That’s the number of times I’ve felt guilty today. Well, it probably is. I haven’t actually counted. It sounds excessive, but it’s fairly normal for a mum. You see, at the precise moment that you give birth to your first child, an invisible lasso of guilt emerges from your body and attaches itself around your neck. It causes you to feel guilty about everything until (I imagine) your eldest child hits 18, and then you are freed.
Of course, I’ve felt this emotion plenty of times before. That time I was too knackered to go to a friend’s birthday drinks, so told her I was ill… the day I was so hungover after the office Christmas party, I didn’t make it into work… all those times as a student that I left the washing up for my housemate to do. But mum-guilt is in a different league. It’s an all-consuming sick feeling in the pit of your stomach that hits you at the most unexpected of times.
Top 5 times a new mum feels so guilty she’d like to curl up & cry…
- The first time you leave your baby. This is usually only for an hour or so and often the babysitter is the child’s dad or grandparents. That doesn’t matter, though. You feel like a bad mum who’s abandoning her baby.
- The first time you give your child Calpol. Until this point, your baby is untainted by chemicals, so it feels wrong to syringe that sticky, sweet syrup into their little mouths. (You’ll soon be dishing it out left, right & centre.)
- Admitting to friends how hard you’re finding being a mum. Aren’t you meant to cherish every moment? (Yes, even those 3am feeds followed by a two-hour screaming session.)
- The first time you give your baby formula. There’s nothing wrong with it, it’s good for them, but you still feel like you’ve just fed your little one a chip butty.
- When you realise you’ve had CBeebies on in the background for most of the day (Sid, Alex, Cerrie and Andy make great babysitters but good mums don’t ever switch on the TV, right?)
Even when you reason with yourself that you have nothing to feel guilty about, it’s still there. Hanging around like the Iceland chicken tikka lasagne that no one wants at a buffet.
“Guilt is such a useless, annoying emotion. It doesn’t change anything. It just makes you feel bad.”
Wise words. Said to me in a text from my best mate, yesterday. And she’s right, isn’t she? But then, if we stopped feeling so guilty, you know what would happen… we’d feel guilty about that.
If you didn’t feel guilty sometimes you wouldn’t be a normal mum 🙂 Or indeed a normal person! There are so many “what-if’s.” You can never know what would have happened if you had made different decisions so you just have to carry on with the ones you made. But as far as I can see it, as long as your child is safe, loved, fed & watered and knows that they are all of these things, you’re doing it right 🙂 Working mums wonder how their child would be if they stayed at home, stay at home mums wonder how their child would be if they had gone to nursery/childminder. You’ll never know. And everyone else has their opinion – some are more than happy to voice it (even when they’ve not been asked ;-)) I am a firm believer that it’s just as much nature as nurture that forms our childrens’ personalities. I know twins who have been raised exactly the same who are completely different in their temperament. Your friend is right, but we’d all be very cold people if we had no conscience. It’s our flaws that make us interesting!
Good point! But why can’t there be a way of us keeping ourselves (and our children) in check that doesn’t feel so gut-wrenchingly bad.
Nicol makes good points.
We all need a bit of guilt I guess to keep us in check and remind us when we’re doing something a bit wrong eg the hangover that prevents us getting to work or letting someone else pick up the slack on the housework.
I think your friend is referring specifically to mother’s guilt as being a horrible and pointless emotion. I’m sure we’d all agree that mums No.1 priority is ALWAYS to do what’s best for their child. Sometimes that means hard decisions but it seems so unfair to have to feel bad about even more minor choices when you have the best and soundest reasoning behind what you are doing eg unlike when you slack of from the dishes and know your dark side is creeping out!
…and what a wise friend she is.
Did you really not feel much guilt before you were a Mum, or did you just have less reason to remember it before?
I feel guilty a lot during a week. Examples this week include: feeling like my performance was below par at work; speaking before I thought (more than once); that “morning after the night before guilt” when I think I was a bit “in vino veritas”; avoiding attempts at contact from friends as I’m just too tired to see / speak to people at the moment. Slightly less superficially: telling Mum that I’m not going to see her this weekend as I just need some time to myself; wondering if I could have done more to help Dad etc.
Guilt is a fundamentally human emotion; it’s what makes us people. Everyone deals with it differently but no-one should ever let it take over their life (I speak as a lapsed Catholic – we do guilt!).
As long as you know in your heart that you’re a good Mum* then you should be forgetting the guilt as quickly as it hits you… and not keeping a tally.
* which you are.
I call mine the attack of the WMGs (working mother guilt)! Your friend is right, guilt is a useless emotion but I am yet to meet a mum, working or otherwise, who doesn’t feel guilty about something, every single day. From what I have heard, it does not get any better, more that you learn how not to let it to consume you.
Mine is specifically that I feel I do not see my son enough as I work full-time. One stay-at-home mum friend gave up a HUGE job when she had her daughter and feels the guilt too. There is no escape from it apparently, so what I think we are both trying to do now is accept that there are many decisions that we will make for our children that will bring on an attack of the guilts, but feel assured that it is all part of the journey. And don’t be too hard on yourself. It’s because you love your baby so much so give yourself a break every now and then 🙂
Yep, I spend most of my time feeling guilty and I have Cbeebies on right now 🙂