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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Before I Ever Met You

When I discovered I was going to be a mother, I sat and wondered about lots of things. Practical things like what things do we need to buy? What should we name you? HOW WILL I GET YOU OUT?!

But more than just the practical things. What would you be like? What kind of person would you be? Who would you look like?

What can I teach you?

But I never expected for it to work the other way around. What would I be like?

What do you teach me?

Before I ever met you, there was so much I didn’t know, things I didn’t know existed. Like the pure strength of the love I have for both of you. Imagine how it’s possible that you can love someone before you even meet them? You can sense and feel their life begin, and with it this amazing bond begins, with someone you’ve never even set eyes on. And then you both arrived bringing this amazing, new type of love, so strong it almost scares you in case someone takes it away. And when you both arrived, I evolved into something else.

Someone else.

Someone, who before they ever met you, never knew they could actually survive on so little sleep. Night after night, sitting up, cuddling you, rocking you back to sleep. Getting up again, battling away imaginary monsters from your curtains, soothing pains in tummies, sore gums….. kissing away the things that wake you from your sleep. But I did.

Someone, who before they ever met you, used to think I’d never be able to do lots of things. I could never manage to get out of the house with one baby in tow… two babies in tow. I could never feed a baby in one hand and make a hasty sandwich for myself with the other. I could never keep one baby entertained, whilst soothing the other off to sleep for a much needed nap. And the ultimate goal, I could never achieve the all time achievement – dual naps. A thing of sheer beauty! But I did.

Someone, who before they ever met you, never really knew too well the pure sense of pride. The feeling may have come now and then at different points in time, if I achieved certain things in life; when I got my first paycheck.. when I took a great photograph. When I married your Dad. And eventually you both arrived. We fought hard to get you, now you’re both here, all I need to do is think of you. I just think of you, and feel overwhelming feelings of pride, as if my heart could burst with it. When it happens, I turn to whoever happens to be near me, and tell them of you. Something you did, something you said. A look you gave, an example of your amazing little personalities. I tell the stories of you, and feel immense pride. I just think of you, and it’s there. I never knew I could do anything so amazing to feel all this pride. But I did.

Someone, who before I ever met you, never really knew fear. Fear of all the things I immediately knew I had to protect you from, and of all the things I know I’ll never be able to shield you from. The hurts and disappointments that are bound to eventually find you. The absolute fear at the thought of you not being my babies anymore and having to send you out into the big scary world – it seems a world away from us at the moment but I’m learning at a rapid pace just how quick this journey is going to fly past. I can still call you my babies now – always – but one day you’ll be brave enough to do things without having to hold my hand. I just hope I can teach you to be strong enough and wise enough for each step of the way. I never knew fear could be this strong at the sheer thought of something. It makes me feel stronger, to know I will do whatever it may take to protect you from as much as I can. I never thought I could take that fear and use it to strengthen my love for you. But I did.

Someone, who before I ever met you, never really knew patience. Ok, honestly, I’m not going to be winning any awards for my levels of patience any time soon. But you have both taught me how to be more patient than I ever knew I could be. You keep us up all night, night after night. You throw tantrums for the most random, ridiculous reasons. You make us try and figure new things out every single day.  You change the rules constantly and consistently, lulling us into a false sense of security feeling like we finally might know what the hell we’re doing, before changing things all over again. You make us watch the same film a million times, or listen to the same song on repeat every hour and somehow we manage to keep our sanity. You bring us right to the edge of that sanity, and yet somehow, at the end of it all, you make us love you even more. I never knew I could display such levels of patience. But I do.

Someone, who before I ever met you, never really knew what hard work was. Hard in the physical sense sometimes, but absolutely hard in the mental sense of the word. Holding it all together, keeping everything going. Working together as a team, learning new things every day and learning new ways to figure things out every single day. I never knew I could work this hard without ever having a day or even an hour off duty. And what’s more, I never knew I could work this hard without ever wanting a day off from it, never wanting a day away from you. But now I do.

All these things you have taught me about myself, all these things I didn’t know I already knew.

Before I ever met you, I never knew I could be this person, so proud of you both, I will carry you always, learn from you always, love you ‘more than all the twinkly stars’…. always.

Who will I be, who have I become?

A Mama.

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Happy Mother’s Day to all of us!

In particular, to my sister Katie and my sister in law Joanne, who both celebrate their first Mother’s Day tomorrow after Joanne gave birth to my gorgeous niece Emma on the 15th of July 2017, and my little sister Katie gave birth to my beautiful nephew Liam on 26th February 2018. Welcome to the world Emma & Liam! I can’t wait to learn new things from each of you too as an Auntie. No doubt your cousins Rian & Alex will be on hand to teach you both the tricks of the trade in torturing… I mean teaching…your parents of all the adventures waiting for them.

 

 

Beautiful Boy
John Lennon