“Didn’t enroll your child in swimming lessons by 6 months of age?” Guilty. “Forgot to pack a jumper in their daycare bag?” Guilty. “Didn’t get up and attend to crying newborn even though partner was with them?” Guilty. “Enrolled them in daycare, and returned to work?” Guilty. “Had a bad day, took it out on the kids?” Guilty. “Left them with their doting grandparents overnight to spend time just with your partner?” Guilty. “Complained in full knowledge that you are blessed with a healthy child?” Guilty. “Screamed like a mad woman, spit flying, face burning, because child wouldn’t stop whinging?” Guilty. “Spent night out with friends having a drink and letting your hair down?” Guilty. “Left the TV running for a solid 8 hours because you just couldn’t be bothered?” Guilty. “Gave your child chips and nuggets three times in one week?” Guilty. “Forgot that teething gel helps when they are teething?” Guilty. “Didn’t take them to sports, dancing, ‘Rhyme Time’, playgroup, ‘Move to the Music’…” Guilty. “Forgot their 18 month check-up with the clinic nurse?” Guilty.
Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. GUILTY!
Since becoming a parent, it is almost like ‘guilty’ has become a constant state of being. Like an uncomfortable undercurrent that bubbles along in your stomach somewhere beneath the digesting food. Most of the time, I’m feeling guilty about my shortcomings as a parent.
Other times the guilt is reflected from the preconceptions of what it means to be a successful modern mother. And sometimes it's attached to things that are completely out of my control – like the weather, or something someone else said or did. The guilty feeling comes and goes but mostly just comes; sometimes warranted but usually completely unfounded.
So, if it is largely irrational and unproductive, what purpose does it serve and why do we keep letting it control our state of mind? Here’s what I’m doing to try and stop the guilt from controlling my life...my success rate so far isn’t terribly high, but it’s a good start ;).
Cut yourself some slack – You’re doing the best you can. Sure, sometimes you fail miserably and end up feeling like the most negative raving lunatic on the planet - but most of the time you’re doing a cracking job (particularly for someone who is sleep deprived and dedicating almost every waking thought to the well-being of their children). If your kids are still alive at the end of the day, consider that a win ;) I’d be willing to bet that even on a ‘bad’ day, your kids still would have laughed on at least a dozen occasions. Kids are resilient, and they generally seem to get over things quickly. Stop beating yourself up for something you did or said a week ago. Chances are they forgot about it ten minutes after it happened.
If the guilt serves no purpose, let it go – You can’t control everything and everyone in your kids’ lives. As much as you want to protect them from life’s unpleasant moments, we need to allow them to experience all facets of life in order to grow and develop as a person in their own right. They will survive – after all, we did, didn’t we?
If the guilt is productive, don’t push it down – harness it. Use it to better yourself. Use it as a trigger for addressing whatever it was that evoked it in the first place.
Accept that time alone is necessary for your health and wellbeing – Don’t allow yourself to feel guilty about taking a little time out to do the things you enjoy. If you don’t nourish your own passions every once in a while, you won’t have the energy or desire to do anything other than just get through the day. Squashing your own wants and needs all the time serves no purpose other than to teach your children that it’s ok to let go of your dreams and to stop seeking new experience and personal growth. Fair enough, if you were to put marbles into jars for time spent doing things with/for your ‘kids’, ‘partner’ or ‘self’, if there were more marbles in the ‘self’ jar than anywhere else, perhaps you’d need to rethink your priorities a little. But I’d hazard a guess that this would not be the case for any of you.
Let other people do things for your kids – Feeling guilty about letting the kids spend alone time with their grandparents sounds ridiculous when you write it down, but the fact is we do. We feel guilty because we’ve somehow got it in our heads that we are the only ones that can offer our children exactly what they need. When you say it out loud, you realise how much of a martyr you sound like! Kids need their grandparents, their mothers, their fathers, their aunts and their uncles to help guide and support their developing personalities. Admit that we are not the only people with something to offer, and allow others to step up and take part. Let go of the guilt on this one because it is straight up irrational. If these people want to be actively involved in your children’s lives, chances are they have bucket loads of love and life experience to offer them. In setting yourself free from this guilt you’ll find you can nurture your other relationships in the process, as well as help raise more socially aware, independent and well-rounded children. They’ve been telling us for decades that “it takes a village to raise a child”… perhaps we as parents need to turn on our ‘listening ears’ and take heed of this advice!