This one has been on my mind and in my heart for quite a while. Truthfully, I’ve been mulling it over in its ever-evolving forms since the moment my first son was born almost three years ago. In all that time I’ve not really come up with any great resolution but thanks to conversations with my bests – one of whom became a first time mama eight weeks before my second babe arrived – and connections through social media the main thing I’ve realised is I’m not alone.
I’d never considered it before. Never read an article or been part of a discussion that addressed it. I knew I was going to be tired, emotional, busy. I was told a hundred times how I’d be tied to my sofa, wouldn’t read a book for the next five years and how this was the easy part. Never a helpful sentiment.
But the guilt that would creep in along with all of those other things? No one ever mentioned it. Which is odd, because where those other things fade over time or at least settle as you adjust to your new role, the guilt never does. It sticks around. Sometimes dormant, sometimes downright painful but never actually gone. So why did no one warn me?
Three years later and I have an inkling of why and why, therefore, I wasn’t prepared for it.
We as women are a hot topic of conversation. Our bodies and our right to decide what to do with them. Our kids, how we should have them and what we should teach them. Our careers, what we should be earning and how we should be balancing it all. Having it all.
In this exceptional, modern world where the options seem limitless expectations are high and opinions are rife. Yet somehow no matter what route we choose and how right it feels for us personally we’re still unsettled. We see other women choosing different routes and the comparison runs away with us. We struggle just to be ourselves. To own our decisions and to walk our own paths with no fear of judgement.
We feel guilty for not working. For not providing financially. For not being high-flying career women when our female predecessors have given everything they had to pave the way for us. We feel guilty for going back to work, for being that same career woman. For leaving our kids with strangers. Guilty for enjoying the freedom that rejoining an adult world gives and the identity it returns to you.
We feel guilty for taking time to ourselves. To write a blog post, take a yoga class or go to the toilet. For asking the kids to wait while we finish making our morning coffee. For getting annoyed at them having a clingy day when we have a million other things to do.
Or we feel guilty for not pushing forward with our personal lives. Cutting back time from friends or date nights with our partners because, well, we’re wrecked.
And then worst of all? We feel guilty for feeling guilty. Because I of all people, having had three other babies who never made it earthside, know how much of a treasure it is to actually have these little terrors hanging off our necks and rubbing buttery toast into our trousers.
So we bury the feeling deep down, slap those fixed smiles back on our faces and say no more about it.
And then there’s more. Alongside the inspired, taboo-shattering movement of baring all and sharing our flaws via social media, a parallel comparative culture has risen in equal strength.
The thing about Pinterest, and more specifically, Instagram, is that they’re first and foremost visual tools. It’s photo-sharing. How you choose to share your photos is entirely up to you and, surely, that’s the beauty of it? Quick snippets of your life or planned to a fine art, filtered or straight from your camera roll, haphazardly uploaded or with a highly honed theme. The choice is yours and that is something to be celebrated.
We, of course, find ourselves drawn in droves to the beautiful accounts. Those clean white feeds. The bonnet-clad kids. The gorgeous homes. I love them; they’re so soothing, it’s like escapism! But it’s about retaining perspective while you use these incredible tools and browse these beautiful accounts. Otherwise you may find yourself sliding down a dangerous slope of self-doubt and mis-guided self-projection.
Those angelic, clean-faced cherubs in linen bloomers. No spaghetti stains, Jaffa cake residue or dried-in poo streaks to be found. Obviously not struggling with the washing. Guilt.
Two bubs napping contentedly together day in day out when you can’t even manage to get one kid to sleep through the night or stop them slapping each other. Guilt.
That stunning Scandi nursery with expensive Beni rug and collection of pristine wooden toys. When you’re sat looking at two hundred pieces of plastic Fisher Price up-ended on your yoghurt-smeared IKEA rug that you can’t afford to replace. Guilt.
Those little smiling faces, always happy, not a tv screen in sight. She clearly did not yell at her kids this morning because they were moaning over the milk being too cold and Max & Ruby streaming too slow. Guilt.
Remember, perspective. Those squares are just snippets of someone else’s life. Not a representation of 24 hours in a day. And maybe they’re perfect. Or maybe all the crap has just been shimmied off camera, the laundry hidden behind the couch and the kid caught laughing in the middle of a total meltdown. Who cares? Celebrate it as inspiration but quit the comparisons. Some of my favourite Insta-follows have nailed that balance between beautiful imagery and honest words. Amanda Tyler, Chrissy Powers and Sarah Gizzi are just a few to note. Strong, talented women keeping it real.
Wherever it comes from, whatever triggers it, be it primal or petty, to a certain extent we put this guilt on ourselves and it’s time to push back.
Most importantly, acknowledgement is power. Rather than trying block it out and pretend nothing is untoward, tipping your hat to the very existence of guilt provides you with the opportunity to own the emotion rather than the emotion own you.
Secondly, arm yourself with the knowledge that the feeling of guilt, be it big or small, is normal. Everyone is affected to one degree or another. The clean white feeds and the Fisher Price mamas alike. It existed before the days of social media and it will exist beyond us, evolving with our kids and grandkids into forms I can’t even imagine.
Lastly, be yourself, be honest and be open. Celebrate the good days unapologetically and cherish when it all flows just right. But for your own sake and for the sake of your fellow mamas and mamas to come, never pretend it’s fine when it isn’t. Mum guilt doesn’t make you weird. It doesn’t make you unstable and it certainly doesn’t make you a bad mum.
I read an amazing post by Constance Hall this week in which a friend reassured her that, despite being pissed off with her kids (oh, hello guilt) and losing her temper with them (yah, more guilt) she was a great Mum and that a communicative, noisy home is better than a fearful, silent one.
So whether it be with your words or a picture or over a coffee with your best, release that guilt and don’t let it eat you up. Whatever your therapy, enlist it. The old cliche of a problem shared? There’s a reason therapy works. And why strong, empathetic friendships are the key to emotional balance in your adult life.
Sharing relieves the pressure. Solidarity heals the pain.
I doubt the guilt ever really goes away and I’m sure you more experienced mama’s would confirm that, but no more sweeping it under the carpet. Let’s stand together in all our differences, across all our paths; self-empowered and self-assured. You’re doing GREAT, mama.