You know what I’m talking about. The list is endless.
Mum guilt has so many forms, comes in so many shapes.
A sly voice whispering in the back of your mind. Or a screaming so loud no other thoughts can get through.
It can creep up on you so stealthily you never see it coming. Or hit you like a steam train at full throttle.
And most of the time, the only person heaping on the guilt is you.
My mum called me the other day.
My son had a rash. Not a bad rash. He’s had worse. (He’s really prone to rashes). But I wasn’t home. I was on the train, late home from work. Again.
He’d had his bath, and my mum just wanted to know where his cream was. That was all. Nothing extraordinary. So I told her, and we hung up. And I stopped walking. Just stopped. Halfway to my car. On the side of a main road. In the dark. And willed myself not to cry.
Fought back the tears trying to escape.
Because I. Wasn’t. There. He needed me. And I wasn’t there.
It didn’t matter that I was only 5 minutes away. Or that my mum was there. Or my husband. In those first few seconds, all I could hear in my head was “he needs you, and you’re not there”. I could feel the guilt spreading to every inch of my being. My head. My heart. My fingertips.
I eventually started walking again, in reality it was probably only a handful of seconds later. It felt like hours.
I got home just in time to tuck both boys in bed. Cue mum guilt– “You barely see them during the week now you’re back at work”.
Then collapsed in an exhausted, relieved heap on the couch (even more mum guilt – “How can you be relieved the kids are asleep, you only saw them for 2 minutes today”).
My husband went out to get us dinner (yep, mum guilt – “how can you teach the boys healthy eating habits if you’re having takeaway – AGAIN!”).
And I ignored the toys, dirty laundry and dirty dishes. Well, I tried to, thanks mum guilt (“You really should at least make a token effort to tidy up”).
I went to bed early that night, absolutely shattered from a 4 day work week, school holidays, and winter illnesses. But I was lying in bed, feeling guilty, when I started thinking about just how many times I’d felt guilty that day. How many things I’d felt guilty over. And not just that day. Any day. How often does one of these thoughts creep in to my mind? Since I went back to work, it turns out the answer is – a lot.
Which just bites.
Really. I didn’t have my children to feel guilty all the time.
So this guilt needs to be dealt with. Easy right?
So I took to Google. And I searched. And searched. Searched some more…
There is so much out there in internet-land about mum guilt. But none of it really resonated with me. Or was overly helpful. Until I found The Shitty Guilt Fairy. Katie Kirby’s hilarious comic on mum guilt. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it.
And it got me thinking. Mum guilt, for me, comes from my expectations of myself. I expect myself to be able to do everything, be everything, perfectly, all the time. Which is so unrealistic when you think about it. And Katie’s depiction of the guilt as a little fairy made me think how sometimes, giving something intangible a tangible form can help you deal with it.
So I thought about my mum guilt. Tried to visualise it. I couldn’t see it as a fairy, much as I tried. What I saw was a big, grey, cloud-like blob with a grumpy face. (See him up above, giving me grief).
The (Beginnings of a) Resolution
Well, trying to make a grumpy grey blob go away isn’t as easy as you might think.
So I decided to stop trying. I don’t think mum guilt ever really goes away anyway.
But giving my guilt a form has helped me work through the guilt better when it does come.
I can talk to it, try and reason with it – this has had moderate success.
I can get angry with it, let some of the stress out – this hasn’t really been useful if I’m honest.
And I can dress it up in funny costumes – YES! Yes, yes,yes!
It is really hard to feel guilty about letting your kids watch TV when it’s coming from a grey blob in a chicken suit.
Or worry about their soft drink consumption when it looks like a super villain from one of my kids favourite TV shows.
Or stress about the fact you enjoy going to work to have uninterrupted conversations on meaningful topics when you’re being judged by a blob wearing a propeller hat.
Or any of these.
Yes, the mum guilt is still there. I still deal with it fairly regularly. And I don’t always succeed in making it go away in a hurry.
But it is getting easier.
And I’m trying to remember to manage my expectations of myself. I don’t have to be perfect. (It’s sometimes hard to remember that, but I’m trying!) I don’t have to do everything. My boys are happy. They’re healthy. They are cared for, well fed, lovingly spoiled by their grandparents (and us, if I’m being really honest). And they are loved, beyond measure.
I am doing a good job.
So are you. Every, single one of you. You are great mothers (or fathers). Great partners. Great people.
So when mum guilt takes a swipe at you, find a way that works for you, and put mum guilt back in its hole.
How do you deal with mum guilt when it hits you?