A sweet and good friend sent me a text tonight. She is in the zone -the baby and toddler days. She wondered if I could write about guilt. She is feeling it. Her friends are feeling it – she mentioned that particular evening time when the children are just settled, sleeping – the day breathes out, you look at their heart-breaking faces on the brushed cotton sheets and instead of feeling as content as the cherished infant, you begin to berate yourself with all that you could have done better that day. The guilt trick.
Growing up as a Catholic, I am aware that guilt is a wonderful feeling. As long as you feel it, you are let off the hook and can continue in your pattern, safe in the knowledge that with a little genuflection and a few ‘Hail Marys’, you’ll be OK. You can stay feeling unworthy and there will be countless opportunities for those more powerful than you (advertiser’s dream…) to make you pay.
And guilt is oddly, a comfort. It allows us to stay in our zones and as long as we feel it each night as we look at Facebook, Instagram or Pinterest and see that our friends (and all those beautiful people we’ll never have a pint with) have done a much better job than we have, we can stay feeling generally low and buy the things that are available to make us feel like the good parents. Their kids did beautiful things with blue skies and smiles. We did waspy shouting and put the telly on. But if we allow ourselves to at least feel guilty, we easily get stuck with making that penance payment to The Gods of Unattainable Perfection in order to balance how we think we should feel.
There is an alternative.
Right, Lovely Mummies – I need to tell you that you don’t HAVE to feel like this. Be-bloody-ware of feeling like this. It is true that guilt is a totally wasted emotion. It won’t serve you, or your child in ANY way. I know this from experience and how I wish I could step into the fading photos of my children’s baby-head days and wave the wand of confidence and self-assuredness about my own desperately trying head. I was good enough. I wish I’d known. I DID NOT NEED anyone else’s validation or product.
Here are a few things I hope will help you to realise that what you are doing, what you are giving is ENOUGH and is good, and in any other world than this one, you would be surrounded by support, nurture, help and respect for the most crucial of all jobs that you are performing:
- In the old days women stayed with their tiny babies in a protected bubble of extended family care for 40 days. You probably had to go round ASDA after 4 days. RESPECT.
- In the old days there were extended family units. Grandparents, Aunts, Sisters – they would all be around you to support you. And you probably didn’t have to go back to work after your 26 weeks of Ordinary Maternity Leave. Now, it’s very likely that you are paying an excruciating mortgage (if you’re lucky enough to own a house) and you need to go back to work just to have a shelter. RESPECT.
- You are living in a time of information overload. You hear everything from everyone and the more you want to research, the more confusing it becomes. You have not got one voice of experience to guide you like your mother did, her mother did…. you have to now be a filter for millions of voices telling you their way is best. RESPECT.
- You are ABSOLUTELY allowed to get things wrong. They may not even be wrong. What is right for your baby will be different to your NCT friends’ babies. You are ALLOWED to know what is best for your unit. It will be different to the ‘book’ and different from your mates. You have been told, and shown, that other people are doing it perfectly, with sheepskins and BabyStyle Oysters and perfect houses full of safe and appropriate lifestyle choices. You have to understand that this is not real. Even though it looks real. And you are tired. RESPECT.
- Martha Nussbaum, when writing about the English paediatrician and psychoanalyst, Winnicott’s work on ‘The Good Enough Mother’, summarised that his writings emphasised empathy, imagination and ‘ the highly particular transactions that constitute love between two imperfect people’ (Wikepedia) – so, you’re ALLOWED to be imperfect. It’s actually essential so that your baby will learn to ‘adapt to external realities’ – You’re doing what you NEED to do and what nature has designed you for. RESPECT.
- And lastly, just remember that you also filter your social feed – you don’t post pictures of yourself, knackered, grilling fish fingers with Peppa Pig keeping the DD still for 10 minutes- you save the camera for the avocado rye bread and wooden xylophone moments – JUST LIKE EVERYONE ELSE. It’s all bollocks.
You can, however, choose to tell guilt to piss right off. It isn’t very useful as far as emotions go. Constantly measuring yourself against others is going to always leave you feeling dissatisfied with yourself. It is true that the moment your baby pops into this world, before the midwife has even wiped off the vernix, you will feel guilty about something. You can now make the fantastic choice to believe that you are doing your best, and your best is exactly what your child wants. Nothing more.
Let it go. Stand tall. Know that you are enough. RESPECT.
I wish I had.