Mothers’ Guilt. I very rarely feel it. I’ve written about why and how not to feel it in my book ‘Dear Mummy You’re Important Too’. But while holidaying recently I felt it, wrestled with it and now, am reconciling it.
I am ‘mum’ but this role does not define me. I wear many hats, have many responsibilities, there are many layers of me – just like you, and all of us. But ‘mum’ is an all-encompassing and sometimes suffocating role that can be hard to detach from. Don’t get me wrong, I fully believe the quote in my book:
‘Children are not a distraction from more important work. They are the most important work.”
From a young age I always wanted to be a mum and despite friends and family seeing me as a ‘career woman’, when I left my job to have my first baby I told my boss not to expect me back because I wanted to give my all to my babies in the formative years. When I did go back to work, and when the kindy years commenced, I was very intentional about how much time they had away from me, basing my decisions around the concept of attachment theory.
Now I wonder if that’s led to a catch-22. I know in my heart (and the science affirms) that I’ve done the right thing. My daughters are very securely attached, with an esteem and resilience borne of the deep knowing that in me they have a secure base to return to; a face that in the infant and toddler “attachment” years (0-3 years) they would go no longer than 3 hours without seeing. But…
Being their secure base sometimes feels like I’m a playground, a couch, a bed, an extension of them, when actually, I’m ME: a woman whose core values includes independence, a woman whose core desired feelings include free.
And so on this holiday I was torn. My littlest daughter got sick, and for 3 days she clung to me day and night. I soothed her, stroked her, sung to her. I was happy to: she’s my flesh, my blood, my world. But after three days with barely a minute to myself I was tapped out, touched out. Perhaps I mightn’t have been if at home, but we were on day 18 of a holiday with the extended family in-law, a group of 13 staying deep in the countryside, so it was a matter of my independence-craving, beach-loving spirit being depleted. I was a walking contradiction, my psyche in disharmony:
- I value connection but needed solitude
- I was deeply grateful for the holiday but desperately missed home
- I wanted to nurture my daughter but needed to nurture myself
I am the author of my story, the leader of my life. Not only do I value harmony, but I know how to cultivate it: it’s one of my core strengths as assessed by world renowned Gallup’s scientifically developed CliftonStrengths assessment. From this assessment I know another of my strengths is Responsibility: I take action. When you know your values, your core desired feelings, your strengths, it’s easier to make decisions, to point the compass toward your true north, the place of personal fulfilment. This is the work I do and these (CliftonStrengths, Desire Mapping) among the tools I use in my coaching to guide others (I’ve been in beta on this, launch pending, do get in touch if you’re interested). This time, I had to do the work on myself. So I took action to do what I needed, to bring myself back to my centre, back in alignment, back into harmony. I rallied my husband and we high-tailed it to the local village pub for a couple of beers and a pizza, our small table a sanctuary where I could breathe, soften, centre, feel light, feel free.
And yet. I felt guilty at leaving my daughter. She was very definitely on the improve, ensconced on the couch being read to when I left. But still. I felt it. I sat with it. I reflected:
Maybe Mother’s Guilt is the burden of being a mummy. But, maybe too, Mother’s Guilt is the privilege of being a mummy.
Maybe Mother’s Guilt is the burden of being a mummy. Our hearts are weighted with the responsibility to love, protect, be that safe base, our bodies not our own but instead considered and treated as home to our children. But, maybe too, Mother’s Guilt is the privilege of being a mummy. Our hearts are expanded with the arrival of our children, little people who are our biggest teachers, who love us unconditionally, souls ever bound to ours, enriching our own souls, bringing colour to our lives. This holiday they’ve brought sunshine to the countryside, bathing fields of wheat in their golden light.
So though I felt this guilt, and can relate to all mums, dads and caregivers who experience it too, I get to choose – as we all do – how this story ends…
It is not a story of woe is me, but one of conscious consideration, one that uses my other strengths of Positivity and Maximising the situation, one that ultimately is grateful for the guilt. I accept the guilt because:
… it means I’m being present;
I accept the guilt because it’s part of being a mummy and with the darkness of guilt comes the light of my daughters’ souls, the light, joy and wonder of being a mummy;
I accept the guilt because it’s an expression of compassion;
I accept the guilt because it’s a by-product of taking care of myself, which is the ultimate form of self-respect and which my mind, body and soul are counting on me to do;
And with this acceptance I feel reconciled, resolved, restored.
Thank you, dear reader, for listening. Lately my writing has been a stream of consciousness to illuminate feeling and discovery of self. The funny thing is, after publishing my most recent and most revealing posts I received several messages from people I didn’t know saying “yes! me too!”. As said by Glennon Doyle “the more personal we get, the more universal we get.” I do hope there’s something here that triggers you well: perhaps feelings of connection, tribe, understanding, relief, and most importantly belief that you are important too and deserving of your own self-compassion.
If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.
Much love, light and wishes of freedom for you all,