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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My 21st Century Boys

{Also features on The M Word}

There was a video doing the rounds online last year where these kids were handed a cassette tape and had no idea what it was. It got me thinking, and wondering what other things my boys will grow up not knowing. Not just things either, but experiences.

Take Spotify as an example. In December Spotify happily told me that my yearly stats were in and it proudly presented me with my most popular track listings for 2017. Top of the list was ‘You’ve Got A Friend In Me’ by Randy Newman. Toy Story. Next up was ‘ Hakuna Matata’ and ‘ I Just Can’t Wait to be King’. The Lion King. Now I won’t pretend to have a supercool taste in music myself, but still. These kids are ruining my street cred. Or online cred anyway, if that is actually a thing!

But anyway, it’s more than just them corrupting my cool playlists, it got me thinking about the vast differences already between their childhood and my own. If you think about it, they have access to millions of songs under one roof in Spotify, available to them at any time without any waiting. There’ll be no saving up their pocket money to buy a single or an album, and listening to that album to the death because it was all that would fit in your walkman at any one time anyway. No waiting for the DJ to stop talking to press record when your favourite song came on ( Atlantic 252!) and hoping the end of the song wouldn’t get interrputed by them either. Nothing worse! So by default then, it’s unlikely that they’ll sit and listen to whole albums at all, unless it’s by someone they happen to really like. But do you see what I mean? You could go deeper and question whether as a whole piece of art, is the art of albums as they were, dying? Will people appreciate them as a whole piece of work the way they used to anymore?

Another aspect is the patience. They don’t have to wait for anything, it’s all just there at the tap of a screen. Recently I recorded a Disney movie that was on one of the tv channels (even that in itself feels retro now with the Netflix lifestyle), and while Rian was watching it, the ads came on. He didn’t know what they were or where his movie was gone. He went looking for the remote control to hand it to me to put the movie back on. At first I went to fast forward the ads but then I thought, no! You can sit and wait and watch them, just like I had to! In fact you’re still doing better than I did in the 80s – we didn’t get movies until they were released about 2 years later on VHS, so be glad! And so he did watch the ads. Which resulted in him asking me about 3 different toys, so I still lose in this scenario, but still. It’s the  principle of the matter! And they’ll never have to worry what time something will be on at. It will all just magically be there waiting for them whenever they are ready to watch it.

So I wonder is this the 21st century version of the whole ‘Back in my day we went to school barefoot’ type stuff that my parents used to come out with? (Not that they actually went barefoot but you know what I mean). How have I become my parents already?! And on a more serious note, what effect will this lifestyle of no waiting actually have on shaping them as people? Very deep, maybe, but very apt too I think.

Another thing is your basic memory. Kids will never need to have to remember a list of different phone numbers the way we did, everything will be stored for them. And on that note, will they even ring people when they’re old enough to have phones ( which will be 18 if I have my way!)? Nowadays it’s all texts. Do teenagers ring eachother at all anymore? I’m aware I sound 90 even asking that question. When we had no internet to keep us occupied, we would ring our best friend from school and chat away on the phone about all the important teenagery things in our lives. Ugh didn’t you hate when you rang your friend and someone else in their family used to answer the phone? Or even worse, if someone else in your house was already on the phone and you had to wait until they were finished.

I wonder is there any other generation before us where such changes were so vast between parents and their children’s childhood? I’m not sure. Maybe every generation thinks this type of thing – well it’s even a cliche isn’t it, ‘you don’t know you’re born’ type of comeback your parents used to throw at you if you complained about anything.

It’s kind of frightening too. I genuinely worry at the thought of my two as teenagers, living a life so vastly different to how mine was. Will I be able to relate to them at all? Will I be able to understand any problems they might have growing up in certain situations, online social aspects that I have no experience of? Even Facebook is a dying breed, as far as I can tell no self respecting teenager is seen dead in there any more. It frightens me to think of potential dangers that might lurk that not only I can’t protect them from, but that I don’t even know to look out for them in the first place.

It’s not all bad of course, there are plenty of aspects of technology that makes parenting so much easier, from ‘HOW DO I DO THIS?!’ type frantic Google searching, with instant answers, to apps and online support groups for, well, support but also for fun too. But in lots of ways, I can’t help thinking that despite the advances of technologies, my sons will miss out on lots more than I had growing up – using our own imagination, anticipation – having to actually wait for things….real life fun! So in an effort to replicate part of my own childhood for them I have made it my business to regularly expose them to 80s and 90s music. I’ll be damned if my kids don’t grow up knowing all the right cheese! They’ll thank me for it I’m sure…. won’t they….?!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Introducing: STICKY. He lives here now.

Have you ever heard that family statistic, ‘2.4 children’ when referring to the average family size? I always thought the .4 part sounded a bit ridiculous. I mean, what’s .4 of a child?

But now I know. Of course it’s not a child. It’s the other thing that moves in when you have children, whether you like it or not. Whether it’s one child or ten. Congratulations, it’s your new housemate who goes by the name of Sticky.

Sticky McStickerson. Mr Sticky. Sticky McStickface. Sticky Fitzsticker- ok well you get the idea. Call it whatever you want, but Sticky is here to stay whether you like him or not.

Let us count the ways.

Sticky, the THING.

Well this one is fairly self explanatory. You can understand it most of the time, for example when our baby Alex who is 1 and a half, insists on eating everything with his hands, and refuses to go in a highchair. He just has to sit at the table like his 3 and a half year old big brother. God love him, he can barely see over the top of the table so he randomly paws around the general plate area til his chubby little hands grab some food and they shove it into his chubby little cheeks. It’s very cute. Until you notice the inevitable mess that creates, and then, the resulting stickiness.

The little hands flailing about, touching things. Making them Sticky, like a baby superpower Sticky Midas Touch.  It’s not so bad now, I have adjusted the area accordingly so it is well prepared with wipeable surfaces, his chair is protected and covered by an old tablecloth (because in my pre-child wisdom I bought CREAM COLOURED FABRIC CHAIRS. I know, I deserve everything Sticky has to give me. Oh I know!).

But when he hops down from his chair, still flailing Sticky hands, well, it’s every man for himself.  God speed, comrade.

And how can Sticky be a SMELL?

I don’t know, but it is. As soon as those babies arrived in our world, things started to smell Sticky. How many times have you found yourself getting that whiff, and knowing, you were about to encounter something Sticky? Or maybe you just got a whiff of something – in fairness it’s another skill you have to pick up while in the company of babies and kids. What type of nappy am I about to face? Take a whiff. What kind of puke did you just produce? Whiff. You’ll be in little doubt of what lurks ahead. What level of Sticky are we talking here? Whiff’ll tell you.

You’re not alone.

I don’t think it’s surprising when you realise that Sticky also has a unique SOUND. It can range anywhere from a mild generic suction type of Sticky all the way to your standard wet squelchy type of Sticky. I can determine a Sticky type from 100 paces, it’s a skill I have perfected. You can tell what Sticky encounter you’re about to embrace just based on the sound alone, whether it’s coming from under their little feet as they launch themselves towards you and your nice clean top that you’ve just put on, or the Sticky decibels emanating from their pudgy little hands as they clap along to whatever Disney song you’re listening to for the 45th time that day.

Let’s face it, how many times have you looked at something and wondered, ‘what on earth IS that?!’ Well now you know – it’s just Sticky. ‘Why does this feel wet?!’ It’s because of Sticky. ‘How did that get there?!’ Sticky put it there of course. Honestly, I’m starting to wonder if Sticky is more like an unwanted squatter more than a housemate now that I come to think about it in more detail!

But don’t worry, it’s not all bad. Some Sticky encounters you’ll barely even notice, or at least, barely even care about. Sticky presents himself in various forms of consistency, some are worse than others. At the start, I’ll admit, when you’re not used to Sticky it’s all a bit uncomfortable. Like being stuck in a lift with someone you vaguely know – well enough to have to force some crap small talk about the weather but not well enough to just ignore them. You just have to acknowledge Sticky, you’ll be informally introduced when your baby produces some scenario that results in Stickiness, but once you get used to eachother, it’s fine. Accept Sticky for what he is – he’ll ruin your clothes, ruin your furniture, cause you to keep a packet of baby wipes within arm’s reach at all times. But you will get used to eachother, and dare I say it, in a weird way become somewhat fond of eachother!

Resistance is futile. Sticky is here to stay – now you know about it, you can prepare yourself and your house accordingly.

Go forth soldier, and embrace the Stickyness!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This Too Shall Pass

I remember during one particularly tough phase of Rian’s first few months when he had colic, someone said to me ‘This too shall pass’ – and of course it does. I see it quite often in parenting groups; someone will ask for advice on dealing with some tricky new hurdle and usually all we can say is, hang in there, it’s just a phase, this too shall pass!

But do we ever stop to remember that the good things too shall pass? The little stages we love, their little quirks, the new thing they’ve discovered they can do…they change so fast because life is busy passing and we’re constantly just trying to catch up with ourselves. All of the little things they do that may seem inconsequential at the time, you might not even notice them. But I’ve only been a parent now for two years and already I want it to slow down. I want to remember all the little things about them that make me cry with laughter, or cry with frustration.  The things that make my heart want to jump out of my chest with pride and love. All of it.

Recently I was asked by a friend of mine to help put into words a way to describe his new venture in photography – a documentary style ‘day in the life’. While doing it, it made me focus on my own life with my two boys. And it made me realise I seem to be in a constant state of waiting for things to pass. Waiting for Rian’s colic to pass, waiting for his tantrum to calm, waiting for Alex to settle for the night so I might get a few hours sleep myself. I don’t mean to sound like I don’t enjoy all this – of course I do. But I realised that I hardly ever stop to actually look around me, to appreciate fully and more often just what it is we have been given. Especially since there was a time when we thought we’d never have any of this at all when we were told we’d need IVF. It’s always thinking of what job needs to get done next, what dinner needs to be cooked, what day the next round of vaccinations need to be given, the next time one is due a feed and one is due a dinner.

So I decided to stop and look, and started writing. When they’re all grown up, what will I want to remember?

How things feel. The softness of Alex’s little baby cheek, like a soft downy feather. The little grip of his whole hand clutching my thumb. Those little razorblade fingernails that seem to grow at a rate of knots and terrify me in trying to get them cut! The feel of Rian’s little arms wrapped around my neck giving me a ‘huggy’,  the drool that falls on my chest when he falls asleep cuddled into me. His little curls against my face when we snuggle in under the blanket to read a book, and the sticky little hands that chase me hysterically when they’re covered in the residue of his favourite snack of grapes and yoghurt.

 

 

How things sound. The gentle little sucky noise of Alex’s soother as he drifts off for a snooze. The sound of Rian singing at 6am about Gruffalos and trains and having adventures with Woody and Buzz. ‘To finnty…and bond!’ ‘There’s a sake in a b-oot!’ The sound Rian makes when I know he’s working up to a tantrum, and the swift noise I make in an effort to distract him from getting there! The sound of his little feet hopping out of bed when he’s supposed to be asleep and pattering across the hall. And best of all, the sound of Alex’s gurgly little giggles and warbly chats, and the beautiful sound of Rian’s belly laugh, so hard that tears run down his red little cheeks.

How things smell. The gorgeous new baby smell that still just about lingers from Alex. The milky drooly smell that comes from him after a feed. I could breathe that in all day. The lovely smell from Rian’s baby shampoo, and the smell of his bubble bath that he loves splashing around in. That unmistakable whiff that you knew was inevitable when he wolfed in all that fruit for lunch… ok ok maybe this isn’t something I’ll miss too much of when it’s over! And yet somehow, yes, I think I will because it’s part and parcel of who they are now, and I know it won’t always be this way.

One of Rian’s favourite things in life at the moment is Toy Story, and in particular, the third one. At the end of the movie Andy is heading off to college and is getting ready to leave. His mother walks into his empty room, all packed up, and gets emotional. She hugs him and says, ‘I just wish I could be with you always.’

And that’s my wish too, so much! It’s hard now to imagine them both old enough to be going to college, and I’m sure in some ways I’ll be only too delighted to get two smelly teenagers out of my hair, but obviously the day will come when they’ll be old enough to not need me anymore. Well, I hope they’ll always need me in some ways! Hopefully if I do this job right, they’ll want to keep me in their lives just as much as I’ll want them in mine.

 

 

I want to be able to look back, and still feel all those things, and the things still yet to come. To remember how things are, how they were, and how they will be. To be ever thankful that we were given the chance we thought we’d never have, to be their parents, and cherish them always, because as I’ve realised to be true, This Too Shall Pass.

 

*Huge thank you to Johannes for the amazing, and much treasured photographs of our little family; a day in our life.