Navigating guilt: The art of motherhood.

It’s getting to be a bit of a habit, this sneaking off for some adult holiday time sans the kids.  Well, not really a habit, but it’s happened twice in 10 months, compared to twice in the past ten years… so naturally the guilt has set in.

It didn’t help that, after plans had been made and tickets booked, a clash of events meant we had to wrangle a complicated cobbled-together solution to get our over-booked eldest daughter from a scout camp down south to a couldn’t-be-missed cheerleading competition in Homebush, right in the middle of the weekend.  With little family to rely on, perhaps the sensible thing would have been to cancel our Hobart Dark Mofo adventure, but instead we pretended we were rich and famous and outsourced the problem.  We paid our long-time nanny to get up at the crack of dawn and drive a two-and-a-half-hour round trip to ferry said daughter from one event to the other, and then sit in the stands, cheer her on and send us photos.

And all through our lovely drive around Bruny Island, and over a delicious vineyard lunch, remotely watching our daughter perform, I felt like I was in the running (yet again) for title of Not-Mother-of-the-Year.  I had to have two glasses of wine just to keep from drowning in the bad-mother feels.

Why do we do this to ourselves? Feel guilty, I mean.  Is guilt a natural by-product of childbirth?  Oh bless, you’ve gone to the trouble of having a child.  Here, have a dose of never ending guilt to go with the sleepless nights and saggy boobs?

Last week, as I arrived for a meeting in Adelaide, the phone rang.  Of course it did.  When else would you really be needed by your kids, other than when you are 1400km away?  My son was in sickbay, crying his eyes out in desperate agony from a blinding headache.  And the school wanted someone to come and fetch him, as they were legally (seriously?) unable to administer a simple paracetamol to my son.  And, my second thought (because, in the interests of full disclosure, my first thought was “Oh, FFS, why can’t you just give him a Panadol, WTF is wrong with you people?”) was, “I shouldn’t be working”.  Seriously, that was the thought that flashed into my head.  I should be back in Sydney at the beck and call of my kids, instead of a thousand miles away doing something that I rather like and am quite good at.  I shouldn’t be working.  It’s a shocking thought, unbidden and unwanted, and it’s all to do with mother-guilt.  (As an aside, my wonderful nanny came to the rescue again, and even took him to the doctor. He’s fine, in case you were worried.)

Maybe this is just me.  But I don’t think so.  One thing is for sure, this guilt definitely seems to be specifically related to being a mother.  Google mother guilt and you’ll find 36.5 million articles to trawl through.  All about the guilt that comes with being anything other than the perfect mother – whatever the heck that means.  There are a few articles on Dad-guilt, I’ll be honest, but they all seem to have something to do with working too hard and having affairs.  Maybe mother-guilt is a physical thing, like some sort of second placenta, that should be yanked out during the birthing process but mistakenly gets left inside to eat away at you from the moment your offspring takes his or her first breath.

I want to say I am over it.  This guilt thing.  But it is an ever present feeling lurking in the back of my mind.  So I’m just doing the next best thing – which is not giving in to it.  So yes, I take holidays without the little critters, and I work because I like my independence and using my brain, and I stretch myself thin doing things that take my fancy, because I want to grow.   Because ultimately I don’t, not for one second, believe that making them the centre of my world is healthy for anyone.  Not me, and especially not them.

And when that pious little voice of mother guilt opens her mouth to shower me in shame, as she does on a pretty regular basis, I admit it and write snarky blogs about it, and explain to it, with as few swear words as possible, that you get one life, and I’m trying to experience as much of it as possible, so if she could just get out of the way, I’d enjoy the process so much more.  And it works, sort of.  At least until someone needs me – which is, of course, only when I am otherwise committed.

 

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