The Family that Guilt Built

This week, I had totally planned to write about why my career as a supermodel never took off, but another topic just kept popping up in various conversations with friends, relatives and just random people I ran into and I figured it was a sign that shouldn’t be ignored! Or, was I feeling guilty that if I ignored the topic of parental guilt then I must be a bad mum? Hmmmm … let’s start with that!

Why is it that we as parents, always feel like we’re not doing enough? I know I’m not the only one because as I said above, I’ve had a few conversations this week that have triggered my attention to this struggle. The Mummy Guilt struggle* (*If you’re a Dad please don’t think I’m sexist and think it’s all about the women, it’s just that “mum guilt” is easier for me to associate with but it really should be called “parent guilt” because it happens to dads, too).

Just last week, I missed my daughter’s assembly where the Junior School sang Happy Birthday to her. Monumental stuff up on my behalf! Another mum had kindly forwarded on a photo of my teeny tiny little six-year-old, up on the stage, holding up a Happy Birthday Sailor card while the entire assembly sang. I felt sick. I felt like crying when I saw that picture. I had finally got my other child Scout, the wild one, the one who has been sick for what feels like the last three years (she’s not even two yet, so go figure), off to day care for the first time in weeks and I decided to hit the gym. Now, if I knew it was happening I would have definitely pulled out of my personal training session as I’m always looking for excuses to not go! As soon as I arrived at the gym, I get the text and see the photo. Of my daughter. Up on the stage. Looking forlornly into the audience for her mummy. Scratch that sorry. She had a huge smile on her face; my mum guilt was creating versions of the truth in my head already at this point. Devastated. I stood looking at the photo for a long time, trying to work out what she had been given the award for. How could I have missed this? Why would I not have seen a note in her diary? How unorganised am I? What kind of a mother am I? How dreadful would she be feeling? How will this affect her down the track? Will she be pregnant at 15 just trying to compensate for the feelings of zilch love she received from me during this time? See, crazy. I just went on and on and on in my head totally creating a little guilt whirlwind that resulted in me telling myself I’m not good enough. I’m a terrible mother. Mum guilt onslaught right here!

Now, if I was rational (I don’t think any parent can be totally rational as kids suck this out of you just to cope) I would tell myself that it wasn’t that bad. It wasn’t an award. She had her little moment and had enjoyed it, judging by the big smile on her face in the photo. I had no idea this was what her little school did for birthdays as she’s only just in Term 2 of Kindergarten. Get over yourself and give her some extra cuddles tonight! Ok, deep breath! You’ve got this! But no. I caught the mum train guilt, express into another blunder.

That very same evening, yep – two in one day! It was her first ever school disco! I was still walking around in my gym clothes from that morning because, like I said, it was Scout’s first day back at day care and I had a bloody lot to do, including dance lessons immediately after school then home to do a quick costume change and face paint then back into the disco by 5.30pm! We live out of town and it takes around 45 minutes to home and back, so I was pressed. I asked another mum on the door did parents wait at the disco; surely they didn’t wait at the disco for an hour? Did they? Didn’t they run to the shops too and grab some loo paper so they could stop using tissues because they ran out last week, too? Or am I the only one here? Anyhow, my point is that I didn’t stay. I was told I didn’t need to stay at the disco and so I bolted. It doesn’t matter where I went for that hour, unless you think you saw me buying toilet paper at the local IGA. Upon my return at the end of the concert, I was greeted with a “Why didn’t you stay? Other mums all stayed for the whole disco. I just wished you were there with the other mummies.” Argh, um, cough … ahem. SHIT! I’d stuffed up AGAIN! And on the same bloody day! I’m totally failing at this mum gig. Again, I was hit with the mum guilt stomach butterflies. The mum guilt conversations had taken over my brain, “You’re vying to take out Worse Mum of the Year award today, Chezzi.” The entire car trip home my daughter was silent and just looked out the window … Was it because it was nearly 7pm and it was Friday, so she was exhausted after a busy week OR was it because she was plotting to somehow divorce me at 13 like some other young girl once did. When I was young I thought that story was kinda funny. Now I was a parent, I was pulling the same grimace my parents did when I told them I was divorcing them. It’s like a horror film now I’m the parent!

The following day at netball, I was laughing about these two events with another girlfriend and she said something that really struck a chord with me, she said she felt like the worst mum because as a single mum, she couldn’t spread herself out to all her three children. She never saw an assembly because she had to work full time. She never got to attend a Mother’s Day event at her kids’ schools, she didn’t even ever take her kids to their school discos because she couldn’t finish work early enough to take them. So here is this friend of mine telling me all about her constant struggle with the mum guilt when she is literally working herself to the bone just to feed, clothe and school her kids. Any spare money she earns goes into a jar for them to take a nice little holiday somewhere each Easter. Most of the time they camp down the coast somewhere. She ensures they have a lovely time together even though they don’t have much money, she ensures they’re rich in love (Totally lovely and totally true even though it reads like an episode of Little House on the Prairie). She spends every night with all three of them doing their homework, she then reads to the two younger ones, then she does the washing and the cleaning when they go to bed, then she packs their lunches, then falls into bed (I’ve made this part up because we didn’t go into her full routine cause that would be kinda stalkerish and weird) and then I’m guessing she wakes up reasonably tired like the rest of us parents, then commences her work as Saint of Mums that very next day and each day after that! WOW! She’s incredible, I think to myself. She’s like at the top of the mummy game in my eyes, she’s got her crap together and yet, she still suffers from the same condition I do? Is anyone immune to this crippling condition?

Another friend I got to see during the past week has two very small children and is run ragged. They’ve both been sick like Scout for the past month or so. She’s been surviving on very little sleep. She looks a wreck. Her house is in a state that rivals war zones. She’s been working during the day, and then switching seamlessly to referee, survivor, nurse, chef, teacher aka mummy at night. Her family have been away on holidays for the past month so she’s really felt it. Her two kids are fighting and hitting each other and screaming. She is trying to hold a conversation with me but I can tell she’s getting rattled. At this point, I would have screamed something overly dramatic that would alert dogs from nearby farms to bark endlessly all night in fear, but, she’s maintaining a calm composure and voice. She talks sternly yet fairly to both of them and while she’s bent down on one knee, tells them to say sorry to each other and then rewards them by kissing both of them on their snotty little heads. WOW! This is just so comforting to me. Again, what a wonderful mum, I think to myself. I want to be more like her. In stark contrast, as she stands up she sighs “I’m such a shithouse mum at the moment.” MUM GUILT, BOOM! I’ve just witnessed its ridiculous grip first hand.

Why do we beat ourselves up? Why? Why can’t we acknowledge that our parenting is good enough? Why do we never feel like we’re getting it right? This has seriously plagued me all week. I can’t stop thinking about it. I see others suffering from it constantly now I’m aware. I wish I could make it stop. Is it really useful to beat up on yourself and feel like crap when this thing we call life is really hard at times? Kids just seem like another layer of crap to make our lives even harder, less social, more hectic and chaotic at times. I recall a very good friend from Sydney having this conversation with me once – I look up to her because she’s a fabulous Mum of three very lovely and normal and polite children – She said, “Give your kids as much love as you can, be fair with them but don’t let them push you around, tell them you’re sorry if you stuff up, be really present with them as much as you can, don’t sweat the small stuff, choose your battles, always strive to be a better parent and ensure you raise your kids to be people you would like to be friends with, and you will be an awesome mum.” She was so right!

Food and nutrition is one particular topic that I always feel I’m getting wrong. When Sailor was first starting solids, I did my very best to buy organic, tasteless, vitamin-enriched, priced like they were gold plated veggies to blend up. I’d heard other mums talk about their creative MasterChef quality concoctions little Johnny and Mary just couldn’t get enough of, and again felt totally guilted into giving it a go. Not easy considering I was travelling a LOT with Grant for Sunrise at the time. I really tried to be organised whenever I was at home, blending, mixing, baking healthy kinda slop for my baby to throw back in my face. And spread all over the highchair like finger paint. And squish it into her hair and her face while I sat almost crying with my hands up in surrender. So I kinda gave up at that point and started to look into the packet foods and pouches and found that they were actually on par health-wise with what I had been making her myself. Sometimes, they were even healthier than my creations as they had herbs instead of salt and tomato sauce (sugar and salt) that I tried adding to get her to eat it. And she loved them! She would literally grab them out of my hand to shove in her mouth faster than I could feed her, she loved them that much. Especially the Rafferty’s garden spinach and apple pouch, which I tasted and compared to what I imagine licking your lawnmower would taste like. And do you know, even though I did my best to make food for her for the first few months, I felt ashamed that I resorted to giving her packet food. I felt like I was a second-rate mum, who gave little regard to her daughter’s well being and future. How’s that for some absurd mum guilt? I’d meet friends for lunch and they’d pull out their little containers full of mashed avocado and half strained, low fat, lactose enriched, salt reduced, calcium dripping cottage cheese (totally made up but you get my drift) and they’d fight their kids to eat even a spoonful while I’d pull out some vanilla custard pouch and after watching my daughter wolf it down and ask for more, I’d be feeling very inadequate even though my child was clearly thriving!

Still on the topic of food – I read an article out of the US the other day about emotional eating and how blame lies with your mother and her relationship with food. UM, WHAT? To a mum (me) who’s struggled all her adult years to date with a serious emotional eating problem, this was like being hit over the head HARD with a giant salami, then stabbed in the guts with a very spiky pineapple or something equally as yummy but hard and somewhat dangerous if ploughed in your guts. I mean, I was in shock, with my mouth open for a minute, until I filled it with some Smarties. I mean, I was feeling a myriad of terrible emotions here so give me some space, ok? I read the bullet points for protecting your kids and I felt somewhat assured that they were still young enough to protect. But boy, did I feel a huge wave of guilt hit me. I thought about all the times, when I was young, when I witnessed my mum hiding in the pantry and eating loads of chocolate. I thought about being caught one day by my eldest daughter, doing something similar. I had a bag of Darrell Lea Orange Balls and was privately enjoying them, or so I thought, until Sailor caught me and quizzed me on why I wasn’t sharing them with her. My response at the time was stupid and looking back, totally unbelievable considering my lips were painted orange and I was clearly enjoying them. I said in a very high pitched quivering voice “I thought they were off and was just checking as I didn’t want anyone to get sick”. Um, great response, you TWIT! She responded with “Well if you get sick then who’s going to look after Scout and me. Huh? Not very smart, is it MUM?” walking off, flicking her hair in the air. I’m left cowering in the cupboard and BOOM – Cue the mum guilt. Then triple it. I’ve not only been caught emotional eating but I’ve also lied, not very well, and now my daughter feels she needs to parent me a bit. This is not good. This could seriously affect her in a few years. She might drop out of school and just decide to go partying because she’s had enough of being the responsible one. How could I have been so stupid? This could RUIN her. Drama, anxiety blah blah, if you’ve suffered from parental guilt, you’ll know how ridiculous the thoughts can be.

There have been plenty of other things that I’ve done or not done as a parent over the years that may have a negative impact on my kids. Like the day I turned up to collect my daughter with a fake eyelash sticking out of my chin like a big black thick chin hair. I had no idea. She was clearly horrified when she saw it. She mentions it from time to time as ot was “so embarrassing and everyone was laughing at you”. There’s the time my husband and I were having a joke argument and he said something really smart to me and I fire back with an “Oh my GOSH, Shut Up” only to be glared at by my daughter for using a “swear word” in a fight with “poor daddy”. Which my husband thought was hilarious and pretended to cry just to stir us both. I was not impressed the following day, when I discovered she had told her teachers and head of the day care that “mummy had yelled a swear word at daddy and made him cry.” Despite my numerous attempts to tell her the truth of that event, she always raises it when I try to jokingly bring down daddy from the pedestal the girls hold him on. For example, Grant and I often joke about being the better parent to our kids and each time I’m told “No mummy, you can’t be the best, remember that time you told daddy to shut up?” And my husband always cheekily chimes in with “Yeah, mum. Remember that?” I felt terrible at the time, like really guilty. My husband and I rarely ever fight and never in front of the kids. It wasn’t even a legitimate fight and I’m tainted as the abusive partner in my daughter’s eyes. MUM GUILT, take me now!

We parents are so desperate to get it right with our kids that we punish ourselves unnecessarily over ridiculous things. I’m totally guilt of this. Damn, there’s that word again – guilty! I’ve looked at heaps of research on this topic (Well, I spent an evening Googling it) and from what I can see, it’s a huge topic with lots of parenting websites and journals giving advice on how to deal with the heavy load of mother’s guilt. I’ve compiled the best ones below for your easy reference and for my own sanity!

  • Be realistic! There is no “perfection” to “parenting”. You will stuff up from time to time and that’s fine. When you do, explain to your kids that you’re just human and don’t ever be afraid to say sorry!
  • Stop comparing yourself to others. This means don’t compare your “best” to another parent’s “best”. Especially don’t use social media as a yard stick for what you “should” or “shouldn’t” be doing. Social media is not real life. Your best is good enough.
  • Love your kids and laugh with them. Be present with them as much as you can.
  • Look at what you are doing right. Practise gratitude. Try to focus on the positive things you’ve done. Encourage feedback from your kids about what you are doing right for them.
  • Remind yourself that a little bit of guilt can be healthy. It helps you fine tune your parenting. It means you love your family.
  • Don’t be too hard on yourself. Tell yourself that you’re building resilient children each time you make little mistakes along the parenting journey.
  • Remind yourself that your children won’t be little and won’t need you for long. Enjoy as much of it as possible.

There’s always a positive to a negative situation you see. For feeling such deep-seeded MUM GUILT, I was able to really appreciate the points above. Some other positives you can take from negative situations include: Throwing out your child’s piles and piles of artwork might bring on an attack of the mum guilt, but just tell yourself your child is less likely to become a hoarder because you’ve taken action and they’re much more likely to be better at art because they’ll keep practicing. See how I did that?

 

Little Sailor, at her school assembly while the Junior School sang Happy Birthday to her. Ol Mum of the Year (me) missed the moment!

 

I’m no expert but I find it helps to remind yourself that your children won’t be little and won’t need you for long. Enjoy as much of it as possible.

 

Try to be really present when you spend time with your kids. It can be difficult at times I know, but I find putting down your phone or computer and giving them some quality time helps alleviate constant Mum Guilt.

 

Remind yourself that a little bit of guilt can be healthy. It helps you fine tune your parenting. it means you love your family.

 

Don’t be too hard on yourself. Tell yourself that you’re building resilient children each time you make little mistakes along the parenting journey.

 

Be realistic! There is no “perfection” to “parenting”. You WILL stuff up from time to time and that’s fine. When you do, explain to your kids that you’re just human and don’t ever be afraid to say sorry!

 

My Mum beast frend” – Sailor (5) drew this picture for me and was really proud to give it to me. I’d had a rough day but this reminded me of why us parents do what we do! I had a good giggle that she put so much detail not the pic , like my “dark underneath hair” (dark roots) and my “big round chin and neck”!

 

This beautiful hand written card was given to me for no reason by Sailor. I try to look at it often. I think it’s a sign that I’m doing a good job, even though some days it’s so hard I really doubt myself! What signs do you have?

Chezzi xox

3 responses to “The Family that Guilt Built”

  1. Mel says:

    Why do we do it to ourselves?
    Society isn’t hard enough on us already?
    As time has passed in my motherhood journey, I’ve learnt to be not so hard on myself and from that I’ve learnt to be not so critical and hard on other mother’s choices.
    I will be the first to admit that internally I was such a judgement bitch and it all came from my own insecurities and fear of not being good enough.
    I’m not perfect and I can’t be there for my kids all the time, they need to learn to stand on their own 2 feet, be independent.
    I don’t want my kids to manipulate and guilt me into stuff so they get their own way all the time and become entitled adults.
    It’d be nice to be there for events but it doesn’t make me love them less, we do other things together and I show and tell my love all the time.
    I also want to show my 2 girls that it’s important to spend time by yourself, as a mother. They need To be educated on life balance because when they are 38 and have kids I can guarantee there will be even more pressure put on them.

    Chezzi, pat yourself on the back or open a bottle of wine to celebrate.
    Your kids love you and they are alive so by my standards you are effing rocking this motherhood gig!!
    X

  2. Kylie Gilford says:

    Chezzi, you’ve hit the nail well and truly on the head of his ridiculous thing we do to ourselves! Mum guilt is crippling. I have it everyday when I head off to work, wen I’m at home and can’t give my kids full attention for whatever reason, when I’m away from them, basically everyday o suffer from it. It’s dreadful and something I’ve just learned to manage better over the years but you’ve opened my eyes and helped me articulate well how I’m feeling and how silly it is. I will use your points to deal with it. You’re just a amazing I want to say. I really love everything you write about and how you write it. What a brilliant post! Gee whiz your posts are just so damn relatable, I feel like I’ve known you for years. Thank you on behalf of mothers everywhere.

  3. Leanne says:

    hi chezzi
    I am sure I will never get Barnados mother of the year award, sending my daughter to school saying you will be” fine” with a sore throat picking her up with 38.3 temp, and tonsilitis, I felt so bad, after a temp the night before but fine at brekky.
    as for food when she was 2ish using the cooky cutter shapes to put mash veg in and hey presto animal shape vegies thank god for tomato sauce and gravy me so tired I just ate what she ate..now at almost 12 yrs old she cooks for me crumb chicken ,jacket potato, casseroles, cakes, roast dinner for mother day and my birthday.

    I am sure once you become pregnant have your child/ren your memory just goes from putting the milk in the microwave instead of fridge to forgetting where you put something 5 minutes ago my saying is I am not an octopus with 8 arms nor do I have a turbo up my butt so be patient I can only do so much. being a single mum is hard your the goody ,badie, bff, house keeper ,grounds person jack of all trades but best thing of all is I am a mum to a lovely young lady my baby, with my faults and all . she tells me I love you to the moon and back 20 + times a day so I must get somethings right!?
    mother hood does not come with a manual so forgetting things, loosing the plot, being off in lala land is nornal I guess.
    take care
    cheers
    Leanne

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