Manisha Ferdinand on why we should all stop feeling so flipping guilty...
It’s one of the most insidious, damaging and frankly annoying parts of being a mother. No, I’m not talking about the first ‘solid food’ nappy, although that’s also pretty bad. I’m talking about the phenomenon that a lot of us will be familiar with – our old frenemy, ‘Mum Guilt.’
No matter how confident we are in our parenting choices, Mum Guilt is there, like an unwanted guest at a party. It’s the nosy neighbour of emotions; always sticking its neck in when we have to make a decision that relates to or impacts on our children – whether it’s deciding to move from breastfeeding to formula because the former is just too hard; or going back to work because we are craving the opportunity to use our brain again; or turning on CBeebies for an hour because we simply cannot read Fox’s Socks one more time. It’s that creeping, oppressive weight sitting on our shoulders, that nasty voice whispering in our ears that we’ve made the wrong choice, or that we’ve in some way compromised our children’s happiness. And its presence is absolutely, fundamentally wrong.
Deep down, we all know that – but we thought you could stand to be reminded. So here’s why you can take that Mum guilt and dropkick it off the nearest (metaphorical) bridge:
1. Your instincts are the right ones
In the grand scheme of things, I haven’t been doing this ‘Mum’ thing for very long, although this past year in many ways has felt like a lifetime. But my mantra, every second, of every day has been ‘keep the kid alive.’ As long as we are getting through the day and he’s healthy, happy, and hopefully hasn't sustained too many injuries from throwing himself down the slide at soft play then that’s my job done. And it’s such a cliché, but that’s because it’s true – only you know what’s best for your child. So feel free to ignore all the nay-sayers who are telling you exactly why what you’re doing is wrong, and not feel guilty about ignoring them in the slightest. Because as long as you feel your child is getting what he or she needs, you’re golden.
2. But it’s fine – no, it’s NECESSARY - to admit you don’t know what you’re doing
Look, at this point we all know that no-one knows what they’re doing. How the hell can we? Nothing you’ve ever done before in life prepares you for motherhood; so there’s no possible way you can know how to do it. It is the ultimate learn on the job – and literally every single mother has gone or is going through the same thing as you. So why are still so afraid to admit it out loud? You can say it, you know. No-one is going to think any less of you. And it certainly isn’t something to feel guilty about. Your kid is never going to know you weaned them too early or too late; or that you couldn’t work out how to use the sling properly so they were at a weird angle the whole time. Seriously. It’s cool.
3. You deserve a life, too
One of the biggest sources of Mum Guilt seems to come from mothers who think having a child or children means their own life is over, and attempting to revive it in anyway is a) completely impossible b) completely selfish and / or c) completely pointless. Now, every woman feels differently about how they will reconfigure their family once children arrive, and there is no judgement on those decisions; but whatever you decide, guilt has NO PLACE there. Being a mother is now a part of who you are, but for many woman, it is not all you are.
If you want to leave the kid(s) with a babysitter for an afternoon to go and get your hair done, or go to a museum, or just sit in a room and stare, then have at it. If you decide that you never want to work again and you want to stay at home and look at your kids, you’re not giving up anything; you’re simply taking your life in a new direction. Likewise, if you want to go back to a full-time job because you crave adult conversation and drinking an entire cup of tea before it goes cold – well, I think that’s something we can all understand. Your children will undoubtedly be your life; but don’t feel guilty if you don’t want to make them your lifestyle.
4. No-one else is getting it 100% right either
That ‘perfect’ mum at the school gates, at baby sensory or that you follow on Instagram whose angelic kids are sickeningly photogenic, inexplicably pristine and nauseatingly smiley ALL THE TIME? I mean, come on, you know as well as I do that’s not the truth. We’re all just muddling through, hoping to get through the day covered in the least amount of dried food / snot / baby poo possible. Everyone’s got their thing. So why not take time to find out who that ‘perfect’ Mum’s is, and how you can help, rather than feeling guilty about not doing as good a job? Because, I’ll say it again – you really, really are.
5. Most importantly - your child is going to be great
If you care this much, you have nothing to worry about.