Catherine Cameron: Mum guilt
The current time is 1.30pm, and my 10-month-old baby is asleep. We are seven hours into our day, and already, I could write you a Shakespearian Sonnet with all of the ‘mum guilt’ I have experienced today:
- 6.30am ‘mum guilt’: You should be used to being tired by now. Other mums just deal with it and move on. (On waking to my daughter chatting in her cot, and wishing I could get just one more hour of sleep after a night with a wakeful baby)
- 7.30am ‘mum guilt’: Your mind is wandering because you are not devoted enough. Other mums are present in every moment. (On sitting with her during playtime and letting my mind wander.)
- 8.00am ‘mum guilt’: putting your baby in front of the TV is lazy parenting. Other mums set strict no screen rules for their babies. (On letting my baby watch The Wiggles, while eating her breakfast.)
- 11.00am ‘mum guilt’: Making your baby sit in the pram while you run errands is selfish. Other mums fill their child’s awake time with stimulating and educational activities. (On putting her in the pram, to run errands.)
- 12.00pm ‘mum guilt’: Why did you even bother having a baby if you are looking forward to time without her? Other mums cherish every single moment with theirs. (On looking forward to my baby’s nap, and some subsequent alone time.)
That is five unnecessary and unhelpful guilt-triggering thoughts in seven hours.
Surely that can’t be healthy, right?
Surely that can’t be ‘normal’, right?
On preparing to write this blog, I asked the question ‘do you experience mum guilt?’
Suprisingly, I was presented with numerous lists of ‘mum guilt’ akin to my own. And even more surprising, I was never asked, ‘what mum guilt?’
Which leads me to question - why are we so hard on ourselves?
What are the causes of this unhelpful and self-destructive ‘mum guilt’?
Here’s looking at you, social media. You see on social media, shortcomings are hidden, and ideals flaunted. Active wear, blow waves, home cooked meals, flat stomachs, tidy homes, and perfected parenting fill the feeds of ‘Instagram’ and ‘Facebook’.
No snotty noses.
No tantrums in the pram.
No tired eyes.
No clock watching.
No piles of washing.
So, how do these pedestals of perfection cause ‘mum guilt’?
If your reality is less perfect than those thrust at you on social media, you may be faced with feelings of inadequacy.
Enter, ‘mum guilt’.
But the danger zones of ‘mum guilt’ don’t only present themselves in the form of photography, or status updates. Equally as potent are the mum forum and discussion group pages. Metaphorically, I like to think of these pages as the ‘beehive’ of parent politics. Sleep training, baby-led weaning, baby-led parenting, and co-sleeping, just to name a few, are all stylistic approaches to parenting that come with an army of opiniated supporters, and opposers.
Stumble across a topic of controversy in the wake of a disagreeing mother, or ask an open ended question requiring advice based on the above topics, and you are essentially in the firing line.
Whether you sit on the left wing, the right wing, or somewhere in between, when it comes to parenting, there will always be a mother hiding behind her computer screen, ready to impose guilt on your beliefs. Yes, there is valuable support and advice gained from joining these discussion groups. However, if you strongly side with, or are impressivley educated in a method in which to raise your child, please, be sensitive in imposing this on others.
Noone has the right to make a mum feel guilty if their approach does not mirror your own.
It has taken me a long time to pinpoint that a lot of the ‘mum guilt’ I experience stems from my innate and unfaltering desire to be perfect.
The perfect friend. The perfect colleague. The perfect wife.
The perfect mother.
And with this desire to be perfect, come assumptions. Assumptions that other mothers are perfect.
Assumptions, that other mothers don’t feel any guilt at all.
But this is where I am wrong.
After all, we are all only human. And when the stakes are as high as a life in your hands, it is only natural that we doubt ourselves, and feel disappointed when results don’t match expectations.
But why is that not what is projected in public forums? Why do we worship perfection when deep down it is this perfection that is the root of our own negative thinking?
Why, when we need the support and guidance of others more than ever as mothers, do we shut shop and conceal any shred of negativity we may be experiencing?
What can we do, in the hope that we may feel safe enough to laugh in the face of external judgement?
For starters, I propose to you a challenge. A challenge to extinguish and alleviate the pressure to internalise our moments of weakness. To erase the guilt that comes with not being Superwoman all day, every day.
I challenge you to look externally, and asses the way you present yourself to, and communicate with, the mothers who stand beside you.
Don’t be the reason for another mother to doubt herself.
Don’t be the reason for another mother to be ashamed that her experience of motherhood is not identical to yours.
And as for those pesky internal influences, fighting those are up to the individual. And to do this, you need to know that it is ok to feel guilt as a mother. It is this very guilt that inspires us to do the bloody amazing job we do, by constantly questioning how we can be even better for our little ones.
Feeling guilt does not take away from the love we feel for those squishy little faces, or, for the job motherhood allows us to do.
As Constance Hall says;