This year I returned to work after taking 10 months of maternity leave with Finn, I’ve really enjoyed getting a bit of my old self back. I’m sure my time away from Finn has only strengthened and increased his independence. Although it’s been mostly positive emotions I can’t shake the Mum Guilt I feel especially as things change. I’ve been asking myself why do we experience mum/parent guilt and why does it have to be so strong?
It’s obvious my return to work would bring this to the front of my mind yet I’ve thought about the other times I’ve had the same feeling and have started reflecting on the circumstances when it is most intense.
I think the first time was the day I found out I was pregnant. I remember thinking about how much I’d had to drink the night before (the answer is too much) and what damage that may have done. Although there was no way I could have known I was already pregnant it didn’t stop that guilt from rearing it’s ugly head. Thankfully my GP was very supportive and comforting when I expressed my concerns.
The following episodes were also during pregnancy, I really wanted to eat healthy and eliminate coffee from my diet the moment I knew I was growing my child. Instead my morning sickness and fatigue had me craving mostly heavy carbohydrates like pizza, chips and pasta. I found the fatigue made it necessary to keep coffee in my diet, although I would never have more than two in a day.
Skip ahead and I’m reminded of the day Finn was born. I had no intention of giving birth without an epidural but I had hoped to be able to give birth naturally. Having a c-section is not a failure by any means but I won’t lie that there was a little part of me that felt guilty I wasn’t able to birth him naturally.
Following the surgery I needed additional help from my husband, both for myself and to take care of Finn. This resulted in feelings of guilt for not being able to attend to my newborn baby without assistance from someone. As a new mum faced with the challenges of breastfeeding, I was also navigating the obstacles of settling my little one with very limited movement. On occasion I would long to just cuddle or rock my baby to sleep, then he would smell my milk and all hopes of cuddles without feeding would fade. I remember this being an extremely difficult time, post baby hormones were raging and the wave of failure was overwhelming. The thoughts in my head would repeat ‘Why cant you settle your own baby?’.
I received a gift voucher from a beautiful friend to have a massage post baby. It was an incredible idea, she even offered to take care of Finn while I went for my 1 hour appointment. I couldn’t stop thinking about him the whole time I was there. “I hope he’s not crying too much” that little voice would say as I felt myself beginning to relax. In retrospect, it was incredibly enjoyable and those thoughts were not too persistent, it was a most welcome and thoughtful gift.
I could go on all day about the things I’ve felt guilty over. To save time, here is a list of other things I have felt guilty over:
• Not getting the house cleaned
• Getting the house cleaned when I should be with my baby
• Cuddling him too much
• Not cuddling him enough
• Not doing enough to help his development
• Overstimulating him
• Trying to let him cry a little more (during the separation anxiety phase)
• Having a shower
• Washing my hair
• Taking the time to blow dry and straighten my hair (this was the driver for the mum lob)
• Taking too many photos
• Not taking enough photos
• Wanting some time to myself
• Having some time to myself
• Every time he gets hurt
• Every time he gets sick
• Picking him up too often
• Not picking him up when he’s throwing a tantrum
• Trying to get his nutrition perfect and failing
• Sending him to day care
• Increasing from part time to full time work
I’ll leave the list there, otherwise this post may never end. It’s ridiculous at some of the thoughts that cross our minds. Writing some of these down highlights to me that feeling guilty is both unavoidable and inescapable. It’s ludicrous that feelings of guilt can be caused by two conflicting ideas yet very possible.
It’s important to note that when experiencing parent guilt, it’s not about being able to stop these thoughts but how you manage them. My approach is to take a moment to acknowledge the thought then focus on any reasons to challenge it. Once you’ve been successful the first time it becomes easier to repeat this behaviour each subsequent time.
The reality is my son is a healthy, happy and very loved little boy and we are doing a great job raising him. Parents need to stop being so harsh on themselves. I know that every person reading this is doing the best they can, I want you to know that it’s more than enough. With parents supporting one another we can overcome the worst of the guilt. Reach out if you need help.