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.