Thursday, 24 September 2015

Mama Guilt

I don’t know if this is the case for most mothers, but I suffer with a constant feeling of complete inadequacy. When I get around to cleaning our house – which, if I’m honest, doesn’t happen as often as it should – I find myself wondering if every other mother on the planet has a cleaner house than mine. Do they all manage to keep their houses immaculate in spite of their mess-creating offspring? I try really hard to keep our house clean and tidy, but sometimes life gets in the way. Sometimes the kids need more attention from me than usual, or something else is going on that precludes me from being able to make cleaning a priority. Sometimes I’m just too fucking tired, and then I go to bed feeling guilty for the two hours I spent sitting on the sofa, staring at the wall with the TV on in the background. I feel like I should have spent those two hours being productive and I get pissed off with myself for wasting them.

 The other thing is that I often feel completely inadequate as a mother. I read a lot on Twitter and blogs and message boards about all of the exciting adventures that mums have been on with their kids, or the crafty stuff that they spent an afternoon doing (most likely without almost coming out in hives over the mess), or even just the little walk they took... and I compare myself to these women and my kids’ lives to their kids’ lives and I feel like a hopeless case of parenting failure. I worry that my sons are bored or miserable – or both – and that I am ruining their lives by not being pro-active enough. Is literally every other mother out there doing a better job than I am at the full spectrum of parenting? Some afternoons when my husband is at work, Toddler Taylor is bored and destructive and Baby Taylor is cranky, I take them out for a ramble around where we live and I always feel this overwhelming sense of achievement that I managed to get them both out of the house on my own. How totally fucking ridiculous is that? I feel like giving myself a slow hand-clap just writing it.

This guilt/inadequacy complex often gets me thinking about Baby Taylor and the problems he has faced over the first 12 months of his life. A lot of the time I wonder if his reflux is somehow my fault. I was so sick during the early part of my pregnancy that I stopped taking my supplements because they seemed to make it worse. I've scoured the Internet, literally spent hours trying to implicate myself in his condition, and try as I might I can't find a link between the two. But then I also can't seem to accept that sometimes things just happen, especially not when it comes to my babies. I must have done something wrong during my pregnancy. Maybe it was that time I cleaned the bathroom with a bleach spray and didn’t wear gloves or open the window. Or perhaps it was that day I spent out in the garden using an electric sander on a couple of chairs; maybe the vibrations did something to him. Could I have rolled on my bump one too many times in the night and caused it? All of these ruminations are equally ludicrous and unlikely, but I will ponder over them for hours and convince myself that it is all my fault.

Sometimes I think about the breastfeeding thing too. Fucking breastfeeding. It's the most wonderful thing in the world when it goes well. It's a horror show when it doesn't. But I'll often catch myself wondering if I really tried hard enough. It was a nine week battle. I think. Who knows? It felt like fucking eternity. The idea of trying to battle through another three weeks, struggling to get him to latch on at all for a reluctant feed and otherwise pumping every hour... I felt like I'd lose my mind if I had to keep going. When I talk about it with other people, I'll say, "I tried SO hard, but he just wouldn't have it" and even as I'm saying it I'll be thinking But did I really try hard enough? Could I have done more? Was I really just doing something wrong the whole time? I think I've more or less accepted now that I'll never completely rid myself of the guilt, shame and, yes, feeling of utter fucking inadequacy... But it would be nice to forgive myself for it someday.

Being a mother is kind of all about being neurotic about stuff. I mean, when you have your first baby you’ll catch yourself staring at them while they’re sleeping, irrationally terrified that they might suddenly forget how to breathe. If you breastfeed you panic that they’re not getting enough, and if you don’t then you worry that it’ll have some catastrophic detrimental effect on them. You freak out over how they compare to their peers and spend countless hours Googling BABY MILESTONES  to try and figure out if they’re “normal”. It’s endless and constant and really fucking lonely sometimes because men just don’t seem to feel the same way, and it’s almost impossible to talk to other mothers about it in case you pick the wrong confidante and she turns out to be someone who does that awful “my baby could talk, walk and recite Shakepseare by the time s/he was six months old” one-upmanship bullshit. I hate those women. What happened to sisterhood and solidarity? Is that not a thing anymore?

I read this article once about how comparing ourselves and our lives to the people around us is ultimately really damaging, and the fact is that we probably aren’t even making an accurate comparison. Most people don’t go around telling everyone who will listen about the times they’ve fucked things up; they present us with the version of themselves that they want us to see. The same is true with motherhood, I imagine. We all have good days and bad days, but we tend to talk up the good days and gloss over the bad ones. My kids probably aren’t going to remember the boring days when we stayed inside and did nothing much of anything because mummy’s brain was numb from lack of sleep, but they will remember the days when we went on adventures and spent hours running around the garden and jumping on the trampoline. They’ll remember the afternoon when we read twenty stories in an hour and covered every inch of the floor in jigsaw puzzles. They’ll remember the day we planted the rockery, all four of us out in the sunshine together. If I judged my mothering skills by how happy my children are then I would probably be a lot kinder to myself, but I suppose that at least my constant worrying is also a constant force driving me to be a better mother and a better version of myself every day.

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