Guilty as Charged

When you first see the two blue lines on the pregnancy test, motherhood looms before you as a prized treasure and your days are spent in glamorous contemplation for the moment you finally hold your baby in your arms and declare yourself ‘a mother’. But with all the glory and beauty comes hard work and confusion – motherhood is one of life’s great levellers. Now nothing can break your spirit like the will of a two year old (I’m sure some country somewhere must lock people up with a toddler as a brutal form of torture), but there is an even harder challenge that comes with parenthood. Guilt-tripping is a journey every mother regularly travels. In fact, guilt trips become an everyday occurrence for most of us.

Just this week alone, I’ve felt guilty about leaving my two year old with a childminder so I could spend some quality time with my new baby. Then the next day I felt guilty that my toddler was spending the day with me, and not interacting with other kids. I feel can’t win, no matter what I do!

It’s hard to be lonely when you’re a mum. Not because you have a child attached to your limbs 24/7 but because your brain never stops talking at you about what you should be doing (according to Supernanny, Gina Ford et al), what you’re not doing (according to your mother, neighbour, 5th aunt twice removed), and what you are doing… wrong. From the minute I’m woken by the dulcet tones of my nocturnally challenged toddler, till I drift blissfully into unconsciousness at the end of a long day, my brain never stops analysing my performance. Here’s a typical day in my head:

My beloved wakes at 6am and reluctant to depart my duvet till a more reasonable hour I either put in my earplugs and stick my head under the pillow, or shout grumpily to the next room that it’s still ‘sleepy sleepy time’. Guilt trip: was that bad? Should I not bound enthusiastically into the room like a demented Stepford Mum and lift my needing child into my bed, but then, if I do that am I encouraging her to sleep with us and it’s a slippery slope and before I know it she’ll be in our bed every morning, then all night and she’ll be 15 before she moves back into her room, but then again, I need to encourage good sleep patterns so should I go in and sooth her or should I just ignore it an she’ll learn. It’s 6.04am and I’m already exhausted from over-thinking.

I get my baby up at 7am. Guilt trip: She looks so peaceful but I’m trying to get her into a routine so I need to wake her so I can start the day’s feeding (curse Gina Ford’s Contended Baby book), so it’s for the best but I feel so bad getting her up when she just got back to sleep but it’s better that I feed her now so I can plan my day, but is that bad because maybe I should be dictated by her routine, oh dear god will someone tell me what to do, where’s the damn book?

I breastfeed her. Guilt trip: I love feeding her but it’s so restrictive and my toddler hates it and is wrapping her arms around my neck in slow strangulation, and I wish I could stop breastfeeding so at least someone else can give her a feed, and I could go out for a night and have a couple glasses of wine, but that’s terrible because she’s my child and I should want to be an udder for her, but it’s so hard with two, and I really want to stop because my boobs are sore, but I fed number one for 7 months so I can’t really stop number two at 4 months because that wouldn’t be fair, and she might resent me when she’s older and oh how I wish I could sink a bottle of gin.

And so my day continues. I guilt trip about not spending enough time on my toddler. I then guilt trip that I’m being too distracted with my toddler and not spending enough time on my baby. I feel guilty about wanting a life outside of the house, and then feel guilty while getting my legs waxed that I’m not an earth mother who should grow hairy legs in favour of finger painting on the walls (being an earth mother I surely wouldn’t care about the wallpaper). I feel guilty if I have a day in the house with them because I‘m too tired to go out, yet I feel guilty if they spend too long in the car seat, or don’t get their lunch time sleep on time because we’re at playgroup. I feel guilty about drinking tea, wine and eating chocolate while breastfeeding, but then if I don’t eat at least one Galaxy bar a day I’m grumpy and then feel guilty about shouting. I feel guilty about eating too much tuna (mercury levels!!!) and then about not eating enough (Omega 3!!!).

It’s almost enough to send me over the edge of reason and head for a holiday at The Priory. But of course – as with all things parental – every so often, the clouds move back so the sun can shine on your silver lining. Just as the guilty voice can drown out thoughts, so pride can make you feel like shouting out from the rooftops. You allow yourself to see your child as an outsider might. She is laughing, confident and happy. Surely you must be doing something right? Your house is still standing, your clothes are all vaguely clean, and there is food in your fridge. Some may even be organic. Surely that’s a good sign? Your toddler gets all the pieces in her jigsaw for the first time, and her face turns to yours in open delight as she hugs you. Somewhere, somehow I’m doing something right.

So I’m trying to take less trips to guilt-land, and ride the waves of pride a little more. Like an alcoholic I must stand up every morning and say out loud, “my name is Alana and I’m a good mum”. Because I am. I may not get it right all the time. I may make mistakes every day. But I’m doing the best I can and I think that’s ok. And for a little time at least, when my girls are smiling and giggling at each other, the guilt takes a back seat as pride overwhelms me and I feel like the best mum in the world.

Published in Modern Mum, Winter 2007 issue)

About Grin & Tonic by Alana Kirk

Bouncing into middle age armed with courage, ambition and a pair of tweezers (chin hairs for anyone over the age of 45 reading this) I am a writer with a mission: to redefine this midway point in my life when the last thing I want to do is hang up my high heels and become invisible. This is the end of the beginning, not the beginning of the end. A single mum to 3 fabulous girls, an author, and a fundraising consultant, both ends of my candle are on fire. As I enter this new stage of my life, I want to explore what it means for 'mid-aged' women today, who were promised they could have it all, ended up doing it all, and just do not identify with the traditional image of middle age.
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