Before I became a mum, my perception of motherhood was that it appeared to be one long, guilt-riddled roller coaster ride. It seemed that no matter how much you did right as a mother; there was always something you were doing “wrong” to feel guilty about!
I had one friend who job shared with her husband so that their kids were able to be at home with one of their parents every single day. They did this because it was important to them and because it was wonderful for their kids to be able to spend equal time with their parents over the course of a week! When it came time for Miss 5 to start school however, there were adjustment problems and my friend felt guilty because Miss 5 had never been to day care or a crèche!
I’ve come across mums who feel guilty for spending too much time with their kids, not enough time with their kids, starting solids too early, going back to work too early, not taking their kids to swimming lessons, swaddling their babies for sleep, breastfeeding too long, not breastfeeding at all, putting their baby on a routine ... the list goes on! Just about every mum I come across is drowning in a sea of guilt!
Which got me wondering: “I am a mum. Why don’t I feel guilty about anything? Is there something wrong with me?!”
God knows there is plenty to feel guilty about! My “baby” Jaden is now 18 months old. As I run my own business, I was sending invoices from hospital when he was barely one day old while checking and replying to client and staff emails during my entire hospital stay. I stopped breastfeeding at four weeks. I swaddled him for sleep till he was seven months old. We got a nanny when he was three months old and he started four day a week day care at 11 months. Six weeks later he was a “full timer” at day care! And finally, he’s never done a single swimming lesson!
The day care one is the biggie. Whenever I mention to people that he is at day care five days a week they tell me how sorry they are for me and intimate that I must feel bad!
But I don’t.
Maybe it’s because Jaden’s day care is a small, family run centre with simply wonderful carers who treat him (and presumably all their kids) as they would their own.
Maybe it’s because I’ve never been exposed to a group of mothers comparing and contrasting what their kids have and haven’t done and giving advice on what you should and shouldn’t be doing. All my girlfriends are wonderfully supportive, non-judgemental and accepting that everyone has their own way of doing things.
Maybe it’s because I know how bored Jaden gets of “mum and dad”. My husband and I booked a five night holiday in Pemberton last year and we were so excited about having him all to ourselves for five full days. Jaden however was a little less enthralled. By day three, no matter what fun places we went to and what cool things we did to entertain him, the message was clear: “I am SOOOOO over you Mum and Dad”! He was super grumpy to us for the last two days but anyone random who wandered past was treated to a radiant smile and a 100 kilowatt charm offensive.
Or maybe, as was suggested to me by a friend, it’s because I am overwhelmingly practical. I see no point wasting such a destructive emotion as guilt on something that is out of my control. And I accept that as a mum, it’s simply not possible to do everything right and you can only ever do the best that you can! I’d love to have at least one weekday at home each week with my little buddy, but my workload just doesn’t allow for it.
So instead I focus on the positives. My favourite job in the world is getting him out of bed at the start of each day. I treasure the time we spend getting ready in the morning before heading off to day care and work. I love the way he has thrived in the structured play environment of day care and I know how much he prefers their backyard play area to our little courtyard at home! And I love that myself and my husband have two hours every evening to hang out and play with him together. And we certainly love the extra hours we get on the weekends to spend with him.
As you can see, we definitely subscribe to the concept of quality not quantity when it comes to the time we spend with Jaden. He is such a little man now and being 18 months old he is starting to test boundaries and be a little naughty. I could spend time feeling guilty that maybe this naughtiness is because I am not around for him all day and he is craving my attention. Or I can choose to accept that naughtiness is part and parcel of kids growing up and I just need to deal with it as best I can and set appropriate boundaries.
So. Mothers of Australia. I have a challenge for you.
Drop the guilt! It’s possibly the most useless emotion available to you in your considerable arsenal. Don’t beat yourself up about what you could be doing better. Focus instead on the amazing job you’re doing with your kids and accept that perfection is both pointless and unachievable. I think the needs of our children are much simpler than we realise sometimes.