Come one come all, and listen to a tale of woe. A story about a mother, so twisted by the opinion of others and the influence of social media, that she suffered a truly horrible affliction known as… ‘mum guilt’.
Sounds truly horrible right? Truth is this shit is at epidemic stage! (Note: I swear, not for the sake of it but for effect. Sorry – hang in there, it’s really not that bad)
Show me a mother who says she has never felt a pang of mum guilt and you will have yourself a liar people. It seems no matter where we turn mum guilt is on the up. Everyone has heard of it, everyone has felt it, and yet we still fall prey to its cold pitiful grasp. Why? Well that is a very good question.
Since the dawn of time people have had babies, it’s pretty much how population growth works. Over the course of time there have however been various changes to the way we not only have, but also raise said babies. Biology, medical advances, technology, community – it has all adapted and changed, and with it has the way we raise our kids. Once upon a time it was the norm for a woman to not work and to stay at home raising her (generally bountiful) offspring. There was a sense of community. The proverb “it takes a village to raise a child” was most likely deeply rooted in this era. Today’s parenting landscape however is vastly different.
Think of what the typical family unit is, by definition, to you. Now share that with the person next to you (or wait until you know the person next to you, do not interact with that creepy person sitting next to you on the train!). Okay for safety’s sake scrap that step. Instead, survey 5 people you know and I can almost certainly guarantee one thing – the answers will not all be the same. Yes the stock standard “mum and dad with 2.5 kids, a white picket fence and a dog called Spot” will get trotted out, but more and more the answer is changing. Take my family for example – Mum and dad with 1 child, no front fence and dog is called Lara, or LARA when she’s being naughty (she’s a Beagle, that happens a lot). Other families I can think of include mum and dad with 2 kids, mum with 1 kid, mum and mum with 2 kids and 2 dogs (busy house!). The landscape is changing.
As the landscape changes, so do a lot of other things, including how we function as a society. The generation before mine cannot fathom airing one’s ‘dirty laundry’ on social media, but we have all see the good old cryptic Facebook status or the heartbreak/revenge Instagram ‘square of truth’. The current generation like to share, but that is not always a good thing.
I will be the first one to admit I have found great solace and confidence in myself as a mother from social media. Throwing a question out there to the local mum’s Facebook group at 1am gets you instant advice and feedback from other people on the same journey as you, sleep deprived and all! Yes yes, there is often a bit of ‘Mean Girls’ action happening on these pages, but that is nothing a good admin team can’t sort out (if you are a Newcastle/Hunter Valley mum you need to get among the ‘NHM Newcastle/Hunter Mums Group‘ action, their admins are brilliant!). I will be the first to admit though, that I have fallen victim to the epidemic that is sweeping mum’s world-wide: mum guilt.
That perfect Instagram shot where it looks like no one else is around (but someone has to be taking the picture right?!), the kids don’t have grubby clothes or faces, and mum doesn’t have a hair out-of-place. The snaps of family holidays to Disneyland when your biggest trip is to Aldi for the Special Deals (though that one kind of compares to the running of the bulls, so that can count as ‘exotic’). The image of the mum who can be at home full-time with her babe/s for as long as they need her to be, or she feels the need to be. Ouch, multiple bouts of mum guilt right there.
Mum guilt is born of one thing that we all have in common – love for our babes. A desire to give them the best of everything, to be there to witness every single accomplishment no matter how small, and to experience such moments of pure joy and bliss with them that the years of no sleep and snotty noses are all but forgotten. So why do we feel it?
Some say it is the competitive side social media brings out in us. I’ll pay that, because if you get too wrapped up in those squares and status updates you sure as heck can get a little green with envy, which doesn’t always bring out the best in us. Others say it is the rise in working mum’s. When you have to return to work just to break even each week, only to feel sick at the thought of leaving your babes with someone else. This one resonates most strongly with me. Sure I have felt that competitive beast rumble within whilst scrolling through Instagram, but for me personally it is the working mum juggle that hit me in the feels. I wrote about this for a fab site called Self Start Mums back in March. I highly suggest you take a look-see of course!
When I returned to work from maternity leave, it was a little earlier than I had intended. That whole shebang can be read about here. I knew I wouldn’t like it, but when life gives you lemons best to just get the salt and Tequila ready! What I wasn’t prepared for was the guilt. I was doing the very best thing for my family. I was ensuring we had a roof over our heads and food in our bellies, and yet it still hit me. Guilt…… meh…… my babe was at home with his dad. He wasn’t being left with a stranger, or being dropped to a centre full to the brim with other kids. He was with the other person who loves him most. It still got me though.
The more mothers I talk to thought the more I learn that mum guilt does not discriminate. It hits those who work, those who don’t. Those who have to work to survive, those who choose to for their sanity or to fulfill their personal goals. It hammers mum’s who are dressing their kids in new clothes while they are still trying to fit their post-baby bodies into their pre-baby clothes. It targets first time mum’s and those who have done it all before. And as I most recently found out through talking to a colleague at work, the bastard doesn’t go away once you are a few years into this motherhood gig.
All sounds a little grim doesn’t it? Well, thankfully there is a solution, but it’s going to take some work (because we all need MORE to do right!):
- Find your tribe, love them hard – I found this saying made my eyes roll at first, but I get it now, I truly do… because I have found mine
- Put down the phone/laptop/desktop (why are you carrying that thing around?!) – if it’s all feeling a little overwhelming and you find the green-eyed monster knocking on your door, log off. Go outside, ground yourself (in the earthly sense not the ‘go to your room’ sense), sit down and be silly with your babe. It will pass, and your perspective will clear
- Know yourself – as a mother, as a wife, as a friend/daughter/employee/sister/dog-mum/whatever. Know that you are the very best person to be that little ones mumma, and own that shit!
- Be realistic – those perfect Instagram squares you’re looking at take a whole lot of work you know. That picture-perfect family portrait took around 562 clicks, 25 filter changes and more than a few grey hairs in most cases, just ask any professional photographer how many snaps they take to get the one great shot
- Forgive yourself – this one here is my fave. You won’t always be perfect. Sometimes you will yell, sometimes you will cry, sometimes your kids will eat chicken nuggets 3 nights in a row because you just do not have the will to fight them about it at the moment. They’re fed, ‘this too shall pass’, and tomorrow is a new day to try again.
Have I waxed-lyrical enough for you? In all seriousness though, no one is perfect at this game. We all get played by it from time to time, and every now and then we score a perfect round. Enjoy those moments, breathe your way through the rubbish ones, and live to fight another day (especially if you have a toddler). Go on mumma, you got this.
Now I am off to stick this post to my fridge, because we all need a little reminder from time to time!
(See below for photo of mum guilt in overdrive – Parker’s second day in childcare, the first day he cried when I left him)