mix, be it work (a massive one I am lucky not to juggle), finances, self-care and all the other life bumpf, and hello there – failing!
So my little pumpkin pie, apple of my eye and mini me – know this. I ain’t going to get it right, all the time, in everything. I’ve got no one to performance manage me in my role as your chief number one care-giver. Consider my mum guilt as an in-built early warning system that I could do things better. It’s probably a good thing it’s there to make me pause and reflect once in a while. Some things I’ll change; some things I’ll carry on doing, knowing that it could be done better but it’s enough. So here’s my refreshed list – things I’m not going to feel guilty about:
- Using TV to entertain you when I want to exercise, clean or just have some time to myself
- Having some days where we stay indoors and enjoy some slummy downtime
- Being tired – I’m not built for broken sleep. It won’t always be like this but I will be grumpy, even after coffee
- Really enjoying some time out when you are at nursery or when I go on holiday with friends – I don’t love you any less, in fact I probably love you all the more
- Having interests that are not all about you – you get Thomas and Paw Patrol – I get blogging, social media and shopping
- Spending time getting ready – I like to feel good and I feel good with some slap on!
- Giving you treats as bribes occasionally and giving you beans on toast with no veg because I don’t want a battle that night or a hungry child who then wakes up
- Letting you play with your trains or cars rather than designing games, completing puzzles or working on mark-making. There will be those things too – just not every day.
Mum guilt is always going to be there because we care deeply about doing the best for these living, breathing extensions of ourselves but it should never override the myriad of things we are doing right. I’m going to make a promise to myself for the rest of this year – all fifty-one days of it – that I will use my mum guilt as a positive means to make at least one change for the next day. Starting tomorrow: less televisual viewing for the Wriggles and less screen time for me. Boom – guilt-free winning!
Thank you to all the fabulous mums who responded to my instagram question and shared their experiences (@theunyoungmum) . It’s reassuring to know we are all in the same boat. It felt like guilt shared was guilt halved as we were all worrying about similar things. So come on, comment and get it off your chest. We can’t all get it right all of the time, Big love!