Melissa asks: How do you cope with the motherly Guilt? I find it the hardest part of being a mum. Guilt imposed by myself and by Others. Work, don’t work, allow chocolate, ban chocolate etc…
Melissa’s question made me think about one of my very early posts, Guilty As Charged, where I wrote about all the things I felt guilty about as a new mother. â€œMy mom told me today that you aren’t a parent till you feel guilty about something.Â And there’s so much to feel guilty forâ€, I wrote at the time.
Now, 15 or so months later, I realise that my approach has changed and my feelings are different, and motherhood has been a much more pleasant experience as a result. There are many reasons, but an oddly simple explanation: I am doing my best.
And that’s not a cop-out statement. On the contrary, it is meant as a motivation, and for me, an ambition to strive for. That also doesn’t mean I never feel guilty about things, but rather use the guilt as a starting point for change.
So what brought around the transformation for me?
- I remembered that I’ve never been perfect before, so I won’t be a perfect parent, and I cut myself some slack.It came as a great relief to me, in fact, when one of my parenting mentors, Lauren from Hobomama wrote about how she is not the perfect mother her blog might portray. It made me realise that striving for perfection was putting an unnatural strain on me and on our relationship. That’s not to say that I’m okay with mediocrity, because I’m not, but not beating myself up for my shortcomings as a parent means I have more energy to spend on being a parent, rather than feeling bad about what I don’t or can’t achieve.
- It’s not the fall that makes the (wo)man â€“ it’s if and how (s)he gets up again. This is kind of the point of point number 1. No one is perfect, and sometimes, even those who try the hardest do make mistakes â€“ I have screamed at my daughter, I have twice smacked her hand or her bottom when I’ve lost control of my patience, I’ve let a whole 24 hour period go by without changing her clothes, so she spent all day in her pyjamas â€“ all things my ‘perfect’ self wouldn’t do. What makes you (or me) a good parent, isn’t never making mistakes, it’s being able to say sorry, move on and try again.
- I don’t do anything ‘just because’. Every parenting decision is based on research, thought and conscious decision.
If you’re reading my blog, you probably know this already, but I research and read everything, and there are very few, if any, things that we do, practices that we follow and so on that I haven’t looked at from all angles, made a decision on and stuck to. And because of this, I feel that I have at least relative confidence in our choices, thereby lessening the opportunity for guilt.
- Guilt is a useless emotionThere is no point to guilt. When I feel guilty about something â€“ and trust me, it happens often â€“ I try to consciously change what it is I feel guilty about. I feel guilty because I’ve spent all morning on the laptop leaving Ameli to entertain herself? Put down the laptop and spend the time I would have wasted feeling guilty, actually spending time with her. It’s an active choice, a conscious decision and it makes a difference.
- Escape the politics (and do what works for YOUR child)
So much of being a mother involves politics. If you do one thing you offend one half of mothers and if you do another you offend the other half. No matter what you’re doing, you’re doing it wrong, and yes, your child will be scarred for life because you did do, didn’t do, or thought of doing xyz. Knowing why (point 4) you do what you do makes standing firm in your choice a lot easier, and makes avoiding the politics that much easier too.
Remember also that there is no ‘one size fits all’ in parenting. What works for me and mine might just not work for you and yours, so don’t waste time and energy comparing yourself and your child(ren) to those around you.
So, in the end, I think the answer is to do the best you can with what you have, and make peace with what you cannot do, or give. If you have to work, don’t feel guilty about it, because guilt exhausts, meaning when you get home you don’t have the energy to spend the quality time you do have effectively. Give chocolate if you want, don’t give it if you don’t â€“ but both in moderation. We don’t allow sweets or sugary drinks in the late afternoon or evening (choice) because the sugar keeps Ameli awake too late, isn’t digested by the body in the evening and isn’t good for her teeth (reason).
By allowing ourselves to feel guilty for all the ways we aren’t as good as we want to be, we lose out on valuable time where we could be meaning something, and doing something positive. By no means does just doing your best mean that you have to compromise on your parenting ideals, but what it does mean is that you’ll cut yourself some slack when you fail, and tomorrow, once you’ve caught your breath, counted to ten, or the next time your child walks into the room, you can apologise if need be, and start again, with a clean slate and no need for guilt.