I recently returned to work after my third round of maternity leave. After we had our third, we talked seriously about whether I would return to work at all. The logistical nightmare of working part-time whilst juggling of the two older children in school, their range of extra curricular activities and a baby was not an appealing thought. Third time around, I also really enjoyed my time at home with the kids. It can be incredibly exhausting and at times, I wanted to walk away but mostly I was enjoying this previous and short lived time at home with them!
Once my hubby and I made the decision that I would return to work and I began the unenviable tasks of finding a daycare for the baby, my mother’s guilt kicked in in full force. Its funny how it can manifest, for me in this instance, I decided that certain daycares were no good for our family or I would avoid a certain place for reasons I couldn’t really explain. I had my heart set on one particular daycare and I was unwilling to explore other options. As many of you would appreciate, searching for a daycare or care options for your children is one of the most difficult tasks as a mum. You’re entrusting strangers to take care of your precious cargo, no one will ever be able to care for them like you do, no one will be able to anticipate their needs, nuture or comfort them like you do. You run this narrative as a way of coping. If you admit that someone else could do an amazing job, then you might become redundant!
My dislike of certain staff and certain centres was my way of assuaging my guilt. Even when we settled on a family daycare that we are so happy with, I am still riddled with guilt every time I drop off the baby. Just a few days ago, we were sent some photos of the children heading off to the park during what is usually our baby’s naptime. I was instantly up in arms and messaged my husband demanding what he thought of the situation. I asked ‘Am I making a mountain out of a molehill?’ to which he quickly replied ‘Yes’. What was obvious to him (and me when I took a moment to breathe) was that I was feeling guilty that I was at work whilst the baby was in care with someone else. Rather than being happy to see he was clearly settled and being well looked after, I tried to turn it into a situation where his care was sub-par and his needs were not being met.
It creeps up on you everywhere! Every time I do something for myself (which as a mum of three is not the often), I feel guilt. I recently went for an overnight stay with some mum friends. It included a session at a local day spa, lunch and a whole night in a queen bed all to myself. Whilst I enjoyed myself and strongly encourage you to do the same (more about this is my blog, ‘Making Time for Me’), I could not escape the feeling that I had somehow abandoned the children and it was indulgent and unnecessary. The kids were perfectly happy having a sleepover at a friends and they were with their dad – there was absolutely no reason for me to worry… and yet…
Another classic example which I’m sure you can relate to is when you’re eating something and one of the children suddenly decides they want it. Sometimes I attempt to say no and then feeling guilty as the child is missing out… so I share it (and usually lose the rest of it in the process). As a mum, you constantly put your needs last to ensure that everyone else’s needs are met first. Some days, I get to the end of the day and wonder why I am bursting to go to the toilet. It’s because I literally ignore my needs when doing things for the children and family, and suddenly my body is yelling at me that I need to race to the toilet immediately! I’m sure thats not good practice for your pelvic floor!
For months, I held off starting a new medication that would help my health immensely, in large part because it meant that I would need to wean the baby. My mother’s guilt and sense of duty is so strong, that I was willing to forgo my health and mobility so that I can continue to feed the baby. After exploring virtually every other avenue, I reluctantly accepted that I needed to wean, and the grief and guilt that followed has been immense. Although logically I understand that I need to be physically well to perform my other mothering duties, the sense of failure and that I am not doing the best for my baby is overwhelming. I even sought counselling about the process, as I realised that although to some it may not be that big a deal, it was having a large impact on my sense of happiness and well being. I explore this grief process further in my blog ‘The Grief of Early Weaning’.
I asked a close fellow mumma about her thoughts on mother’s guilt. She reflected that we wear it like a badge of honour, that somehow we feel like if we don’t have mother’s guilt then we dont love our children enough. This seems so illogical but she’s so right! She also reflected on the fact that we constantly compare ourselves to the idea of the ‘perfect mum’, and we often look at other mothers and It is worse when comparing to other mothers judge our success based on how we perceive we are performing, compared to them. It is such an easy trap to fall into. How come I only schedule two extra curricular activities per week for my children, why do I cook/bake/play more with my children, why cant i provide more nutritious meals/snacks for them, why do I lose my temper and yell/rant/smack my children? The list goes on! Even though I know I am a good mum and I am doing to very best I can for my children, still I have these thoughts. I am certain I am not alone in this.
I am a long way from being at peace with this concept of mother’s guilt, but I am very conscious of it and try to identify when it is playing out in my thoughts. When I notice it, I take time to observe what is obvious to me about why it is playing out. By naming it, I find this can help to take some of the sting out of the guilt and allow me to be kinder to myself. I believe mother’s guilt comes from a place over overwhelming love for our children, but it is not a healthy way to focus our energy. I think if we apply the same leniency as we do with our children and families, this will go along way towards a better relationship and acceptance of ourselves.
Please feel free to reach out and share ways that you manage your mother’s guilt.