This year marks my ninth year as a mother. It also, would you believe, marks my ninth year of “Mum guilt”. It’s a real thing, Mum guilt.
In my experience it descends upon you the moment you hold your babe in arms post birth; “Do I have enough milk for him?”, “Have I left his nappy on too long?”, “Can I do this?”…So it begins. The act of serving and attending to a little human every single day and, along with that, a bunch of inexplicable feelings coloured with worry and self-doubt.
In the past nine years we have been blessed with two more babes who have encouraged my own growth as a parent and enriched our lives greatly. Nonetheless, the feelings of helplessness and constantly questioning my ability as a mother remain. Perhaps they have even heightened since completing our brood.
I find the biggest wave of “mum guilt” appears when I carve out time at the gym or when I add another working day to my week. I question if I am present enough with my boys or am I in fact abandoning my duties as a mother? Such ponderings can override the joy that coincides with allowing myself the time for something I know will enrich my life.
The fear of trying something new or changing my schedule to allow for more “me” time has set me back in the past. I didn’t allow for “self-care” and as a result, everyone in the household suffered. Not just me. It led to a pretty dark place and a whole lot of exhaustion.
When immersed in fear and guilt we can start to believe that we don’t deserve twenty minutes of uninterrupted squats in the back garden.
Parenthood involves a huge dose of serving. Family life is a rich life – there is no disputing that – however it can also resemble a treadmill of breakfast dishes, missed appointments, swim runs, laundry, packed lunches and school trips.
Raising children is a stream of gloriously blessed mayhem whether you are a stay-at-home mum or working full time. It’s full and because of the fullness we can lose our sense of self which inevitably leads to putting our own needs at the bottom of the pile. “Mum where’s my..?” ,“I don’t like that dinner!”, “Can I have a playdate?” “Can you take me to…”.
We are forever subservient to our offspring from the minute our eyes open to the minute we go to bed. So why is it so difficult to serve ourselves a little slice of love and attention?
Considering a coffee date without a small child hanging off our cherry scone creates the worry that our time ought to be spent picking up Lego. We then fall privy to believing it is a luxury to be able to factor time for ourselves into the family week, rather than seeing it as a necessity. It can seem like we are not deserving of the time to rejuvenate our weary bodies or to revive an inner flame of creativity.
Perhaps your self-care goes beyond a gym experience or reading a novel from start to finish. You’ve always wanted to start a business from your living room (this was me five years ago) or to take a trip to a yoga retreat. Maybe wearing a pair of skinny jeans would be enough to let your inner smile appear.
The famous quote by Erin Hanson reads “What if I fall?…Oh, but my darling what if you fly?”. Let me encourage you to pursue your dream, whatever scale that rests on. In your world even small acts of kindness towards yourself are driving forces for long-term happiness.
Release the hold of guilt and fear you once had. Brene Brown writes: “The willingness to show up changes us, it makes us a little braver each time”. Try the gym for half an hour and allow yourself to embrace the freedom of music in your ears. Take the leaflet about starting your own business the next time you are in the bank. Order the jeans. Fear of rejection and judgement does not need to stop you in your tracks this year. Be brave stepping out.
Once the guilt washes over you and you see that everyone in your family will benefit when you show yourself self-care, even in the smallest dose, you will notice a growth in your power as a human being and as a mother.
I’m cheering you on from the sidelines with an understanding heart. I appreciate the shift you have made to allow for an inner joy to rise. You are worthy of a slice of the “self-love” pie and together we can put an end to “mum guilt” in all it’s forms.
Aly Harte is an artist, writer and educator. She feels passionate about encouraging women to accept themselves from their brain to their bones. Find her on alyharte.com