When you become a parent, those precious seconds after they thrust that mewling wet creature with tight-shut eyes and flailing hands against your chest, they don’t tell you that you’re probably going to feel guilty at least once a day from here on in. They don’t tell you that as a health-warning on pregnancy test kits either – and maybe they should. Like cigarette packets that carry those enormous pictures of cancerous lungs, I can just imagine pregnancy test-kits coming with a picture of some perfect child from some perfect TV commercial and big letters saying DISCLAIMER: RESULTS MAY VARY.
I had coffee with a friend last Tuesday, and we talked about our kids – as mothers do – and she told me she was feeling guilty. Actually it was worse than that, much worse: she’d been MADE to feel guilty. Now come on people, mothers don’t need any help along at all in that area, and it was another woman to boot that had done it, which just smacks of Treason, and nothing less. I felt angry for her, and sad, because she’s a great Mum, and doing a fantastic job, and all that great-and-fantastic-ness inside her had been overshadowed by the guilt that somebody else had cloaked her with. And then on Wednesday I had lunch with another friend, another Mum who is doing far and above more than many of us have to, thrown into these things by life and circumstance and doing an amazing job to boot, and SHE feels guilty too. I won’t tell you about my Friday friend, because by now you might be sensing a pattern, and I shouldn’t mention my Saturday friend really, because…well, you get the point.
Most of the time we don’t talk about it. Most of the time we are proud of our kids, and we’re proud of ourselves for doing an okay-enough job, because really only we know what baggage we’re carrying, and under what circumstances we labour. And most of the time we share our positive stories: my three-year-old can write her name. My six-year-old can tie his shoes. My eleven-year-old is some kind of mathematical genius and can speak seventeen languages including Klingon*. Sometimes we leave out the bits we’re not proud of – my eight-year-old chews his toenails every night while watching TV, my ten-year-old wets the bed. **
I’d love to know whether this guilt is a 21st Century phenomenon. Did our parents or our grandparents struggle with how well their children did at school/learned to read/cleaned their teeth/toilet trained? Is guilt perhaps an airborne emotion released by small children? Perhaps if they didn’t breathe over us or wipe their snotty faces over us so much we’d find ourselves with stronger immune responses to such strange and feelings. Guilt, apparently, is some kind of by-product of love. This is not right, but it appears to be true. We can fight against it, but I think the best thing we can do is love one another through it.
If you are a parent reading this, here’s a bit of truth: whether I know you or not I’m SURE you are doing an awesome job. Give yourself a pat on the back today. I’m equally sure you deserve it.
And here’s one thing for sure: I’m not going to make the mistakes my parents made in parenting me. Nosiree. No way. The mistakes I make with my own children I’m going to invent all by myself!
And that, my friends, is parenting.
*These are not my children. I’m not sure whose they are, but they turned up in my imagination. If anyone would like to claim them please go to the Lost Property department. Turn left at the shoe cupboard and then take your first right.
**Also not my children. I am not claiming any toenail-chewers thank you very much. I will remain in denial.
Bloody oath, you are spot on. Great post 🙂
Haha, thank you!
Just had a good chuckle at this. I may, or may not, have a toenail chewer as well. I reckon I might invent a few mistakes of my own. It’s a bit of a maze, this parenting thing!
You can say that again Amanda. Fun, rewarding, but a maze.
And yes…toenail chewers. Hmmmm. If you figure out the cure for that one please let me know!
This is spot on the money Megan. No one tells you for the amount of joy and love you feel for your child, there is also a large percentage of guilt and failure attached. Funnily enough most of my guilt and feeling like a failure comes from talking to other Mums. “Other Mums” seem to make everything look easy. “Other Mums” seem to get everywhere on time. I’m constantly late, never know which way is up, often feel flustered and starting to forget my own name. I can however tell you my children’s favorite toys, books, cartoons and food. They both give me hugs and kisses. My 4yo told me the other night she loves me more than her toy pussy cat and puppy dog. I should stop listening to “Other Mums” and listen to my beautiful kids, because they make me feel like a great Mum… mistakes and all!
Son that is so wise, and so true! I was thinking about it after I posted it, how so much of our guilt comes from advertising and the media, and also so much of it comes from how other people are doing things. Crazy, eh? When we’re just doing our own things we feel fine, but as soon as we start the comparison game we lose the plot.
But you, my friend, are Truly Amazing. Truly.
Thank you Megan for your post, it also made me chuckle, but it’s also made me realise that my current guilt will be transferred across from TTC to having a baby! which is a good thing i think… cos a bit of guilt keeps you on your toes!! xx
OOOOOOH YES! I’ve been thinking that as I’ve been reading your blog. Honey, the best thing I can tell you is that the guilt just gets worse, and the sooner you can turn it around and remind yourself that you ARE an amazing woman, and you ARE okay, and you don’t need to beat yourself up, the better you’ll feel and the better mother you’ll be. Don’t give in to guilt…it’s a thief and a liar. xxx
A thief and i liar, yes! The more you write the more you inspire me. Thank you xx I am proud to say i have known you for most of my life and that you are my role model. If i can be half the woman, half the mother you are then i would be happy xx 🙂
I’ve coined a phrase “guilt is the new black and I’m only just learning to wear it well”. My guilt started just before birth – after labouring for 24 hours I had an emergency c-section – the guilt started once those words were out of the obstetricians mouth. I can’t tell you how many times I felt immense, bone-crushing guilt. “Welcome to parenting” my mother said drily. Prepare to feel guilty for every day of your life from here on in. While it doesn’t seem fair, other mums are the worst for making us feel guilty – whether it be intentional or not, with words or just the annoying habit of making everything look so easy. What we should remember is that, every mum struggles, some in other areas in which we don’t struggle, but they do. Some hide it better than others, but they still struggle. The other thing to remember is that we are, for the most part, responsible for how people ‘make us feel’. Our feelings are our own. So if we can, learn to wear our guilt like a badge and right of passage of motherhood – because it seems men don’t feel guilt in the same way women do. We are unique, guilt-ridden beings, and we should be proud of it because who else other than a woman, would put themselves through something as challenging as giving birth to a baby and then rearing them into functional human beings. Oh and I’m the mother who just fed her child ‘little boys’ and fairy bread for lunch…well it is his birthday after all!
Wow, wow, wow. Sharon you are so right. Love it.
“Little boys” for lunch? You might have to explain that one. But Happy Birthday to your little fella from us, and Congratulations to YOU! on the celebration off his birth. I think you’re doing amazingly 🙂
oh sorry, I thought I was doing the right ‘Tasmanian’ thing by calling them that – cocktail frankfurts is what I meant! Also, there is a good book called ‘Motherguilt’ that addresses exactly what we feel and experience – it was a good read and recommend it.
Don’t forget worry, I never stop worrying and my son is in his 30s
Oh no!!! Does it never end? Sheesh!
sorry no. 🙂
What is funny is that all the guilt I carried around for YEARS about things done or not done – things that I knew scared my children for life and I would burn in hell for. Those were the things that my children didn’t remember, just gave me the “you got to be s##### me” look. Then they told me the things that I did that really hurt them, wounded them and I thought “you got to be s#### me.” So I guess I carried the wrong guilt around all those years which means I should have just given it up and let them lay the guilt on when they were ready. That guilt didn’t seem like a burden because I said I was really sorry, they said no big deal, and life goes on. Doing a perfect job of anything in life is an illusion because life is messy and if it was perfect it would be very, very boring. We would have no challenges to help us develop good character and strength and resiliency and honor and courage. Just keep being a “good-enough” mom, wife, sister, daughter, friend and I will try to do the same. I’m glad, though, that you care because that is the foundation for providing what your kids need. Knowing how to say “I’m sorry.” also seems to go a long, long way.
Pat that must be, without much doubt, one of the BEST pieces of parenting advice I’ve ever heard. Wowzers. Thank you. I’m going to write that down somewhere that I’ll remember it.
Another great piece Megan! I love Pat’s comments also and the concept of ‘good enough’ parenting. Interestingly one of my colleagues, who is a child psychologist of many years experience, told me recently that she read that children need a good parent for around 30% of the time and as long as the other 70% or so is not abusive or destructive they will be fine. I think I have more trouble letting go of the worry than the guilt, certainly seem to experience a fair dose of both. Thanks for your writing about guilt, its nice to know I’m in good company xxx
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