When I entered into motherhood nearly eleven years ago I never expected to be so guilt ridden most of the time. I think it is fair to say that women in general carry a heavier load when it comes to feeling guilty about all sorts of things but becoming a mother has definitely turned the volume up.
Things that I feel guilty about now, but never did before I had children:
- Eating the last bit of …. anything
- Going out in the evening and missing part of the children’s night time routine
- Spending any time away from the children pursuing my own interests
- Going food shopping with the children, and going food shopping without the children
- Cooking a meal that I like and the children don’t
- Having a lie-in
- Spending money on myself
- Allowing the children sweets, crisps and fishfingers
- Knitting or crocheting in the evening instead of folding washing
- Leaving the housework and spending time with the children or leaving the children to themselves and doing the housework
It is difficult to call the changes in my life ‘sacrifices’ when most of the time my choices were made out of love and an innate instinct of being a mother. I do know, however, that it has been much easier for me to let go of something for myself than consciously claim something at the apparent cost of my family.
My life after children has changed so much that for years I did not remember or know who I was beyond being a mother. The routine that was established in our house – which by the way has been life and sanity saving whilst trying to physically cope with four young children – goes mostly against my natural preferences.
Just to mention a few examples:
- I like to take the day as it comes … try it with children and disaster is guaranteed
- If I have a ‘low’ day I would take things easy, read, sleep and just have a little time to reflect and re-generate from within … try this with children and your home is turned upside down.
- I like holidays where solitude is imperative: reading, exercise, nice meals out, sunshine, peace and quiet … try this with young children and you find out what it means to have an anti-holiday-hell!
- I like peace and quiet but in trying to get it, I shout at the children!
So having changed my/our lives completely round to make sure that our children have a loving home, routine, rhythm and a feeling of security I have to admit (with a huge amount of guilt) that I feel utterly trapped at times.
And yes, I too tried to get back into my old job when my first two children were of toddler age and we had the ‘live-in-nanny’ look after them. Unfortunately I could never quite rid myself of the guilt then either: at work I felt guilty because I felt I needed to be at home, and at home I felt guilty because I felt I needed to be at work. Peer pressure from any camp (those who advocate for mums to be at home versus those who advocate for mums to return back to work) was utterly unhelpful and confused me more and more in knowing what I need to/have to/should do to serve my family… and, ah yes – here it comes – to serve MYSELF well.
I don’t have the magic answer but I have found a way to address every situation where I feel torn in a calm and considered way. I simply ask and check with myself:
‘Whose needs are greater?’
And yes, of course I am biased, as I am the judge of it, but I also trust that I know my children and myself.
It also helps to be conscious that there might be a conflict of interest, which in itself can help to move things on. I don’t feel I am the slave of my guilt when I take a moment to check internally that what I am/we are about to do is serving the need of those whose need is greater in that particular context. I can make a conscious decision, and work with the possible consequences.
I don’t think I will ever be guilt free (show me any woman who is!) and I don’t claim that I always get it right (come on, we need to keep our psychotherapists in work). I know when I have gone wrong ‘things just don’t feel right’ despite what the rest of the world might think. I believe that every situation warrants individuality and every family makes their own choices. However I hope that they can make them by trusting their instincts and intuition rather than following peer pressure, a sense of guilt or what other people might think of them.
I am sharing this in the hope that those who suffer like me from guilt may find a way to make choices that leave you feeling good.
Just remember we are all trying our best and maybe I am not the perfect mother but maybe trying to be a ‘good mother’ is enough?!
Steffi Stern lives with five chickens, four children, three dogs, two cats, one husband, and still finds time to run the Mother Goose shop in Nailsworth, Gloucestershire. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was originally published in the May/Jun 2012 edition of Goose Life.