For as long as I can remember, I’ve always done a mean line in self-criticism. I can’t remember a time when that little voice wasn’t constantly chipping away at me with, “what did you do that for?” “Are you stupid?” and “oh for god’s sake, you’re useless”.
Over time, and with a little help, I’ve learned to put that voice in its place, and learnt not to take what it says as gospel. But since that little blue line appeared on that positive pregnancy test, my helpful little friend has been joined by a bigger, bossier taskmaster who demands to be heard; an insidious voice that constantly undermines, questions and picks me up on every little thing that I do as a mother. No, I’m not talking about the mother-in-law, I am talking about guilt – a mother’s constant companion.
Since becoming a mother, nothing has escaped the judgemental tones of my guilt. From: “You had an elective c-section – that’s not a proper birth, you should feel ashamed of yourself for not being able to go through labour” and, “You’re not breastfeeding? But don’t you know breast is best? You’re setting your baby up for a lifetime of illnesses. You’re so selfish,” to the more recent, “You’re feeding your baby jars of baby food? Don’t you care about her enough to cook for her?” and,“You’re going back to work full time? Why did you bother having a baby at all if you’re never going to see her?” For all of these examples, I’m struggling to resist the temptation to tell you why, so you don’t judge me as much as I judge myself. Not one of my friends would be as judgemental or scathing as this internal ‘frenemy’ yet I am surrounded by so many kind, caring and wonderful mummy friends who talk to themselves in this brutal way, somehow fearing that they will be found out to be less than adequate as mothers, when in actual fact each and every one of them is doing a perfectly good job.
Guilt is an emotion that serves very little purpose other than to make us feel bad, yet we give it so much power over our lives. How many of us have done something as a mother simply because we know we will feel guilty if we don’t do it. But the sting in the tail is that even when we do everything to appease guilt, guilt finds ways of creeping back in. Take, for example, my choice of nursery for my daughter: before my baby was even born, I researched and visited a number of different nurseries because I told myself that it would help me to feel more prepared for the inevitable end of maternity leave (which was, I knew, financially unavoidable.) Doing my due diligence on nursery options helped me to assuage the guilt of knowing that I would have to be a full-time working mother, but even by doing so, I felt guilty for planning to ‘get rid’ of my baby before she was even born. Then, despite deciding on a beautiful nursery where I knew I would be happy to leave my daughter, I felt guilty about the fact that it was the most expensive option (cue more justification for that too…)
Hell, my guilt even had guilt when I eventually came to taking my daughter for her first day at nursery: I ended up feeling guilty for NOT feeling distressed at leaving her like other mummy friends, even though all my homework had been to make me feel more confident about my choice in the first place.
It seems that this emotion we call guilt can tie us up in knots so tightly that we can’t see a way out and it undermines our intuition as mothers, making us doubt ourselves even when we know we have done as much as we can for our precious babies. And ultimately, what we have to remember is that our babies don’t judge us. They will not judge you for not breastfeeding them; they will only care that you fed them. They will not judge you for co-sleeping or not co-sleeping; they will simply care that you loved and cared for them as they slept. Babies don’t judge us, so perhaps we need to stop judging ourselves so harshly and start to talk to ourselves in the way that we would talk to our babies; with kindness and compassion, not judgement and criticism.
If we think of this destructive emotion as the judgemental bitch she is, maybe we could start to ignore her as she deserves to be ignored. After all, motherhood is tough enough without that kind of friend’s opinion.
Like this? You can read Hannah’s last blog here
Hannah is a thirty-something mummy since October 2015. Currently trying to navigate through the rewards and challenges of balancing motherhood with full-time primary teaching whilst maintaining an acceptable level of sanity. She loves ballet, books and bedtime but not necessarily in that order! She lives somewhere in the East-Midlands with her 2 small white dogs, man-child and (as coined by my sister in-law) ‘The Baby India’.