It ocurred to me that there is a little extra something that a pregnant mother-to-be receives along with the nausea, tiredness, heartburn, and stretchmarks. Something that comes into it’s own after the pregnancy is over, and when the intensity of childbirth begins to fade. The difference is that it doesn’t seem to fade away, and there seems to be no fixed end-date.
GUILT. Mother guilt.
It seems that no-one is immune. No matter how easy, fantastic and enjoyable your pregnancy may have been, and even after a wonderfully joyful, personal and empowering birth. You now have to be an all-knowing, confident, capable mother raising an intelligent (make that advanced) child who is well-behaved, well groomed, and well adjusted. All while juggling a partner, other children, family and friends, work commitments, AND let’s not forget the house and any pets.
This is not a new phenomenon. Mothers have always felt pressure to get everything just right when raising children. A father has traditionally been expected to support his family financially, so he has never had the same intense scrutiny and pressure. Being the primary caregiver means that every success and failure reflects on, and is indeed usually traced back to, the mother. Obviously any person who spends almost all of their time with a small child will be the biggest influence, but there is more to mother-guilt than just that.
It’s the inference that a mother is failing in some way when her child proves to be more challenging (or as I like to say: thinks outside the square). Raising a child is a massive responsibility and can at times be difficult, tiring, baffling, and even overwhelming. So why are we being so hard on ourselves?
Firstly, and very importantly, children come in every different personality and temperament that can be imagined. So there can never be a one-size-fits-all method or approach that will work for everyone. Least of all to be found in the “What To Expect…: type of books that fill the book shops. Surely each mother is the undisputed expert with her own child. A nervous first-time mother is more of an expert with her newborn than her own mother who may well have had sixteen children.
Secondly, most of our children are thankfully growing up to be intelligent, happy, thinking, and highly functioning members of society. It’s like the recent 80/20 diet. If you get it right 80% of the time you’re going to come out fine.
Which leads to one of my pet peeves and the root of mother-guilt. Why the demand for perfection? Everywhere you look the message is that nothing less than the very best will do. It seems that we are no longer allowed to have anything less than perfectly straight whitened teeth, children shouldn’t lisp or say their r’s funny because we have speech therapists, tutors ensure perfect grades, gyms and personal trainers give us the socially accepted size 8-10 body, and don’t even get me started on the beauty industry.
Is anyone even human anymore or are we living in a stepford world? I say ditch the guilt. If you know in your heart that you are doing your best then that is enough. We need to stop comparing ourselves and our children. Be the mother whose kids are free to play outside, watch some tv, or just relax after school instead of being dragged around to endless sports/activities/lessons that are supposed to create future olympians and einsteins.
Without the unreasonable expectation to be a perfect mother we will (hopefully) feel a lot less guilt. Of course there will be times that we do feel guilty. It’s human nature. It’s responsible parenting to reflect, learn, and move forward. We just don’t need to feel judged.
So where does that leave us? Hopefully less hard on ourselves. Kinder to ourselves. More confident. More sympathetic to each other. After all, a happy mother equals happy children.
At the end of the day parenting is the most important and most rewarding job we will ever have. No-one is perfect, and no-one needs to be. Flaws are human, and our flaws and differences are a part of who we are.
Who wants to be a stepford mum anyway?
At least this way our kids will have something to talk about in therapy.