Mother’s Guilt

There’s a really great free magazine for parents that circulates bimonthly in my area. It is, as the tagline says, a really useful magazine for families with children aged 0-12. The most recent edition had an article in it that I just felt compelled to share. I’m sure I’m not the only mother who sees herself in this article and if you haven’t learned that you’re the best mother in the world just the way you are, then please read this article!

Nothing prepares you for first time motherhood, does it? There is a life BC (before child/children), and an utterly different kind of existence afterwards; one where you are never top priority anymore, where your life revolves around others’ scheduled needs’ map times, school times, meal times, milk times, bath times, bed times. Yes, you are now in service to the next generation. For the rest of your life, you will probably find something about your children to worry about, no matter what age they are. The word ‘mother,’ it has been said, is not just a noun. It is a verb.

Fake it till you make it
There is this crazy assumption that when motherhood hits, we will somehow, intuitively know what to do; it will all just flow naturally. The reality, I think, goes more like this: we hit the ground running, muddle through and do the best we can. And it is, as they say, just one thing after another. Once we have the routine and sleeping through the night thing nailed, then we have the joys of encouraging them to eat healthily, along with the Herculean challenges of boundary setting.; After the umpteenth request to ‘please, do NOT leave your roller-skates at the bottom of the stairs,’ or ‘no, it is not OK to chew on your baby brother’s ear,’ is it any wonder we start to sound like our own frustrated parents when we yell: ‘If I have told you once, I have told you a thousand times… Why don’t you LISTEN??’ Or the classic one that makes me shudder when I imagine my neighbours overhearing it: ‘JUST PUT YOUR F***ING SHOES ON!’ Ooops. Swearing at child. Guilty as charged, Your Honour. But can I claim mitigating circumstances? My son practices selective deafness, I was stressed out and we were horribly, horribly late.

Sigh. There goes another few quid in the ‘therapy for when he is older’ box.

Angels in training
Mothers aren’t supposed to shout or be cross or tear their hair out or cry and scream with frustration, are we? Especially not in supermarkets. We’re supposed to be sweet and kind and giving and patient and perfect with angelic supplies of unconditional love. We’re not supposed to park them in front of CBeebies for the morning and go back to bed nursing a hangover. No. We must provide educational activities, bake cakes, rustle up fancy dress costumes out of remnants in the recycling box, present a clean and tidy house, organise schooling, lay proper meals on the table and, often, hold down a job and even a marriage too.

But we can’t and we don’t. And we feel guilty about it.

The best advice I ever heard about mothering went something like this: ‘Look, you have to accept that you are going to get it wrong. You are going to make mistakes. Everyone does. It is the only way you learn.  So the best thing you can do is just resolve to love your children as much as you possibly can.’ My rules are that I always apologise for my appalling behaviour and then tell my son I love him. Our biggest mothering mistake really, is believing we shouldn’t be making any.

I have a little sign in my kitchen that reads: ‘mothers are angels in training.’ Feeling guilty is how we punish ourselves for not reaching impossibly high standards. I don’t know any mother who thinks she ticks all the ‘perfect mother’ boxes. And you know what? Maybe we are right. Maybe, we weren’t even designed to meet every single one of our children’s needs.

Tribal Heart
There is an African saying that goes: ‘It takes a whole village to raise a baby.’ In her book ‘The Spirit of Intimacy,’ Sobonfu Some, a woman from the Dagara tribe of West Africa, says that it is also true that it takes a whole village to keep parents sane. In fact, it was not until she was nearly six years old that she understood that she came out of one particularly woman’s womb, that she did not biologically ‘belong’ to all of the women in her village who breastfed and cared for her.

We would do well to remember that one-to-one parenting is a pretty recent evolution in our species. Back in the day there would be aunties, sisters, cousins, neighbours and grandmothers all on hand for mass childcare duties. Sobonfu insists that if a child has a problem that their parents can’t sort out, he or she needs to have other adults to turn to. If nothing else, there is a much better chance the child will actually listen to sage advice. Let’s face it: children just don’t like having to listen to their parents (I mean, did you? I certainly didn’t. Dammit, of course my son doesn’t want to listen to me!).

Hang up your halo
‘Motherhood,’ Oprah once said, ‘is the hardest job in the world. Women everywhere must declare it so.’ In my opinion, it is also the most undervalued, the most rewarding and the most important job in the world too. Hey, we’re at the coalface of building the foundations – the veritable bedrock – of society here. Let’s hang up our halos and, through example, teach our children that we are all on a lifelong learning curve, that we are all loveable despite our imperfections. That, in itself, is a great education.

This article was written by Helena Foss, a hypnotherapist who writes about all things holistic and spiritual. See www.helenafoss.co.uk. The original article appeared in Families Surrey West, Sept/October 2011 edition. www.FamiliesSurreyWest.co.uk.

I’m glad I can touch type, otherwise I couldn’t have shared this article with you 🙂

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