I get impatient with this subject. Frankly, if I saw this headline, I might not even read it because I think it’s overdone and I’m tired of it. I’m tired of hearing about it, I’m tired of reading about it and I’m tired of feeling it. However, it persists! It seems that no mother is immune and that’s what annoys me about it. I know, as we all do, heaps of clever, accomplished, caring, nurturing, theatrical, creative, entrepreneurial, educated, active, brilliant women who, for all of that, harbour feelings of inadequacy and guilt about their abilities and responsibilities as mothers.
Whether it’s non-working mothers feeling guilty about not contributing, or not contributing enough to the family income. Working mothers who worry they’re not ‘there’ enough for their kids, can’t volunteer at the school and who wonder what the real cost of their income and career is to their kids. Or mothers of toddlers, let’s say, driving themselves mad trying to keep a tidy, organised home, get super-fit and lose their ‘baby weight’ and fein interest and energy in playing cars and blocks. It seems that whatever you do, however well you do it, if you’re a mother, you’ll find something to feel guilty about. In fact, we seem to be so good at it that even when things are great and there is literally nothing to feel guilty about, we’ll make something up. But that point right there only illustrates the illogical absurdity of mother guilt and the reason there’s the requirement not just to ignore it, but to slay it.
When I hear my beautiful friends expressing their feelings of mother guilt, I want to shake them by the shoulders and shout, “But you are enough! You’re doing a brilliant job - I would be your kid!”. I see how wonderful they are, wonderful in ordinary, every day ways as well as in very special and talented ways, and I despair because I want them to see it too. But that’s what friends are for, and believe me, I tell them, and I also understand because although I can see their enough-ness, I can’t always see my own, and therefore am also cross about mother guilt from the things I feel about myself.
The way I see it, but am not always able to apply, mind you, is that the only answer to mother guilt, the only thing that slays its torment and waste-of-time negativity, is connection with your self. Connection with your inner soul, your true self, your why. Call it what you like, but I’m convinced it’s the only thing that, apart from stalwartly ignoring it, is going to get you to a place of freedom. It doesn’t matter what that inner truth is, what those inner desires are, there is no right or wrong, only what’s true for you. Connecting with that truth is key. It reminds you why you do the things you do, it shows you the meaning and purpose in what you do and it also uncovers the opportunity and ability to choose when a choice has to be made.
Think of the innumerable figures throughout history, both male and female, mothers and not mothers, who have struggled for their cause, who have risen up in the face of ridicule and persecution, not to mention inner turmoil and yes, guilt. How could they do it? Because they were deeply connected to their purpose, they believed in their mission so strongly that their inner voice was louder than the doubt and the guilt.
So what's that has this got to do with mother guilt? With feeling I should earn more, be with my children more, work more, work less, volunteer more, bake more, cook more, clean more, or less? … Everything.
You don’t have to be a world changer because the truth is that no matter what kind of mother you are, whether you work or don’t work, and whether you have a choice in that, or not …. you are the centre of the world to your kids. Period. They love you just the way you are and they are extremely accepting and abundantly forgiving of who you are and what you do and what you do not do. They’re not fussy, so don’t be so fussy with yourself and don’t let the world be fussy with you either. The most important thing you can do for them is to show them leadership in being truly connected with yourself and what makes you uniquely happy. Isn’t that what you want to teach your kids anyway, or at least something like it? To know themselves, embrace their uniqueness and create a life that’s courageously tailor-made to utilise their own special gifts and which brings them as much joy as possible?
I do. And hey, I’m not saying it’s easy - I wouldn’t be writing this if it was and, so you know, much of what I write and share are messages I want to give myself, NOT because I’ve got it all sorted out and have all the answers, but because it’s what my heart’s saying and what I’m trying to teach myself to listen to.
Your kids don’t care how much you work, they certainly don’t care how much you earn (well, maybe mine are just too little yet, maybe that’s coming!!!). They don’t really care how healthy, home baked and organic your meals are. They don’t care what car you drive, whether your bathroom’s renovated or not, and they certainly don’t care how big your bum is! They don’t care because they don’t understand. They deal in the basics. They care about whether you’re happy. They care about whether you laugh. They care when they see you cry. They care when they see you loving and caring for other people. They care that you’re doing things that make you happy. They don’t care if that happiness comes from work, or if it’s writing, or art, or volunteering, or playing sport, or faith, or experimental cooking, or stock options, or organic gardening, or property developing, or reading, or investing, or, or, or - they just care about you being happy and they’re relying on you to show them how it’s done.
If you ask me, mother guilt will always be there. It seems to come with the territory, at least for mums who actually want to be great ones. And I’ve said to my friends countless times when they’ve told me about feeling guilty or just crappy about some aspect of their mothering, that the only reason you even have the capacity for feeling this way is because you care and you’re trying and it matters to you. So cut yourself some slack - I’m glad you care and are trying, your kids are lucky to have that, so don’t diminish it.
But beyond that, to actually slay those feelings and eventually eradicate them altogether, you’ve got to connect with what’s inside you. With what makes you tick, with what makes you happy, with what’s important to you, with what your mission is, with the person, the woman you most want to be. Yep, I know, a lot there and a big ask, especially if you’ve lost touch so much you know little more about yourself than your own name. It’s ok, that happens. Connecting with yourself, with your heart, with that person who’s the real you, even if you’ve never actually had the courage to be that person before, takes time, it takes courage and above all, it takes practise. You have to listen, you have to back yourself and you have to be prepared to give yourself a proper hug when you get those glimmers of ‘yeah, I’m onto something’. And then repeat. Again. And again.
When you tap into that and practise doing the things that make you feel that way, that make you feel aligned with your heart, it’s inevitable that it grows. It gives you confidence and happiness that allows you to do the things you need to do to be the best you can, whatever that looks like for you. And when you do that, you show your kids joy, you show them what it looks like and feels like to be deeply connected to who you are, and you have the strength and courage to slay those feelings that try to undermine you. A mission work going for, I reckon.
Photo credit: "Cambodian motherhood", by MANovillo via Flickr