Mother’s guilt is a phrase I’d hear splattered around a lot before I became a mum and I have to admit it’s not something that ever particularly resonated with me (why would it though, when I wasn’t a mother?). But since having Max it’s something that I’ve felt acutely and I find that at the back of my mind there is often that nagging voice:
‘A good mum would have done that differently’
On an average day some of the concerns that might run through my head go something like this:
‘You’re too strict’
‘You’re not strict enough’
‘He should be eating more, that’s why he’s so small’
‘He clearly eats too much – he just finished a whole adult portion there!’
‘Maybe he would be better off at home with me 7 days a week – is he really happy at nursery?’
‘At nursery there is always a fun educational activity going on, I should have the paints / play doh / craft bits out more. Maybe he’d be better at nursery 5 days a week instead of just the two.’
Judgement of yourself is always a million times harsher than anyone else’s judgement. On reading my thoughts written down it’s easy to see the ridiculousness, the contradictions, but the constant worrying voice is difficult to dismiss when it pops up. But recently I’ve come to realise is that there is a positive to that voice – it means that you care. You care about your parenting, and therefore you are probably doing lots of things right. And it made me more accepting of that voice – the day that voice disappears is the day I stop caring. So instead of listening to it, I decided that it was time I was kinder to myself, to be more laid back, to stop worrying, and to stop criticising. I became determined to notice the positives and focus on developing a more positive frame of mind.
Little things like ‘you were really patient just then’, or ‘you read that story really well’. The kind of reinforcement that everyone loves to get, and that in a normal job you get that from your colleagues, but as a mum you don’t tend to hear – there’s no performance review at the end of each year, no one-to-ones for ‘ongoing feedback’! It’s amazing what a difference this little adjustment has made in my life – the positive thoughts have mounted a counter-campaign against the negatives, making them easier to dismiss and recognise as being ridiculous, or perhaps having some value and then being able to focus on doing something about.
When we grant ourselves the same allowances and forgiveness that we allow others, it makes space for the positive thoughts to shine through, to feel confident in what you’re doing, and know that you have the capacity to always improve.