The Guilt Factor

Each morning, Monday to Friday, for the last 10 minutes of my commute to work just before I walk into the office building, I try and FaceTime the boys for a chat, especially on mornings where they are asleep when I’m leaving the house and I haven’t seen them yet. Alex usually blows me kisses and babbles very important things at me. Rian, more often than not doesn’t want to talk. This morning though, when I was having chats with Alex, in the background he said: ‘ I don’t want to talk to Mama on the phone, I want to talk to her here!’.

For a moment I considered turning around and going straight back home again, giving him a hug and telling him I’ll never leave him. But I can’t, because I have to go to work – and I want to go to work too – and at the end of the day, the bills need to get paid. So I felt the usual pang of guilt that I usually feel a few times a day, except a bit worse than usual because he had said that, and finished my gurgley chat with Alex and headed towards my desk, feeling pretty crap about myself as a mother.

If I had the freedom to choose, I don’t think I would choose to be a full time stay at home mother, I just know it wouldn’t be for me. Part time would be my ideal option, because at same time, I want to be with them all the time too. It’s that very tricky, ever elusive, perfect balance.

Guilt is something I became familiar with very early on, in fact, since the start of my first pregnancy. We are IVF parents, very very lucky ones at that, our treatment worked. So it was a bit of a surprise to me that I didn’t particularly enjoy being pregnant – extremely grateful yes, of course, but pregnancy for me was months of nausea, vomiting, swollen feet, extreme heartburn… ok my hair got a bit thicker and softer and my skin looked nice and almost glowy (possibly from the hot flushes!) for a while but even that catches up with you after the baby is born and your hair falls out and you’re left with these mad sticky outy bits all over your head while it grows back to normal again…!! Aaand breathe…! So no, if I’m honest, I didn’t enjoy being pregnant for the most part. Appreciative, yes, and lots of it I did love and cherish – the feeling of Bump moving around or kicking, but not really any of the rest of it.

Anyway back to the point… so I didn’t enjoy pregnancy, it was tough. I felt guilty about that because of our IVF and I thought of all the women who would swap places with me in a heartbeat because I used to be that woman too. And of course the moment they’re born you’re guilty all the time, am I doing this right, did I do that wrong?

When I went back to work after Rian’s maternity leave, the guilt was immense. How could I leave him every day, why was I working for a major chunk of my wages to pay someone else to see all of his ‘firsts’? And it only got worse, after I had Alex I thought I would be prepared for how it would feel to go back to work, but in fact it was worse again because what I wasn’t prepared for was Rian being old enough now to ask me, after a year of being home, ‘Mama, where are you going? Why won’t you stay here with me?’

It was very hard. I questioned myself a lot at the return to work last year. Why am I doing this?? Oh yes, then I remembered, I just don’t have the choice.

So why do we do this to ourselves? Is there a way to come to terms with this guilt or are we just destined to never be happy whatever the situation is – whether we give up work and stay at home, or if we choose not to stay at home?

I thought a lot last year about whether I wanted to give up work, assuming we could afford it and I could stay at home. It would be tight, but I think if we cut back enough we could probably get by on one wage. And is it even fair to assume that it would be me who stays home, what if their Dad wanted to stay home? I admit that thought didn’t even occur to me at the start. But even if I did stay home, I think the guilt would still find me anyway, and make me think about other things – can we afford to save for their college fund? Can we afford to give them all the things we want to?

And the other thought is – really the main reason I don’t want to give up my job – what will I do when they’re older and not as dependent on me? What if I want to go back to work then, when they’re off to school, and I have a five or six year gap on my CV – it’s hard enough going back after maternity leave,  your confidence is shaken a lot, or at least mine was. So a big gap, for me, would be very intimidating. So is it selfish of me to not want to be in that situation, to not want to sacrifice my career? Does that mean I’m a bad mother? And the guilt factor starts again.

Being a working mother, it sneaks up on you on a regular basis. When a work commitment clashes with an event at their creche or playschool, and we’re faced with missing it. Guilt. At Rian’s playschool Sport’s Day back in June, I took the day off work. Within the first ten minutes, three other mothers had mentioned to me that they hadn’t realised that our childminder, who they see every day dropping off and collecting Rian, wasn’t in fact his mother. Ouch.

Recently, our childcare situation  changed, and I was forced again to consider all of these points. I really struggle to come to some sense of peace with the fact that I’m gone all day from them. Today was their first day in a creche – Alex in particular has never been minded outside his own home until today – and I wasn’t there to drop them off. Guilty. They’re fine of course – the staff are amazing and sent me little updates and photos of them happily playing away, but my guilty mind goes into overdrive and I wonder what will they think of these decisions I’m making now when they’re all grown up? Will they think I’m selfish? Will they resent the fact that I ‘chose’ to leave them with someone other than me while I ‘chose’ not to give up my career? Ultimately, I suppose I’m thinking – how will they judge me? Am I ruining their childhood?!

I don’t know how to make the guilt go away, but I have decided to make some rules for myself.

  • I am not a bad mother. I am doing my best, along with everyone else. Yes, I go to work for myself because I enjoy it, but also of course so that I can give them everything I possibly can not just now but later in life too. I’m doing my best, and I have to tell myself that my best IS good enough.
  • Don’t focus on the negatives – instead I will focus on the times I am there. Their little faces when they see me coming through the door each evening, and the fun we can have all weekend. It makes me more grateful and appreciative of those times.
  • Most importantly of all: I make it my mission that they know they are loved. I know they know. And once they know that, I know I’m not failing completely.

Whatever way I look at it, mother guilt is here to stay, no matter what type of mother you are. There’s no point in questioning why we beat ourselves up over it, but in the end all I can suggest is that we get off our own backs, get off our own cases, and make the most of whatever situation we’re in. Guilt is not a choice, but how we deal with it certainly is.

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Circumstance vs Choice

* This post was also featured on HerFamily.ie!*

We’ve often heard someone say something along the lines of how boring life would be if everyone was the same – and it’s true. I’ve never really been the sort of person who is afraid or shy about voicing their opinion. When I was younger of course it used to matter to me a lot more about what people thought of me, or what they thought of what I did or didn’t do. But I think around the time I left my 20s I just stopped caring about it, and the freedom that brings is great.However it is still human nature to judge people…it’s just what we do whether we admit it or even know it. I like to think I can keep an open mind and not generalise people or make assumptions about them but of course I do to some degree despite my best intentions. But I’ve never come across such open judgement like the type I’ve experienced since entering baby world – and what’s worse is that it’s women judging women. Mother vs Mother.

 

When I was pregnant and still blissfully ignorant of what was ahead of me, I had all sorts of grand plans about the type of mother I would be. For example, I would certainly be breastfeeding – this was top of my list (even if at first the only reason was because it is said to help you lose a load of weight!), but it was important to me that I would breastfeed because I personally believe that’s what is best. I did my own research and reading on it and this was my personal decision. I would install sleeping and eating routines as early as possible, I would do all these brilliant and perfect parenting things to ensure I was doing my best.

 

But what I didn’t bank on was that once the baby arrived, I was given very little choice in most of these things. Almost everything I had planned, the opposite happened. I ended up having an emergency section, so that affected the skin to skin time that I had planned for after the birth. He ended up having to go up to the care unit the morning after he was born, and that affected our breastfeeding plans. He had colic, and that affected almost all our plans! At first I took it upon myself to feel guilty about all these things – most especially the breastfeeding. But the fact of the matter was that no matter how I tried to breastfeed, he had been put on a bottle with formula while he was in the care unit because of course they had to ensure he was getting what he needed, and my milk had not fully come in yet. He refused to latch on. So I expressed for the first 7 weeks or so, and he was combination fed during that time. But I found it too hard to sustain – the routine of expressing, feeding, sterilising, making up formula almost every hour coupled with the pure exhaustion of those first few weeks and the fact his colic was pretty bad meant that I eventually settled on just formula feeding him. Even writing this now to some extent I feel like I am explaining myself. Why is that? And who am I explaining myself to? Me? I felt like I was failing him.

 

I did feel guilty. Self-imposed guilt I feel it’s important to say – not one other person ever put me under any pressure to do anything a certain way. During those night time feeds while waiting for bottles to heat up or cool down or soothing the baby and rocking him to sleep I’d often take out my phone and have a look at some online groups on Facebook. I just wanted someone to tell me that it was ok to do things the way I had to do them so I could reassure myself that I was doing it all the right way. Some groups were for breastfeeding, some were general Mum type groups, there are some great groups out there for whatever section of parenting you are looking for information on. But some of them made me feel worse. The judgement coming from them was shocking! I had thought we were all on the same team, but it turns out that for some, we’re not. There are breastfeeders vs formula feeders. Co-sleepers vs Separate Room Sleepers. Soothe to Sleep vs Cry-It-Out. And I also should point out that it was the same amount of judgement going in both directions of each argument. One of the most contentious and judgey groups was one for sleep training. One poor mother obviously desperately exhausted had posted that she felt her only option was to let the baby cry for a while. She was vilified by some of the members – it’s nothing short of bullying. Once I saw the reaction she got I left a lot of the groups. Who needs that on top of everything else?

 

Somewhere in the midst of this self-imposed guilt I came across a piece online written by a new mother. She pointed out that some people do things by choice and some by circumstance. It struck a chord with me and I remember thinking – Nail.On.Head! Reading that made me realise that I should be proud of how I was coping because in fact they were not my decisions. They were not my choice – they were my circumstances.

 

Why do we feel it’s ok to make assumptions on how other mothers choose to do things? For that matter, why do we even assume that it’s their choice in the first place? Why did one woman look at me one day in a coffee shop while she was breastfeeding her child and I was making up a formula for mine – did I imagine that look of pity or disgust she just gave me? Perhaps the look was a result of my own paranoia born from my own guilt. Or perhaps it was real. Do I make that judgement of other women? I certainly hope not.

 

Despite the negative experience I found with many online groups, my biggest source of support was – and still is – a group which also started online. The November 2014 Babies group was founded when we all discovered we were due our babies at the same time, girls from all over the country found eachother online, and from there we eventually ended up with a group on WhatsApp where we still chat to eachother daily. And let me tell you – they are the best bunch of girls with the best support, friendship and laughs I could ever need to help me figure out how to be a mother. As a rule women need to remember that we are all on the same team: Team Mother, and we are all doing a fantastic job in our own ways based on the circumstances we find ourselves in.