Before I went to university at the age of 18 I had never eaten an avocado nor tasted pesto but they are now two of my favourite foods. Before I went to piano lessons I had never heard of ‘muscle memory’, but I saw it in action when I played my scales almost perfectly despite not having practised for over 15 years. Before I had Maggie, I had never heard of ‘Mother’s guilt’, but Hell do I know it and live it now. It is one of the less desirable side affects of giving birth, along with saggy boobs and a dodgy pelvic floor and, in my case at least, it permeates every aspect of being a mother.
Now that I am back to work full-time I’m feeling that sickening sensation that all working mothers must endure – guilty that I’m not spending enough time with my precious duck. It definitely helps to know that she is being cared for like a lamb and that she is so happy to be with her childminder, but I do think that the days are too long and a wave of guilt hits me like a brick every day around 3 o’clock. Maggie is what the Baby Whisperer would call a ‘spirited’ child, constantly on a high energy drive especially when she is with other children. Her childminder Louise told me today that she has not yet – in the five weeks of minding her – seen her cry, complain or have a girly moan. Never. She rules the roost, sits in her high chair not eating very much but squealing with delight, happily goes off on her adventures exploring the garden or a new toy or some empty cereal box she has found and looks with dismay when some of the other babies get upset. But we know that what goes up must come down and Maggie’s slump hits as soon as I pick her up from childcare and often she cries with exhaustion all the way home. It’s as if she can’t relax properly or have a good cry until she sees me. I’m not sure how I feel about my new role as Maggie’s ‘downer’ but I know I feel guilty as hell when she’s left in childcare for 10 hours. Jeezus, I’m generally a happy chappy but even I would struggle to keep up such a cheery disposition for such a prolonged period.
But even before I went back to work the guilt was there. I spent the last few months of maternity feeling guilty that I was hanging out with Maggie way too much and she was missing out on the company of others. I also felt guilty that my maternity pay wasn’t adding a significant amount to the family pot and that, even though I was at home all day, the house was still in a mess and the hand washing was never done.
For months I felt guilty that Maggie wasn’t enjoying the culinary delights that her peers were, and that my love of bland foods and lack of appreciation for anything exotic (see my comment above about avocado and pesto for goodness sake) were the cause. Then the guilt about feeding her mostly bread and porridge because that was all she would eat! I did reason with myself: ‘So what if she doesn’t eat her five a day unless it’s in an Ella’s Kitchen pouch. I never had anything more exotic than peas and carrots when I was growing up!’ I was also so grateful for my regular trips home to my sister and her three kids just to get some perspective on things and realise that doing your best for your precious bundles is about as much as you can do.
There have been lots of other examples. A friend recently casually remarked how ‘energetic’ Maggie was and then laughed at how funny it was that I was always singing to her. ‘What? Do I?’ I replied, guilt sweeping over me like a rash as I jumped to the insane conclusion that my singing was leading to overstimulation (the worst thing EVER according to the bloody books) and her high energy levels. I’ve felt guilty about not spending enough quality time with Johnny and being wrrrecked and grumpy in the evenings when all energy has been spent. And you can guess how I felt when Maggie caught chicken pox when she was only 9 months old. Or when she knocked her chin against the bed and cut her lip while I watched her climb out of bed. Jeezus!
My sister and her littlest girl Nancy were meant to come over to see us this weekend for Maggie’s 1st birthday, but her middle girl Ella has tonsillitis. Mairead was already feeling the dreaded Mother’s Guilt about leaving her two at home while she came to London, but that guilt is just magnified ten-fold when your baba is sick. After all, all you want when you are sick is your mama. Hell, I caught some sort of bug this week and I found myself whimpering for mummy when I was feeling weak and emotional. I have told Mairead in no uncertain terms that she is not to come, much as she would love to. This guilt thing is bad enough without adding to it intentionally!
The worst thing is that there is no conclusion to this piece – this all-pervading and all-too-frequent feeling of guilt (a mixture of fear and hope?) is here to stay. I’m sure women have been feeling it since time began and that it is a normal feeling for every mother. Society puts a lot of pressure on a woman to do what’s right for the family but I think this pressure often comes from ourselves. The key is to be able to acknowledge the guilt but then let go of it. It’s easier said than done but after all, we know that a happy mummy = happy baby. So, grab the coffee or the glass of wine or do whatever it is that makes you feel relaxed and…. breathe!
Maggie driving her truck at The Macs last weekend, completely oblivious to her ma’s insane guilt trips