I was recently having a conversation with a friend who is a new mum to a beautiful 8 month old girl. She was telling me how she felt guilty about not attending enough ‘baby groups’ as she was just so tired. I found myself explaining that when you become a mother, guilt kind of goes with the territory and no matter what we do as mothers and what choices we make, we will inevitably feel the pangs of guilt on an almost daily basis…
According to the Office of National Statistics, 70% of women with dependent children, work. For many, the guilt of having to juggle a career with motherhood can be both overwhelming and emotionally destructive. The decision to work or stay at home is a difficult one for all mothers (some may feel they have no choice at all due to financial constraints, or the specific needs of the child), but what I feel is clear is that there is no obvious right or wrong when it comes to this decision…each situation is individual to the specific family concerned – so why all the guilt?
As a mum of 3, I have faced a number of guilt ridden predicaments over the last 18 years. Non more so than the decision to work. I was a teacher for many years, which suited (to a certain extent) our family situation and when my children were born I made the decision to take the first year off with each of them before returning to work part-time. This was not an easy decision and left us financially vulnerable for a number of years – but it was important to me to give my time and energy to those babies for the first 12 months, after which I returned to the work force (working 4 days a week).
I enjoy working (most of the time) and knew that if I was at home for more than a year without the challenges that work presents I would find it not only difficult but I would also feel a loss of identity. I have studied, become qualified and worked hard in my chosen career, why should I (potentially) have to give it up when I became a mum? I didn’t. I compromised and found a happy medium that meant I could still work whilst having quality time with my children, particularly during their younger years. Sorted right? Hmmm…not quite…I have faced judgement from other mums for working before my children went to school, I have faced judgement from colleagues for reducing my work hours to accomadate my work/mum balance. Judgement seems to be around every corner and THIS is why I think mums are battling so much guilt.
Mum guilt really is something that needs to be addressed as it doesn’t only affect the bigger decisions but it also encroches on every other aspect of life with children.
Whatever we decide to do, someone seems to be there to offer their opinion (judgement). It’s easy to think, ‘just ignore what others think’, but the reality of facing these judgements leaves many mums (and dads/care givers for that matter) questioning their situations. I propose that we leave other families to make their own decisions and focus on raising our children in an environment that suits us…we could even try being supportive of others who make decisions that are different to our own and embrace these differences with gusto and without judgement. We can live in hope…
Mum guilt really is something that needs to be addressed as it doesn’t only affect the bigger decisions (as discussed above) but it also encroaches on every other aspect of life with children…pretty much from day one. Thankfully much of this guilt gets lost forever as the passage of time does it’s wonderful thing of helping us forget, but when I attempt to think back to when my girls were babies, I realise that it was ever present throughout their younger years. My memories go something like this…
“You only take X to one toddler group? You should really take her to more as they are so good for socialisation” (me: yup, and going to one group was a big deal for me as I suffered with social anxiety)
“You really should come to tumble tots you know, Xs walking has really come on since we’ve been going” (me: We couldn’t afford it at the time).
“She’s one and she’s not walking yet, are you worried!?” (me: That’s right and no I’m not worried and her sisters walked at 9 months and 14 months so go figure…)
“What stage Oxford reading Tree book is your daughter on?” (me: Does it matter as long as they are learning and progressing?)
“How much screen time do your children have? – X only has 10 minutes a week as she’s so busy with horse riding, swimming, gymnastics, volunteering at the animal shelter and raising money for charity through her bake sales” (me: I am a bad parent!)
You get the idea.
I have so many wonderful memories of raising my children and the adventures that we have experienced together but I also have a plethora of stories that highlight occasions where I have felt judged, often by other mothers; I didn’t breastfeed for long enough, I didn’t take enough time off work, my 20 mins nightly reading with them was not enough, letting them quit a club when they didn’t enjoy it shows my weakness as a parent, they only had 3 of there 5 a day, I allow them too much screen time…
Perhaps I did breastfeed for long enough – we did what suited us and I managed 1 month with my first and 6 months with my other two children. Looking back I am happy with that and they are all now happy and healthy. I feel a little sad for berating myself at the time for not being able to manage for longer – such pointless anxiety.
I took a year off work when each of my 3 girls were born and worked part time thereafter – that was fair in my mind. I took a kick to my salary and my career was halted (temporarily) but it worked for us.
I read for 20 minutes each night with each of my girls throughout their younger years (cripes was I relieved when the youngest finally finished the Oxford Reading Tree – no more Biff, Chip and Kipper, Yippee!). This was all I could manage when I was exhausted from the days responsibilities, but…they are all now competent readers and although the younger ones still need a little encouragement, they read for pleasure and it’s all ok.
We have always encouraged our girls to engage with extra-curricular activities, admittedly sometimes because we felt that we ‘should’ – when they haven’t enjoyed it (playing an instrument, doing a sport etc) we have asked them to try for a few more weeks and if they still don’t enjoy it they can leave. So they have started and stopped many activities (I literally lost sleep over the decision of one of my daughters to quit her gymnastics club) and do you know what, everything is ok. The sun still rises and my girls have found other ways to learn, enjoy themselves, progress and develop. Guilt begone!
5 a day – we try. But sometimes we fail. Sometimes they have 1 a day and sometimes 8 and it’s ok. They are healthy and generally make good food decisions by themselves.
Screen time has created huge amounts of mum guilt for me – I admit it, I have plonked my kids as babies in front of teletubbies/tweenies/peppa pig in order to allow me time to finish cooking tea, or make a phone call, or just take 10 minutes to finish my coffee. As technology has progressed, so has the screen time. My girls all have access to laptops and phones and choose to spend time on them using social media, losing hours on youtube and watching netflix. Mum guilt isn’t just about how other parents make you feel, but how your children and their needs can make you feel. I have struggled (and still do to a certain extent) with feeling infuriated at seeing my girls staring at a screen when the sun is shining outside, but also appreciating that for their generation, this type of behaviour is ‘normal’ and although I can romanticise about my 1970s/80s childhood of making dens, playing in the woods and riding our bikes, times have changed and so have our children. I recently decided that my younger girls need a little more guidance when it comes to screen time (I have toyed with implementing this for a while but the guilt of feeling like a ‘mean’ mum took over) and so we have an agreement of 1 hour per day for everything – social media, watching netflix etc. This is more than enough and since the new ‘guidance’ has been enforced my girls have played outside more, got their bikes out of the shed, been roller booting together and talked more to us and each other…of course the spring time lighter evenings help, but I’m happy with that. Do one guilt!
It seems to get worse when children get to secondary school, whereby certificates are handed out for attendance and awards given to those who are excelling in one subject or another. Such certificates are then dutifully posted on the insta/FB pages of their proud parents followed by meaningful visible comments (“Well done X, you must be so proud, she clearly gets her brains from her mum!”) and less meaningful commentary that tends not to be posted but discussed amongst other parents at any opportune moment (“I can’t stand how X always posts about her daughters achievements on social media, what a bloody show off, makes me sick!”).
Above all I wish I could tell the younger ‘mum’ me not to waste so much precious time feeling guilty.
There will always be competitive parents and proud parents and those who post on social media about their kids achievements and those who don’t, we can’t change that. What we can change is how we respond it – we can choose to be happy for those folk who want to share with the world how proud they are of their offspring, instead of slating them. Let’s choose to be nice and big up our fellow mums and dads instead of exacerbating the issue of parental guilt, even if others choose to celebrate their children in a way we would choose not to.
Above all I wish I could tell the younger ‘mum’ me not to waste so much precious time feeling guilty. I have wasted days/weeks of my life worrying, lost sleep and even sought support from a counsellor to combat my concern and I know now how so much of it was unhelpful and unnecessary. As our children grow and thrive, of course milestones are important, but they need to be kept in perspective. When my girls were small, focusing on what age they were when they could walk seemed like the biggest deal – the competitive conversations I witnessed between mums regarding this were almost obscene and other than in exceptional circumstances, does anyone really care how old they were when they first sat up/walked/learned to read etc, Nope. It’s all so soon forgotten.
For any new mums out there or those relatively new to this wonderful journey of parenting, please remember that YOU are enough and I implore you to banish the guilt (because you will experience it in some form or other) and embrace the personal developmental journey that you (and only you) and your children are going through side by side/hand in hand. Ignore the snidey/competitive comments and focus on you and yours (and for those of you who are yet to experience Biff, Chip and Kipper – I’m sorry!).