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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Kids Menus… WHY?

{Also published on The M Word }

Right. Ask anyone who knows me, I’m not one for giving out about anything really. I’m actually renowned for not giving out, ever. They’ll probably put it on my gravestone – Here Lies Jen (The Legend); She Never Gave Out Once.

Another trait I am partial to now and then, is sarcasm.

So yes, I’m about to start giving out about something that has irritated me since they day Rian was old enough to eat actual food in any establishment that sells food. Kids Menus.

WHAT is the STORY with children’s menus?! In a time where childhood obesity levels are at a crisis point, why are kids only ever given the choice of – Yes you’ve already guessed it – chicken goujons, burgers, fish goujons (sorry how do you spell Goujon? Gougon? Neither look right and both give me a red line typo alert….ok I just googled it and it’s goujon. Right-click, Add To Dictionary.)

While Googling how to spell Goujon, I saw some lovely looking ones appear in the search which obviously now makes me want some, cos to be fair to them they are very nice, but also it provided me with the nutritional value of what you’re eating in a 100g serving of them. That’s about 6 pieces it says. Anyway, it says that it’s 27% of recommended fat intake, 31% of daily salt intake (sodium) – and then there’s the accompanying chips which google tells me, a medium serving provides another 26% of the recommended fat intake –  so just this meal alone and your kid is over half the daily recommended levels. I’m no nutritionist but I imagine I’m not even accounting for half of the other bad stuff involved – sugars, carbohydrates, etc. I only found out that much specifically because I couldn’t remember how to spell goujon.

SO anyway, here’s a little story of what usually happens to set off this regular irritation. To celebrate a family birthday a few months back, we booked ourselves for a nice meal in a very nice local Italian restaurant. It’s the sort of place where families are welcome, yet you would still want to be controlling the noise level of your mini humans if you get me. So I had the boys with me, at the time Alex was just gone one and Rian was just gone three. Alex will happily eat whatever he’s given and Rian is old enough now to choose what he wants himself. They produce the kids menu and here we go again, it’s the same old same old. Rian sees someone at the next table with a pizza so naturally he wants one too.

Meanwhile over on the adult menu I see their roast of the day is Beef. Bingo. It’s my turn to order. ‘Hi, the three year old wants a pizza with everything on it but actually if you bring the smallest size you have, or even half the smallest size, with peppers, ham and a tiny amount of cheese, with LITERALLY five chips please, that would be great. Now I mean literally FIVE CHIPS please.’ ‘No problem, Ma’am, five chips.’ He seems to have received the message, because from experience of highlighting my need of only five chips, never ONCE has that been the result. ‘For the one year old, I see there is roast beef today, can I just get a slice or two of that with– ‘ ‘I’m sorry, Ma’am, we can only serve full size portions of the main meals’. ‘………?!…………….Ok… give me a full size one then and I’ll just give him some of mine’.

Now firstly, why they cannot just slice a couple of slices off  the roast and cut it into smaller pieces is beyond me. Surely it is less effort anyway than frying up more chicken goujons? Secondly, when the dinners are brought to the table, low and behold Rian is delivered of a pizza twice the size of his head, smothered in cheese and oil, with considerably more than five chips. He must have misheard me and thought I ordered five hundred and five. Rian is delighted with life and hoovers them all before I can try and distract him and remove half of them, and Alex happily munches away on my beef and veg, because there was nothing at all suitable for him on his own menu, oblivious to my irritation. Why do I never get what I actually ask for?

I just do not understand why kids menus can’t simply be a smaller portion size of the adult menus. Apart from health related reasons, wouldn’t it be more cost effective? And if you still wanted to give them the odd treat, they could still have the chips and burger from the adult menu anyway?

I suggest we get rid of Kids Menus and just have Menus. Order what you like but at least give parents and kids a chance at healthier options being seen as the normal option for kids. Kids don’t know they’re not supposed to like vegetables until we more or less tell them this by providing them with these kids menus. We are actually teaching them that they shouldn’t like these foods by separating their choices into goujons and chips and burgers so they think that’s all they should be eating. It’s just so bizarre to me.

Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

I’m not a health fanatic, I am constantly in a state of trying to lose about 5 stone myself, but it’s because I have spent years losing and gaining back weight and really learning about what I’m putting into my own body that I feel even more strongly about what we teach our kids from a very early age. I want them to understand their choices, not to simply say don’t eat this or do eat that, just know what it is. If you want a treat, that’s fine, everything in moderation as long as your overall efforts are the right ones.

I don’t want to come across as a killjoy either, I think my kids eat a good standard of wholesome food, at least we try our best anyway. We don’t use jars or processed foods as much as possible, but of course every so often they have ‘treat’ food as well. I absolutely do not want to appear as if I’m judging anyone here, but I just find it very irritating and extremely surprising that there simply isn’t a choice for kids. Its our responsibility to do our best for them, and to teach them to make the best choices for themselves in the future, but with no options at all, what hope have we got?