It was the first week of school and I was helping my two 4 year old boys to undress their school uniforms only to notice that I had send them to school without underwear! How shocking? Well, not really. I didn't loose a beat and just laughed. I had laid out their clothes in the morning and forgot to give them undies. Am I a bad mother? Not in a million years. Did I feel guilty? Was I ashamed to admit this to my husband, that I was not perfect? No. Why should I! I just don't sweat the small stuff.
When you use your bandwidth to do things that interest you and you want to create something beyond the 'happy family' scenario, these things happen. I've lowered my standards as a 'mother who does and knows it all' in order to make space for the woman I was before children were born.
The transformation from a woman to a mother has always intrigued me, already before becoming a mother myself. I never understood why so many women stop doing what they used to love after having children? Why do they stop being the woman they really are and sacrifice their own identity to become a mother? (BTW, women love the word sacrifice because it makes them feel worthy.)
Four and a half years ago I had twin boys and sure I went through a period where even my husband was worried what had happened to me. 'Where's my ass kicking business girl?!' he'd ask. But once the breast milk fumes had evaporated and the body more or less recovered from the ordeal I couldn't deny my internal instinct and who I was - I love working! And I simply refused to give up who I was for the next 10 years to only support my children.
Why? Because I think my children would suffer if I did! A mother who loves what she is about and is energised by the work she does can surely offer a wonderful environment to her children to grow up in.
I'd like to open a debate on mother guilt. What's more I'd like to free all women from it, but that may be a big ask. Some serious work on attitudes has to be done before it becomes a reality. So let's start guilt busting today!
The mainstream view is that women should give up almost everything to care for their young. Magazine interviews are full of women declaring 'how after becoming mother they have changed so much and how children are now the centre of everything they do'. And women who combine motherhood and work constantly look for approval for their choices through the guilt factor, not being able to be there for their kids all the time. If you say you feel so guilty, it seems to free you from taking responsibility of your choices. Would be refreshing if someone said, 'I love working and I don't feel at all guilty about it. When I'm with my children, I love it and enjoy it to the full.'
Miriam Clegg blames society's narrow views in a recent comment at The Telegraph, women are held back by absurd labels and lack of female role models. I agree there's a lack of role models, but rather than waiting for the society's views to change, women should change their own attitudes first and not let themselves being bullied into stereotypes or doing what they think is expected of them. We should proudly define our own style of motherhood!
With this approach comes responsibility. You can't hide behind motherhood and guilt, because you have to arrange your life so that it works for everybody. Many women refuse to do that. It's much easier to hide behind the labels. 'I don't have time because I have to check my kids homework.' Sure. But not every night you don't. Lower your standards and delegate, suddenly you free up time for yourself. However, according to study, 70% of women who could afford to hire outside help refuse to use it. If you refuse to hire help or delegate to other members of the family very little can be done. Feel free to enjoy your guilt!
Here's a list of typical 'mother guilt' topics:
"I'm guilty because I can't spend all my time with my kids."
-> People have to work, it's just a fact of life. Humans have always worked. Don't inject your guilt onto your children. Own your choices and be proud of them. Be a role model, not a whimp.
"I'm guilty because I can't provide absolutely perfect set up for my kids. I occasionally forget to put on their underwear."
-> There is always going to be a lot of imperfection in the universe. Let them get used to it. They will have to deal with it sooner or later. It's ok.
"I'm guilty if I other people take care of my kids for a while. No-one does such a good job as I do."
-> Don't own your children. Let them learn and deal with different styles of care. Most care that your immediate family or a nanny can provide is going to be good enough. Your kids will learn to deal with different people, styles and situations. Life is like that.
"I'm guilty because I can't be there to help them make all the decisions."
-> There are a couple of important decisions mothers should be making for their kids. The rest, just leave them be. For instance, kids can come up with their own play and will become much more creative for it. You don't have to micromanage their every move.
We'd like to re-define mother guilt and we have drawn up a list of our own.
Our new List of Great Sources for Mother Guilt. (Pick from this list if you really want to feel guilty about your parenting style.)
"I'm guilty because I let my own daily frustrations crush my child's enthusiasm and passion."
-> This, for me, is the biggest of the sins mothers can commit.
A story. A typical trip to a local NHS clinic with my child for an ear infection (or something). We were sitting in the waiting room with other mothers and kids. A lively 4 year old boy was skipping around (his sister was the sick one) and looking at everything, asking questions and being a little noisy. The mother absolutely crushed him by saying how badly he behaved and he should shut up immediately and if he didn't he'd not see his iPad for a week (we all know that works!). She didn't explain why it was important to behave at an NHS waiting room. (Is it important to behave at an NHS waiting room?!) She didn't ask him politely. She dismissed his persona with a deep disapproving sigh. He shouldn't have behaved like that - like a curious 4 year old boy!
We all see these mothers who crush their children's enthusiasm at bus stops, at restaurants, in libraries, at schools. They have had a bad and long day, they are tired. But rather than taking responsibility for their own feelings they push them onto their child and completely devalue the child's behaviour. The child will grow up never quite understanding that her mother's disapproving sigh has massively reduced her chances of living her passion and being confident about her choices.
I have sometimes caught myself in a situation where I'm tired and I'm pushing my frustration onto my child. I've stopped and immediately apologised. This is probably the only moment when I have felt real mother guilt. I'd like to keep my kids free from any possible baggage I might carry. They should grow up free to be who they are, not boys who try to please their mother or avoid her moods.
-> Start dealing with your own negative feelings rather than pushing them onto your child. Try to give your child space to be who she or he really is.
"I'm guilty because by feeling guilty I transfer a feeling of guilt onto my children."
This is a less severe version of the first one. And thus less easy to spot. Mothers who feel guilty of going to work or going out for a run or to see friends seldom do it without showing their children how guilty they feel. This is a sure way do some damage. The child senses there is something wrong what his mother is doing. Why else would she apologise her behaviour?
-> Own your decisions and be proud of them. (No matter how unpleasant they might be to the child at that moment.) Explaining why it is important that you work or go out to a networking event. You kids will be just fine with the babysitter or nanny for a couple of hours!
"I'm guilty because I'm with my kids in body, but not in mind."
-> Stop fiddling with your phone and your Facebook when you are with your kids. Decide when you are going to be present and then BE.
"I'm guilty because I haven't shared what exciting and interesting things I'm doing during the day when I'm working/doing the projects I enjoy."
-> It's important to share your world with your children. (And for that reason it is important to create an exciting world for yourself... if the world is just about handbags and botox, don't bother sharing..) That way you can be a role model and your kids can see you enjoy life to the full. They will want to be like you. That's great!
"I'm guilty of not spending enough time with my husband and taking care of his needs."
-> Kids should understand that he was there first. If your relationship flourishes with your partner, their life will be much better on longer term too. Relationships need time and effort. What you put in you will get out. Don't use kids as an excuse, make an effort.
Women should stop feeling guilty about things that are part of living a normal life and doing something what they love for themselves. Women should stop beating themselves up when they fall short fulfilling other people's (society's/ media's) expectations.
1) Define who you are and what could be an 'optimal you'. Don't be afraid to embrace your dreams!
2) Make time to develop the areas you want to develop for yourself. Put it to action. Do it daily.
3) Own your decisions and be proud of them. Think of yourself as a role model for your children, not a slave.
What kind of role model would you like to be? What should mothers feel guilty about? Or are we ready to ditch the idea of guilt and embrace life?