I spent a long time with guilt; it was a normal part of my day. A constant measuring up of how well I was doing compared to my ideal. The result of this comparison inevitably was that I was failing.
The worst part was I was really trying. I’m not sure what my goal was? Perfect robot children eating kale chips and saying things like ‘Dearest Mummy (they call me Dearest in this fantasy), this green smoothie is even better than yesterdays! The spirulina really does make a difference!’ A clean house at all times? Or was it the elusive exemplar of connection. If I connected to my children, meaningfully and mindfully and other words ending in fully, then everything else would just melt away. And sparrows would come and do my washing.
I spent hours loading up a dump truck with my children. This was not connection; this was a three year olds version of water torture. Plus he kept telling me I was doing it wrong.I would be playing with my kids and trying so hard to be a good mother that I couldn’t relax. My version of being connected to my children meant that I wasn’t, I was too busy concentrating on my own feelings. I’d set myself a task with the expectation that I’d feel less guilty once it was complete. The less guilty bit never actually happened. The guilt didn’t disappear – it just wandered off and found a new part of my brain to sit in while it pointed disapproving fingers at my house, my children and my life.
Unsurprisingly, this was not fun.
Yet, throughout this paralyzing self-doubt, my children thrived. They didn’t explode or develop interesting emotional complexes; apart from being one and three which was an interesting emotional complex all by itself. Girl didn’t sleep, which was normal. Boy bought in truckloads of dirt, looking at me while I was saying ‘don’t bring in truckloads of dirt!’ which was disappointingly also normal. They pretty much didn’t care what they ate, what they wore or where they slept; as long as those things happened. They didn’t care if I was emotionally invested in the fate of the tower of blocks or if I gave an overly excited ‘It crashed again?’ while lying on the floor with my phone.
No-one cared about my guilt except myself. I wasn’t failing, I was trying too hard.
I started to think about the guilt, where it came from. Who gave it to me and told me it had to inform every decision I made? Who turned eating dinner into a measure of worth rather than just eating dinner? Who was judging me? There was no-one in my life whose opinion I cared about who was telling me what a horrible mother I was (I get that for some people they are being judged, and pfft to the judgers, but this is more about the pressure we put on ourselves. Again – PFFT to the actual judgers). Our children don’t judge us, and neither do our friends. When I admitted to friends that my kids once ate a pack of muesli bars in 2 hours, that I had threatened instead of talked and that occasionally parenting was hideous instead of brilliant– nobody judged. They raised their hands to the sky and yelled out ‘Hallelujah!’ because they’d done it too.
When friends admitted their guilt to me: One who hid packets of M&M’s around the house for her children to hunt so she could finish some work; another who didn’t remember where the vacumn cleaner was, or even what it looked like, and another who shoo’d her children away at the park with a hiss of ‘Go play! That’s why we’re here! Mummy is talking!’ We didn’t put our judgy knickers on. We put our solidarity knickers on because we got it.
We never said – ‘You’re doing it wrong.’ Instead, we said ‘I’ve done the same thing.’
We never said ‘You should do better.’ Instead, we said ‘I’ve done worse.’
We don’t care how guilty you feel. We think you’re a great mother. We care about acceptance. We care about perspective.
You don’t have to be meeting 100% of your ideals to be a good mother. Ideals are great, but so is perspective. Realistically, parenting at 80% or even 50% is still fan-bloody-tastic. Food is being eaten, hugs are being given and no one is being attacked by wolves. If your biggest parenting dilemma is that the thing you made looks nothing like the one on Pinterest then you don’t need to be doing better – in fact you possibly need to calm down (plus it NEVER looks like the thing on Pinterest).
Look at other parents, look at your friends. Remember how excellent you think they are? They think that about you, and if you really want, tell them about a Terrible Parenting Thing you’ve done because I guarantee they’ve done it too. Break out the solidarity knickers people, we’ve all been there.
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