Duties versus needs? Welcome to mama guilt!

 A sunny picnic by the river mid bike ride - one of those rare and lovely occasions where the whole family's needs overlapped! 

A sunny picnic by the river mid bike ride - one of those rare and lovely occasions where the whole family's needs overlapped! 

Today I'm feeling guilty. That special kind of guilty that only mamas feel. The kind that implies that you are not doing what you should be doing, that you are wrongly putting yourself first before your kids, that you are neglecting your duty, that you are selfish and that therefore somehow you have failed.  

Let me explain: my son has a half-day at school on Wednesdays. The three and a half spare hours this represents could be precious mama time. Reasons this would be lovely: today it is sunny, I like to be outdoors when it's good weather, I love him very much, he is a sweet, funny boy, we both enjoy going to the park, I would like to get to know him better and there is only one more half-day until the end of term. Plus, since he suffers from two-elder-sister-syndrome, he often doesn't get the chance to express the real him (as opposed to the younger brother they need him to be at that moment).

And yet...I've just asked his school if they can keep him for lunch and the afternoon so that I can collect all three kids together. 

Cue: mama guilt. 

Why? Because I am putting the notion of what I think a nicer, better, kinder, more fun mama would naturally do over what I actually feel like doing. I am judging myself for not being this nicer, better, kinder, more fun mama and trying to be more like her is, I feel, my DUTY. 

But today I am feeling whacked because of strong opiate painkillers I took earlier today, dazed by the episode that led to me taking the drugs and I am in a productive mood and want to get things ticked-off my to-do list. I also feel like hibernating in my office for the afternoon now that the house has just become an indoor (as well as an outdoor) building site as a result of the builders just knocking through the first floor into the loft. Plus I'm day 19 and no self-respecting human should come near me on day 19. In short, I feel like me-time not mama time. And these, I feel, are my NEEDS. 

So how do you marry the two? Well, you can't. You just have to choose one over the other.

And because parenting is a juggling act, there are no rules: mostly the kids' needs will come first but sometimes yours will. Theirs take priority if it is urgent, they do not pose a risk to your sanity or they are unlikely to turn you into resentful, shouty mama. Yours must take priority if you are on the brink of the parenting abyss.

And it helps to accept that choosing you over anyone else will always bring guilt. Either weak and fleeting or strong and persistent, it's all part of the parenting package.

You can however mitigate its effects. You can: 

  • acknowledge that nicer, better, kinder, more fun mama doesn't actually exist
  • remind yourself of the good reasons behind your choice
  • hold back from assuming that you know what someone else is thinking or what they would prefer. You don't. You are not them. You are you.

Thus for me, today, this means: 

  • remembering that I am doing the best I can with the tools that I have. I am not perfect. And that's ok
  • making up for it by taking all three kids to the paddling pool after school. Which means they will have each other to play with and I will niftily avoid the tantrum that would have arisen had the girls found out that their younger brother had spent the afternoon in the park without them (unfairness is the hot topic du jour)
  • know that my son will probably see his afternoon of arts and crafts at school with materials, expert guidance and creative input that I can't provide at home as more of a treat than just another trip to the park

Parenting is a journey towards self-worth and self-confidence. You may have enjoyed lots of this before the life bomb that is kids but unless you are Little Miss Perfect Parent, these attributes will definitely have been dented. We need to dedicate all of our love and attention to our children when they are babies who cannot fend for themselves, but as they get older we must tweak the amount we give out to reflect their independence and our need for emotional and physical wellbeing. 

When our cup is full or overflowing we are able to give out alot more than if we have starved ourselves of the nurture and nourishment we need to satisfy our needs. So self-care isn't selfish, it's actually selfless as well as necessary. After all, a happy mama = happy home. 

In which areas do you feel most mama guilt? And what are your coping mechanisms? Please share in the comments below!