Tuesday, 4 November 2014

a mother's guilt

In the same way that when you're pregnant for the first time, no-one ever thinks to mention to you that approximately three months after giving birth there's a good chance that about 40% of your hair will fall out in handfuls every time you shower, I never had any idea of the extent of maternal guilt that would inhabit my life once I had a child. I don't think there's a mother out there today that is altogether free of it, no matter how positive their outlook or sunny their disposition. Though I do sometimes wonder if our own mothers generation and those before them felt it to such an extent, but I suppose such is the outcome of increased choices and a focus on motherhood as a vocation at which one must excel rather than just a accepted occurrence that you just got on with.

In my daydreams I like to imagine that we are one of those families that all sits around the table on the daily and enjoys a leisurely breakfast together with some pleasant banter to kick of the morning. Surely this should be relatively simple to achieve, however when Curt leaves the house for work every week day at some ungodly hour before even my earliest riser has climbed out of bed, we fall at the first hurdle. Secondly; and most hard for me to come to terms with, is the fact that I am not a let's- leap-out-of-bed-and-greet-the-morning-with-unbridled-joy person. Maybe I was a couple of decades ago but six years of broken sleep on and off will downright destroy any trace of that remaining in a person. Now, when forced to drag myself from a horizontal position I am bleary eyed and like to be left alone for a while, to drink my coffee in peace and come to terms with the fact that a new day has dawned. I usually make the children breakfast still in a zombie-like state, declining requests to sit and join them. Instead I often wait until they are finished and happily playing with their baby sister, and then I take a few minutes to get my caffeine-fix and eat a bowl of granola whilst checking my emails, writing a to-do list for the day and having a quick browse of social media.

I often feel a pang of guilt that in choosing to have a larger clan, I am neglecting the needs of each of my children and that I don't have the time to spend with them one-on-one. For not getting down on the floor and playing with them as much as I probably should, even though I would rather poke myself repeatedly with a sharp stick than play 'shops' or 'Mums and Dads'. In my defence, I do love Sylvanian Families probably more than they do and am a dab hand when it comes to arts and craft projects. Then I remind myself that their siblings are their playmates, and I hope they will be their best friends, confidantes and support network for the rest of their lives. They are resourceful, well able to amuse themselves and have incredible imaginations probably due to the fact I'm not breathing down their necks all day long. On the other hand, children without siblings have rich lives in many other ways, and the undivided attention of their parents. Of course it's never black and white. Sometimes it doesn't even come down to chance, just circumstances and even if choices are there to be made there isn't simply a right or wrong option where the correct decision provides respite from the guilt trip.

Whenever I come across an interview with a working mother, I often read how they make sure they keep their work and home worlds separate, so they can be fully present with their child or children when they come home and give them their full undivided attention. That it's not the quantity of their time that's important, but the quality of it. As someone who is attempting to work from home, even when it's just for a few hours a week, this makes me feel slightly uncomfortable. Especially if I've just been trying to bash out a bit of work at the computer, juggling a baby on one knee and saying to my three year old, "Just hang on a minute" for the thousandth time that day. I start debating f I should go back to work full-time, then would our time together be more valuable or special? Then I remember all of the milestones I have been there to watch, the adventures big and small that we've embarked on together and memories we've made, and the fact that I'm bringing them up the way I want to, rather than according to the policy of a day-care centre.

I think a lot of us forget that it's ok, perfectly normal in fact, not to love everything about being a parent. To occasionally want to escape to an uninhabited tropical island, just for the opportunity to got to the toilet alone (even if that would have to be behind a palm tree) and get a moments peace. Or to long for a night out with our other half, where let's face it, the evening would more than likely mainly consist of sharing anecdotes and reminiscing about how great our offspring are. There's no shame in those days where you are on the verge of  tears about everything and nothing. We should never forget that we're doing a great job. Actually, having the words 'You're doing a great job' tattooed on the back of your hand should probably be mandatory for about 90% of the population when they become parents. And when we sometimes mess up and maybe give out a cross word instead of a hug or forget a promise, they still love us. Every time.

Having said all that, I think I will actually start sitting down with them to eat breakfast every day. The laptop can sit untouched, my phone can be put away. Emails and social media can wait. It certainly won't be the perfect scenario I carry in my head, but while my children still want me to just be with them, I should grab that chance. The day will come, sooner than I can ever realise now, when they won't crave my company in the same way. Or probably want to be seen out anywhere at all with me for a few years. Then a little while after that they'll be out in the world doing their thing and my own world will slowly return to me. Then I'll get to have all the slow and peaceful breakfasts my heart desires, but the table will be a lot quieter without them. And I know I'll miss them like crazy.

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