The Enemy Within
I am going to tell you about something that happened to a mum who studies today. She is a PhD student in the UK and has given me permission to share this with you.
My son recently started school and this morning in front of other parents he had a big fall. After a bit of crying he was fine and went happily off to class with a cuddle and a kiss. The problem was the other parents. They were surprised that I sent him off with the teacher and one even called me ‘cruel’ because she believed I should have taken him back home. She thought I should be able to take him home because I was “only going home to read anyway and not to work.” As it turns out I had an important phone meeting today. The reaction of the other parents has made me question if I did the right thing by sending him off to school and the resulting guilt is so distracting. I am supposed to be working on my PhD rather than getting upset by this.”
This story brings up a few issues that are particular to the mum who studies. There seems to be a mistaken belief that we are not really working – that we are simply indulging in an expensive hobby. As I have written before, I very much doubt anyone would try and make a typical working mother feel guilty for going to her job. The other thing is studying is such an isolating and lonely experience at times, especially when doing a PhD, that when these comments are made we often go home to stare at a blank computer screen with no-one who is in the same boat to talk to about it. Instead we have to get on with it despite the guilt and anger because the tick-tocking clock of child-free working/studying time waits for no-one.
So to you other mothers who like to make negative comments, I suggest you take one of the following options:
1) Keep up the charade of being the perfect mother and hope you never find yourself down here in the gutters of the real world with the rest of us
2) Try a little kindness like ” geez…it’s a tough gig isn’t it? Hope your son is ok.”
3) Share your snide comments with others in your gang – but please, do it quietly so as to not bother the rest of us
But really, the best option all around is stop the pollution and …
SHUT the hell UP.
Let’s keep sharing these stories and shining the light on the dark places of motherhood. It’s the only way to scare and drive away the ghoulies.
Seven Gifts of Guilt
Do you remember Maria Kang aka Fit Mom?
She is that impossibly gorgeous mother with the smokin’ abs who caused an uproar when she posted this picture of herself in her bikini asking other mothers
‘What’s your excuse?’
Her argument was that mothers should not use their children as an excuse for being unfit/unhealthy /FAT.
After four babies (the latest one was a whooping 4.8kg) I could probably use the skin on my stomach as a baby carrier using a hip tie…but in all honesty I do not even spare one brain cell on this issue.
I live in a world where my five year old tells me he loves my stomach because it feels like dough from the bakery (the same kid who once tried to ‘fluff’ up my belly fat to make a more comfy pillow…true story).
So… why I am interested in this woman and her comments?
She provoked such a reaction from women around the world
She talked a lot about guilt
She said mothers feel guilty
She loves talking about guilt….okay I will stop!
So this is what Maria Kang says:
“As a mother the number one thing you feel is guilt. You feel guilt because you’re not spending time with your child, you feel guilty because maybe you’re not spending time with your husband or maybe because there are other moms who are working”
(She also goes on to say the man is the head of the family but let’s keep on topic here…)
I seem to have a ‘guilt‘ radar at the moment.
Everywhere I look I keep seeing the word bandied about.
From advertising (ice-creams are a guilty pleasure apparently) to small talk at the bakery where I was told not to feel guilty for buying my kids finger buns (ummm….I don’t but thanks anyway, helpful bakery assistant) to the nurse who assured me I shouldn’t feel guilty for putting my children through the pain of immunisation.
Again, thanks for the permission but guilt was the last thing on my mind…way behind ‘I wonder if we need more bread?’
Obviously it is part of our cultural discourse and every-day language but being one of those types who can’t just leave it alone I ‘read too much into it’.
I tried to explain this to my friend the other day: apparently little kids might be programmed not to eat their vegetables because of an evolutionary safety catch which stops them from being poisoned by inedible plants.
I was totally taken with this idea when mid-shower it struck me! What nonsense…I have never seen a kid turn down a green lolly, or green iced-cupcake.
As I explained to my friend I just can’t stop myself from thinking about these things because I DO read so much into them and turn them upside down thinking them over… but anyway back to guilt.
I started thinking…well… there must be more to our love-hate relationship with guilt than meets the eye. So I came up with this list. I call it the…
Seven Gifts of Guilt
1) Guilt Gives us Something to Talk About
Nothing unites us like misery or tales of woe. It starts during pregnancy.
Morning sickness? Bah, this is ALL DAY sickness
and hurries greedily towards the impending labour…
‘You were in labour for 17 hours? My labour started after my anatomy scan at 20 weeks…’
Feeling guilty gives us something to talk about.
I can’t tell you how many conversations I have had with other mothers at various daycares and crèches which go something like:
“I feel so guilty leaving him but I know he stops crying as soon as I am gone”
I have said it myself. What else would we have to talk about aside from the weather?
Talking about how guilty we feel gives us a socially acceptable starting point. I am not quite sure how a heel-clicking, high-fiving mother shouting “freeeeeedom” while her child looked on crying would go down.
This leads me to the next gift.
2) Guilt is an Outward Show of Love
Maybe we think feeling guilty shows how much we love our children.
“I feel SO bad for leaving you so that I can go and talk to other humans who don’t call me Mummy Pig”
(Peppa Pig craze has hit us hard. We are all now members of Peppa’s family while Miss Two is Peppa herself.)
We love our kids so much we can’t bear to be away from them and when we are apart we feel SO GUILTY about it.
3) Guilt is Socially Acceptable
Guilt gives us a reason to stay inside our comfort zone. Citing guilt as a reason for not accepting new challenges and opportunities, or, for not tackling certain activities is more socially acceptable than admitting you are afraid or apprehensive.
Not wanting to be away from your children because you feel guilty is far more acceptable in our society than saying you feel afraid or unsure.
4) You Feel Part of the Gal (Guilt) Gang
All mothers feel guilty right? This is just part of motherhood, isn’t it?
We have bought into this version of motherhood where guilt seems to be an entrenched feature like sleep deprivation, constant worry and endless meal preparation.
I am not sure what happens to those women who openly reject this version of motherhood and guilt.
I suspect we might give them some token public show of respect but secretly view them with suspicion as selfish fringe-dwellers who don’t deserve the gift of motherhood (which some women are so cruelly denied).
BUT WAIT…you said seven gifts! Where are the last three?
My dear reader, I know exactly what I want to write but sadly the last three will have to wait for my next post. My precious writing time this week has been taken up with the following:
1) Cleaning out the cutlery drawer because someone of the short, young variety drained a can of tuna into the drawer instead of the sink. Go figure!
2) I lost our pony-sized dog (he was actually locked in the wardrobe). Again the short, young variety of human was involved but worse, the dog didn’t bark delaying his rescue. I fear he has learned helplessness.
3) Another child looked at me with such seriousness and explained he simply couldn’t go to school because he is having too many problems there at the moment (the other boys want to play Batman not Ninja Turtles). So we stayed at home playing Ninja Turtles.
Until next time…
Cowabunga Dude *(though I am told they don’t say that nowadays!)