I don’t do guilt. It’s a gift I have, like juggling and being able to fit 14 unbroken cheezels in my mouth at once (seriously, it still burns my brother that I kicked his arse in The Great Cheezel Challenge of 1984). Do you suffer from the whole working mother guilt thing? (I can’t call it “mummy guilt” because it just sounds so fucking patronising and makes me want to cough like I have a fur ball.)
Here’s the way I see guilt that’s helped me develop my super power: it’s a feeling that gives us an opportunity to revisit decisions we’ve made and check that they’re right for us.
If you feel bad about working long hours and getting your kids to make you a three course meal every week night, guilt allows you to look at that scenario and decide whether you are going to change it.
Will you pare back to three days so you can boil a pot of spaghetti occasionally? Will you work shorter days and go watch them play rugby/chess/pickleball in the afternoon? Will you hire a babysitter who can give them one-on-one attention at home when you’re super busy?
If the answer to each of those questions is ‘no’, then the guilt serves absolutely no purpose. Ditch it. And this applies whether you would prefer to spend your days at home doing paddle pop stick craft projects, or you actually love your job and can’t think of anything worse than being a stay at home mum.*
Your guilt is serving no purpose except to make you feel bad. Why let it?
The only remaining use for your guilt is to leverage sympathy from others via a horrid trap we can fall into, that we like to call martyr syndrome.
YOU “Oh, I wish I could spend more time with my kids. I hate the idea of them being brought up by strangers.”
ENABLING FRIEND “Oh, you shouldn’t! You’re doing the best you can.”
YOU “I want to do more.”
ENABLING FRIEND: “You’re a great mum, stop beating yourself up.”
YOU *Glow with shallow vindication*
This may give you a temporary boost, but if you’re looking externally for confirmation that you’re a good parent, it will always be fleeting and shallow, and you’ll be forever needing others to tell you that you’re not terrible.
There are loads of messages in the media about what constitutes a good parent (many of which are trying to sell us something to alleviate said guilt), but let me tell you what I think. I think if you love your kids, you are doing what you think is right, and your kids are happy most of the time, you’re probably an awesome parent.
Who cares if that mum from school bakes cupcakes from scratch or volunteers to run all the reading groups while convening the tuckshop and running the tombola stand at the school fete? I think we could all do well from focusing on the great things we do with and for our kids, rather than those things that other parents are doing that we’re not.
I’m teaching my kids that career is important equally for men and women, that if they pursue their goals with fervour they can achieve anything, that parents are people too, and that sarcasm is an effective communication tool.
What great things are you teaching your kids?
* I know stay at home mums don’t all make paddle pop stick craft all day. But they can if they want to – that’s the point.