Remember that time you ate too much at McDonald’s and you felt naughty and resentful of your inability to stop yourself from those extra fries? Multiply that emotion by one million, and you are in the ballpark of mum guilt.
I’ve read stuff online which says that mums who feel guilty and exhausted are amazing parents. I feel both of those emotions pretty regularly and, although I think I’m doing OK most of the time, what if I don’t believe the latter bit? What if, when those pangs of mum guilt hit, instead of feeling smug about my parenting skills I actually feel like a failing fraud? Not exactly a shit mum but maybe not the best version of a parent I could be. Definitely not the parent I thought I would be before I got pregnant.
In recent months, I’ve noticed that there’s a pattern for when mum guilt strikes. Here are some of my top sources of mum guilt and how they manifest themselves for me and my delicious toddler, TJ.
Scowls and scolding
I try my best to teach TJ right from wrong. I correct him if he does something naughty and I don’t stand for stupid stuff, like refusing to wear a coat. But, just one moment of sternness, especially if it provokes tears from either one of us, leaves me feeling like I’ve just kicked a puppy in the face. I then spend approximately three days berating myself for not handling the situation better. I worry about what life lessons I’m teaching TJ on how to cope with negative emotions. Yet, I’m not sure how I could do some of these things differently (suggestions welcome!) because otherwise, I would be raising TJ to be more than a little bit feral which I would also feel guilty for … how ironic.
I need a digital babysitter in my life. As a single mum, I simply don’t know how life would happen without it. Peter Rabbit and his friends do a great job of entertaining TJ while I prepare lunch or go for a wee without having to balance a clingy toddler on my lap (true story). Before I bought TJ a tablet for Christmas I worried that at two-years-old, it was a little early to get him electronically addicted. But, that tiny screen has been a lifesaver in more ways than one. Car rides longer than 15 minutes were becoming problematic with TJ regularly attempting to break free from his car seat as soon as the journey got a little tedious. A dangerous game as we hurtle down the M3 every other Friday to daddy daycare. So, the sound of Peppa Pig coming from the back seat may be the small price to pay to keep TJ safe and I sane. I will just ignore the judgemental (or jealous) proper parents in the cars that pass us.
Ah, I’m pulling out the big guns now. I’ve written enough, for now about how I have been coping with life as a single mum. But what about TJ and how’s he been doing? Some days I marvel at how well he has adapted and taken much of his new living arrangement in his stride. But I do wonder if he thinks this is how all families live – that all mummies and daddies have separate homes. I am proud of how well TJ is coping with so much in his young life, that said, we’ve also had our moments. They usually occur when the ‘new routine’ is broken. He probably doesn’t understand why he’s not at daddy’s house after nursery or why mummy isn’t there every morning anymore. But, until he’s a little older, I will never really know what’s going on in that beautiful little head of his. The plus side to all this is I have some time to figure out how best to answer the questions which will no doubt come.
TJ has recently learnt how to express simple emotions and to recognise them in others, with impressive accuracy. He knows ‘happy’ and ‘sad’, and he can relate them to his own feelings and to how other people may be feeling. Great, he’s developing fast and learning so well. But it’s a real heartbreaker when he says ‘mummy, I sad’ or, even more heartbreaking, ‘why mummy sad?’ Causing me to choke back the blubs as a wave of mum guilt hits. Luckily, this doesn’t make me (immediately) reach for the wine as these moments are balanced out by times when TJ says he is happy or he recognises that emotion in me as I beam at him.
I left TJ’s dad in the hope of a better life for all three of us as living under the same roof just wasn’t working. But what if TJ’s current and future living arrangements are a source of bitterness, pain, and sadness as he grows up? I will always do all that I can to ensure that doesn’t happen. I hope that TJ will draw strength of character in himself and from the strong role models who he will have around him (I count myself as one of those). But not everything is under my control of course. TJ will react as he chooses to as he grows into the man he will be. I just hope that he will understand that the choices I have made and the ones I continue to make are always with him at heart.
I wish I could say that I have a specific coping mechanism to deal with it. I don’t. Not yet, at least. In the moment, I try to explain to TJ what has happened. I apologise if I feel my behaviour was out of order. Leaving the room for a minute to calm down helps. Also, when it’s over and TJ’s in bed, wine definitely helps.
It’s always good to talk and swapping parenting stories with my ‘mum friends’ is a good way to release and not feel like I’m the only one who gets the guilts. But, above all, I try my best to remember that I am not a bad mum. We all feel this way sometimes, guilt can hit the best of us – mums, dads, brothers, sisters – all of us, no matter what our situations.
I just have to learn to banish that mum guilt over the line.