December 4, 2017
ARTICLE:

Mummy (parental) guilt

By Dr Megan Yap - Paediatrician

Hello again all you awesome peeps out there that look after little people.

Today I am going to blog about “Mummy guilt.” If you are a dad, or a foster parent/carer – please don’t think that I am excluding you.  I am certain that all types of carers have some form of this kind of guilt (and this blog is ALL INCLUSIVE), but if you will just oblige me this once, it is easier for me to speak in the first person, from experience… and I’m a mummy.

I waste a LOT of my time feeling guilty.  I say “waste” as I am not convinced that it actually achieves an awful lot for me doing it.  I can’t help it.  I wish I didn’t feel that way.  I wish that I could just let things roll off me like thunder through a cloud.  But it doesn’t.  It sticks to me like… I dunno… like… toddler poo on a car seat.

I feel guilty about all sorts of things, pretty much all the time.  Here are some examples just from today… I felt guilty that:

  • my kids were (the only ones of LOADS of kids there being) noisy and running up and down the pew during a christening we attended today (I felt like if I were a better parent, they might behave better)
  • I didn’t have time to paint my daughter’s nails this morning before the christening (I work a lot, and don’t spend heaps of time with her)… but I was running around trying to get myself ready, pack a bag (nappies, wipes, nappy sacks, snacks, water bottles, changes of clothes for both kids “just in case,” hats, sunscreen, formula/bottles/teats for the little one, christening presents etc), get both kids fed breakfast, teeth brushed, hair done and dressed – and I didn’t have time (post script edit: I gave her and her bestie a “Princess makeover” this morning and she was stoked)
  • I didn’t get out for a run this morning – I was too tired
  • I couldn’t get my son to sit down (like all the other kids did) to eat his lunch at he post-christening party
  • Rousing at my husband for not helping me more chase the children around the party to make sure they weren’t breaking things/trying to kill themselves on something (actually I was more concerned about people thinking I was a mad, horrible wife, more than I felt guilty… but anyway)
  • My son was as red as a beetroot leaving the party (it was just a hot day, he actually wasn’t sunburnt) and looked like he was suffering heat stroke (and although retrospectively, it was prolly just time for his nap) so I felt guilty that we stayed too long making him overheated, overtired and cranky
  • I (ironically) yelled at my kids to “BE QUIET!!” when they were arguing over a toy, because by the afternoon I had HAD it and was so exhausted from the morning.
  • The kids didn’t eat enough at the party and came home hungry and looking for food
  • I broke my diet today and ate SOOOO MANY (of the MOST DELICIOUS) arancini balls, curry veggie patties and roasted pork (WITH crackling of course) at the post christening party.

I could go on and on.  But I won’t.  You get the idea. These are the guilts associated with today, that I had ON TOP of all the “everyday mummy guilts” that are there all the time:

  • I don’t exercise enough
  • I don’t spend enough time playing with my kids
  • I work too much (and my kids miss me)
  • I work too little (and don’t earn enough money to pay mortgages and bills)
  • I have broken my kids by yelling at them because I am so tired all the time
  • I love unhealthy food (a lot – when I am not on a diet)
  • I drink too much wine and champagne
  • The food I cook is not nutritious enough
  • I give the kids too much junk and not enough fruit for snacks
  • I don’t even know my daughter’s kindy teacher’s names (face plant)

Why does this happen?

Is it an evolutionary thing?  That happens to make sure we actually DO look after our kids well enough such that they survive to adulthood? Or to motivate us to do a better job than we are doing? Or to make us pay more attention to what kind of parent we are?

OR is it just a pointless, feel-bad emotion that makes us feel like we have not done what we believe in our heart of hearts to be “good enough parenting?”

Certainly I know that I am not alone.  I have talked to my friends about it… they all feel universally this guilt in one form or another.  Admittedly however, I speak to more of my girlfriends who are mums about this compared to my guy friends who are dads.

I read an article recently that quoted sociologist Dr Judy Rose – who dedicated her PhD topic to the “near-universal phenomenon of mother’s guilt.” (http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-06-13/working-mums-juggling-career-kids-feel-mothers-guilt-judy-rose/8601366)

She describes this phenomenon of mothers feeling guilty for taking time out for themselves, and that fathers don’t seem to (at least to the same degree) over missing time spent with children. The reasons for this are obviously complex.  I’ll discuss a couple of the points she made here…

“Our mother’s came from a a different era, a more traditional breadwinner/homemaker model.” 

Even though she goes on to acknowledge that society generally had moved into a neo-traditional model (father working full time, mother’s working part time), this to me resonated, as being the primary breadwinner in our household, I sorely feel that I am not even a quarter the mother to my children, that my mother was to me. How can I be?  I work at least 50 hours a week, and even though only 3 days a week I am “on-site” at work, the days I am home I have to sit in the office and get my work done… meaning I am present physically, but not really present for them emotionally.

I think that society having evolved from “a more traditional model” to its present form, has made women feel that they need to take on extra responsibility – by working and earning money to contribute to the household, AS WELL as being the parent primarily responsible for child care and looking after the household. Somehow we have managed to assume BOTH roles, when the same has not necessarily applied to men universally in reverse.

If I lay it on the line, I feel like I need to be across everything

  • Maintain a close connection with my kids and provide for them financially, emotionally and physically
  • Keep up with work loads, patient needs and admin
  • “Pull my weight” and work to my earning potential to support my family, whilst still being there to put bandaids on scratched knees, cream on eczema, plait hair and make breakfast
  • Keep the house in a state that is fit for us to live in (and not a hovel)
  • Stay on top of the laundry
  • Make sure I am there for all their medical appointments so I know what is going on and can make informed decisions in that respect because (as my husband says to me) “You’re the medical one. I’m not medical.”
  • Practise what I preach and “stay healthy, eat well, keep active” (so I fatigue myself by getting up at 4.30am and running 3-5km before work, 3-6 times a week)

This of course inevitably leads to the need for multitasking, and then invariably to stress, fatigue and for some mental break downs, burn out or marital issues.

What a shocker.

And you know what?  Even if I DIDN’T work, being a mummy, staying home and looking after my kids and running the household, is WA-AY harder than my professional job.  So mums who stay home full-time and look after their kids, must (I can only imagine) feel even MORE responsible for their children’s emotional, behavioural, educational, social and developmental outcomes – because they are devoted to it FULL-TIME.  I don’t know if I could handle that pressure!

 

So what on earth can we/I do about it?  This question really forced me to sit down to be introspective.  It was REALLY hard.  And I know I need to “listen to my own advice.”

 

  1. Perfection can be both your idol AND your enemy.  I know I strive to do everything as best I can, and although this in itself is not necessarily a bad thing… it totally burns me out.  I am exhausted.  I spend HOURS on my kid’s birthday cakes (I’m not a baker), family meals (I am not a chef), work, blogging, keeping fit etc etc and at the end of the the day… Perfection is just not real.  It doesn’t exist.  I. NEED. TO. GET. REAL.  And so do you.
  2. I need to learn to be kind to myself and to actually make myself a priority. I almost universally put everyone else’s need before my own.  That’s what mum’s do.  My mum did it for me and my siblings.  You do it for your kids.  But when it gets to a point where you are AT burn out… you are actually no good to anyone, least of all yourself.
  3. Stop comparing yourself to other parents! In the same way that everyone has their own individual strengths and weaknesses, each parent will do things slightly differently.  It doesn’t mean you are worse and they are better… we are just different.  There is more than one way to parent a child, and you need to realise that your best is good enough.
  4. Recognise your guilt for what it is, and don’t beat yourself up over it! Even though on the whole, I feel it is an unhelpful emotion… it is also normal.  It means that you care for and love your kids.
  5.  Walk away from judgemental parents and find yourself with a group of friends who are like-minded in parenting as well similar in work-home life balance. At the very least, hang out/talk to people who won’t judge you.  Ain’t nobody got time for that.
  6. Try to focus on your POSITIVES. Think about (and be grateful for) the things you DO well, rather than those things you don’t.

 

And now… it is 10pm… and I promised myself I would run tomorrow morning (since I didn’t go for a run this morning, but ate a whole heap of awesome arancini balls, fried curried veggie patties, cake and then when I got home a WHOLE family pack of corn chips..   oh man… I totally do not regret it.  It was worth it).  I need to go to bed.

 

I don’t know if this blog post has been helpful to anyone out there.  I think it has been helpful for me to reflect on it.  I am not even sure that I am qualified to give any advice on the matter as I suffer from this terribly all the time myself.

I DO know however, for me at least in relation to “mummy guilt” it feels better when you know you are not alone, and for someone to tell you that in relation to your parenting “your best is good enough.”

 

Good night guys – chins up!

 

XxDr Megs

For more articles from Dr Megan Yap visit her blog – “Dr Megs – Paeds & Feeds” at http://www.kids-health.guru/

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