Attack of the Mama Guilts

Last night I felt guilty because my husband took charge of my tiny lady while I took some time away to write. Yep I felt guilty for leaving her with her loving father. Despite the fact that I could hear giggles and roars of laughter the guilt took quite a while to subside. But that’s me – guilty of a permanent sense of guilt! I even feel guilty for feeling guilty!

When I was pregnant I never understood the full and overwhelming force of Mummy Guilt. Sure I would feel guilty if I drank (slightly) more than the recommended daily caffeine limit or took some paracetemol for that raging baby back-ache but honestly that guilt was nothing to what I felt when I held that little baby in my arms. Suddenly every decision I made became riddled with the potential for a major attack of the guilts.

As a child my indecisive nature was a great joke amongst my family. They decided I should become a judge when I grew up – oh the joys of a sarcastic family! I was actually quite legendary for sweating over every little decision, getting everyone else’s opinion as if somehow everyone else knew better than me. In my eyes I suppose they did. I had little faith in my own opinion. This has only become worse since I became a mother. There are so many opinions out there and many of them differ from mine – how do I pick which is the best course of action? How do I decide? Nights spent scrolling google do not help with the decision process but that’s what I found myself doing during those endless newborn nights. Should I rock her to sleep? Should I use a soother? Should I teach her to self-soothe? I would forget amidst all the information gathering that as her mother I knew best. What works for one baby possibly won’t work for another.

But with every decision now layered with an undercurrent of guilt I just couldn’t decide what I should do; one wrong decision and I imagined I had sent my daughter hurling down the wrong path, never to return. As I grew more confident in my mummy skills the decision making did become slightly easier but the guilt never really went away.

Needless to say I have had many sleepless nights and I can’t even blame my toddler! The one thing she (usually) does well is sleep. I have a nightly battle to get her to eat her dinner but at least bedtime brings some peace. So those bags under my eyes are all completely self-inflicted. I can spend whole hours tossing and turning over the smallest of decisions. Currently I am wrangling with a pretty big decision – where to send her to school. So you can imagine the bags under my eyes are pretty huge right now.

Before I became a mother, guilt was more of a side-player in my life; only really making a grand appearance over something major like an argument with a friend. Now guilt is pretty much my side-kick; guilt and a giant cup of coffee. And guilt is such a pointless, negative emotion most of the time. Yet it seems to pervade motherhood like a bad smell. We beat ourselves up over everything and feel bad if we don’t achieve perfection. But I realised the other day perfection doesn’t really exist.

I was having a bad afternoon with my little girl – very cranky toddler, very stressed mother – so we went to the shop to get a break from the house. I watched jealously as a mother and her little boy played happily outside, the little boy beaming up at his mummy. Meanwhile my little terror was shooting mutinous looks at me because I had made her sit in her buggy. A while later, finished our shop, we passed the mother and son again. What a difference ten minutes can make. He was now wailing and his mother was trying to talk to him. Finally she huffed, grabbed him and walked off; little legs digging into her side as she went. Perfection, it seems, only exists in the moment. Within seconds it can be lost in tears and tantrums.

I probably won’t ever stop feeling the mum guilt but maybe, just maybe I will give myself a break every now and then. Maybe not every decision needs late night google sessions. Maybe I will make some bad decisions along the way. But that’s okay. Life isn’t perfect; it’s messy, loud and sometimes overwhelming. The trick is to take notice of those little moments when things are going your way, when guilt is taking a coffee break and your little tot is snuggling in for some mummy time. Those are the times that matter.IMG_2194.jpg

Bottle or Breast – We Are All Just Doing Our Best

“We always did feel the same we just saw it from a different point of view.”

This is a quote from Bob Dylan’s gorgeous “Tangled Up In Blue” from the 1975 album Blood on the Tracks. I was listening to it in the car the other day – toddler complaining loudly in the back-seat (nothing compares to Let It Go in her eyes) when it struck me how perfectly this lyric sums up our ongoing battle; breast vs bottle. This sounds a little off the wall but bear with me.

We all love our children. We all want to do what is best for them. We all want to be happy and healthy mothers. Yet we all make different choices about what it means to be the best mom we can be. Sometimes these choices don’t always feel like choices or they may feel as if they are forced upon us by chance or circumstance but ultimately our main aim is to do our best.

Recently Dr. Amy Brown of Swansea University released a book (Breastfeeding Uncovered) which, at first, seemed destined to take guilt out of the equation when it comes to feeding our babies. She believes society as a whole needs to become more breastfeeding friendly. Dr. Brown says it’s time we remove blame and pressure from individual women and look at society’s attitude to breastfeeding. She is right. We as a society do need to be more culturally accepting of breastfeeding and more open to allowing women the opportunities to do it.

However, while I applaud Dr. Brown’s attempt to revolutionise how we perceive breastfeeding I can’t completely step on board with her. In order to remove the guilt surrounding infant feeding we need to acknowledge that how you feed your baby is your choice. It is individual circumstances, feelings and beliefs that determine how we will feed our babies and even with the most open society in the world not every woman will choose to breastfeed.

According to Dr. Brown only two per cent of women cannot physically breastfeed. This means women are choosing not to breastfeed for other reasons. Though I haven’t actually read the book itself I do wonder does this figure include a baby’s inability to latch properly or babies with allergies to milk? Also taking physical abilities out of the equation altogether what about mothers who don’t feel comfortable breastfeeding? Or mothers who feel it just isn’t right for them? Or mothers, who, for whatever reason, just don’t wish to breastfeed. Perhaps only two per cent can’t physically breastfeed but this grossly underplays other non-societal factors that might influence a mother’s choice.

Choice. Something we seem all too quick to forget when to comes to a woman’s body.

Dr. Brown believes that we should be warning about the “risks” of formula. It is this type of emotive language which has driven so many mothers to feelings of intense guilt and regret if breastfeeding doesn’t work out for them. So while I agree with Dr. Brown that more needs to be done to make our society more breastfeeding friendly, I don’t think that demonising formula feeding is the best way to go about that. I think a more relaxed culture which allows a mother the right to choose and then support to make that choice possible is what we need to be working towards. Support is the important word here – not pressure, not judgement just support. This means we respect a mother’s right to choose be that bottle, breast or a combination of both.

I agree with Dr. Brown that women are not getting the support they need; all mothers are not getting the support they need. Mothers who want to breastfeed need proper advice along with the ability to feed wherever they like without feeling judged. Mothers who want to bottle-feed need advice too and the ability to feed wherever they like without feeling judged.

We are all just mothers trying to do our best.

Bob was right – we do all feel the same – we all want what is best for our children. In reality, however, this might not look the same from family to family. But that’s okay. We might come at it from a differing point of view but we all love our babies and are doing our best.

Parents: a soft place in a hard world

“You’re too soft on her!”

How many times have I heard this phrase? I imagine if I got paid every time it was said to me that I would be a very rich lady! Instead, the words just irritated me and eventually started to eat away at me.

I worked with children for many years and I was often described as “too soft”. At first it was said in jest then it became a byword for criticising my methods. When I first began to work in the early years sector I realised that, although we are all trained in much the same way, our methods vary widely. So it seemed that, yes, I was one of the ‘soft’ teachers; more likely to offer a cuddle than an admonishment. It is tough to stand by your beliefs when they are judged or held up as less than okay. It became tougher as the years went by. But, to me, it seems that childcare staff stand in for parents when they can’t be there. I tried to act in the way their parents would want their children to be treated.

I have left the sector since but now I have my own little girl. And what do I still hear? You are too soft! Sometimes it is said jokingly, sometimes gently, sometimes irritably. What has changed is my reaction to it. Now I just say so bloody what? Yes I am soft, too right I am soft! My daughter will too often have to deal with a world of hard edges, negativity and judgement. I want to be the one place in the world where she is welcomed and loved just how she is; where she will find praise not criticism, love not hate, warmth not coldness.

I believe in being firm and kind; offering a safe place for a child often works better than cold words of rebuke. When my child is all worn out, after an epic strop, her emotions vastly over-whelming, I offer a cuddle. That doesn’t mean her behaviour is alright but it means I am here for her, no matter how how far her temper flies. I believe it is our job as parents to provide a soft place, a safe haven for our children. This doesn’t mean being overly-permissive or spoiling them. It means showing them understanding when they can’t cope with life, kindness when they have lost their way and a warm hug when that tantrum becomes just too much.

Too often we rush in with harsh words or reprimands because it is seen as spoiling a child if we are too gentle. I have had days where the Tesco temper tantrum causes me to be stern and angry; under pressure from judgemental stares I rush to assure on-lookers that I can deal with this, I am a strong parent. But when did being strong mean you had to be hard as well? There is a quiet kind of strength in being the type of parent who teaches through gentleness, who talks to her child, who listens. Children respond better when they feel understood; don’t we all?

So yes call me soft. I will gladly wear that badge. I will wear it with pride.