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

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.

Eat Your Greens – Oh Wait You’re A Toddler

img_2387The current trend for eating dinner in my house involves either plain rice, mashed potato (if we’re lucky) or pasta with sauce. The tiny lady will also concede to eating fish fingers or chicken goujons. Anything even remotely resembling a vegetable is considered completely unacceptable. I have been trying all the tricks:

Make interesting shapes out of veg:

I nearly leaped with joy when I discovered a box of spiral-shaped carrots in our local supermarket. I made a big thing of putting them in the trolley. Toddler agreed they looked very interesting and actually talked about eating them. Then they arrived on her plate. ‘I no like that.’ It didn’t stop her playing with them but God forbid they go near her mouth!
We also tried broccoli trees — these made it into her mouth but were spat out again within seconds.

Hide veg underneath sauces, mash etc.

Firstly tiny lady won’t eat any sauce expect plain tomato sauce — or mayonnaise — so this is out. Secondly we did hide various veg in her mashed potato. It was promptly located and spat back out. In fact it may have put her off mashed potato!

Cover veg in grated cheese:

This should have worked brilliantly as toddler loves cheese (even more than I do which is really saying something) but she just picked all the cheese she could off said veg then asked for more. There were then tears and histrionics when no more cheese was forthcoming. Needless to say no veg was consumed either.

Be a good role model:

I have spent all week stuffing my face with various greens watched, slightly pityingly, by my toddler. Despite being a big fan of sharing mummy’s food she has absolutely no interest in being fooled into trying peppers or sweetcorn or cauliflower!

The only thing that keeps me going is that this seems to be a very common phase amongst the toddler set. Perhaps they have secret meetings when they turn two about how to drive their parents nuts — rule 1 there is no toddler club, rule 2 — you must never, ever eat vegetables — this will lead to immediate excommunication.

I think it is to do with their burgeoning sense of independence. They can’t control much in their little world and quite often have to do various things they would rather not — get dressed, go into car-seats, go to the shop etc. (the list is endless). So they decide to instigate a food strike of sorts. Of course this strike only seems to apply to healthy foods — you won’t often catch a toddler refusing chips or a bar of chocolate (see evidence above). No they are far too clever for that.

I have decided to just keep offering veg every day in the hope that one day I will finally wear her down. She may take pity on me and try. Or decide she suddenly loves veg. Either way I’m assuming the strike will end once she hits the teenage years and embarks on the traditional ‘I’m becoming a vegetarian’ phase. Until then more broccoli for me!

What’s in a toy?

A recent phenomenon struck me the other day; while the worlds of young girls are expanding everyday the worlds of young boys are contracting more than ever. Little girls are now being raised to believe they can be anything from Elsa to Spiderman to Darth Vader! Meanwhile little boys are still very much expected to tow the line of convention. I came across an article written by the mother of a five year old boy who loves Elsa just as much as my little two year old girl. But, while my tiny lady could easily find a costume and swish around the room to her heart’s content, this little boy will tread a harder path. His mother spoke of how she and her husband have to balance a fine line between allowing the child freedom to express himself while at the same not allowing the world to hurt him when he does express himself.

The world is a tough place for a boy like this. He enjoys My Little Pony but his mother worries about the reactions of other people to him if he plays with these type of toys in public. We are all about allowing little girls the freedom to engage with what were once traditionally seen as ‘boys’ toys e.g. cars, garages, toolboxes etc. Yet it seems as a society we are not as comfortable seeing boys play with dolls and make-up kits. There is still something unsettling about it.

Personally I do not yet have a little boy but I did work with toddlers for years and they do not know anything about gender division at this young age. Little boys would happily wheel their dolls around in buggies and help set up house. Yet as two turned into three the gender divide began to emerge. The girls began to play kitchen and dress-up and dolls while the boys played rough and tumble in the soft play area. Where is this coming from? I don’t think it’s instinct. I think it comes from a society that still is caught up on ‘girl’ and ‘boy’ toys. Look at any toy catalogue and you will see girls’ toys separated from boys’. The ‘boy’ toy pages are coloured with blue and red and darker tones while the girls’ are all pink and yellow and bright tones.

We have come a long way sure but I think that there is still much much further we can go. And unfortunately until society can be more open-minded about gender and gender roles the life of a little boy who loves My Little Pony might be harder than his parents would like. I wish them all the best and hope one day he can wear his My Little Pony t-shirt with pride.