Motherhood and Guilt - Are They Inseparable?
By Carol Duncan - 5th July 2010
Here we go, another working mother ranting about how hard it is to be a working mother.
Fact: it isn't easy, any of it. If you're visiting happychild - you already know that! I love being a mum and I love working. Trying to combine the two means living with the nagging thought that I'm not giving 100% to either of them. Or the housework. Or my husband. Or my siblings, my father, my friends, my garden, our dogs, the goldfish ... or my job or my kids or myself ... you get the drift.
"I would be a terrible stay-at-home mother"
But here's the thing, or at least MY thing. I would be a terrible stay-at-home mother. Before children (BC), I used to fantasise about how wonderful it would be to have a tribe of tiny golden-haired children gathered around my feet; we would read wonderful books, bake delicious biscuits, do glorious paintings, visit every park in our town and grow tall and strong and beautiful. At least THEY would. Me? I’d be going nuts.
I love my children; they are the most beautiful, smart, funny, loving boys imaginable. Sometimes when I look at them my heart simply wants to explode. I love their every little achievement, I kiss their every tear.
So, my question for you is - how do you do it all and deal with the guilt?
I think I am a better mother for being a working mother. I don't think I'd be much fun to be around if I was a stay-at-home mum. I am at my happiest when I'm at home in our own little nest. Being a radio journalist who does numerous interviews every day, quite frankly I get sick of the sound of my own voice. I get sick of 'the news'. I get over-connected with people and I long to have a bit of time-out. That said, I love it, I love my work and I love the stimulation that it gives me. I know plenty of stay-at-home mothers and I admire them enormously, but I couldn't do it.
Here’s my imperfect theory on this: it doesn’t matter what you’ve got, how much you earn, how big your house is or how many yachts or staff you might have, you will still experience parent-guilt. Mother-guilt. Father-guilt. Plain old guilt. My friends and acquaintances cover every part of the socio-economic spectrum and I can’t think of one of them who doesn’t sometimes think they’re not doing enough, or that they’re not getting the balance right – even the ones with nannies, assistants and other staff. So at the end of the day, how do you determine that it will all be okay in the end?
My radio job is normal working hours, but I also do a little bit of writing on the side. My 'foreign orders'. I don't do them for money - just ask the editor of this website - I do them because they're usually about the things that I care a little more personally about, or are simply an opportunity to put into words the things I'm thinking about. If they're items I'm writing for my personal blog, I'm mostly happy to put them aside and get to them when I can (which usually means once the kids are in bed), but the commissioned items I have a responsibility for. A deadline. A client. Perhaps I'm already making excuses?
I was recently asked to write a piece for a yet-to-be-launched online magazine for a corporate client. They wanted a family history piece about the family that had founded the company. When I say 'commissioned', I got brought in at the last minute as a hired-gun-fixer after the journalist who had accepted the job, recorded interviews with surviving family and employees disappeared. Went AWOL. With the recordings, which meant starting from scratch with nothing except a surname and a few family myths and legends. Fortunately, I'm a sucker for my own family history so knew which resources to plunder. I think I can proudly say I've created a fabulous, fact-based, very plausible family history for them - and none of the older members of the family are alive so there's no-one to argue with any of it!
One night, sitting at my computer with reams of photocopies from my local library and maybe 163 tabs open on my browser as I desperately tried to make the facts fit, Mr 8 plonked a piece of his own work in front of me. Multiple choice: "Yes" "No" "Don't Hassle".
He was obviously trying not to hassle, but it was clear to me that I must have said, "Don't hassle me with it right now ... " quite a bit during the week that I had my head in that job. It will happen again, sometimes because I've accepted a job, sometimes because I want to get the thoughts out of my head while they're happening, but thank you for the reminder, Mr 8, you are a wise boy.
And as usual, I'll feel mother-guilt, parent-guilt. About not being able to be a canteen mum, or attend school assembly, or myriad other things they'd like me to do. I do, however, feel quietly confident that even if I sometimes feel 'hassled', my boys are better for having a mum who does stuff that gives her life additional meaning and purpose. And when these two lovely boys stop fighting with each other for a few minutes, turn their loving gaze upon their mum (that would be me), declare that I am the ‘best mum ever’ and shower me with kisses and cuddles … I decide that for whatever I’m doing wrong, I must be doing something right.
What do you feel guilty about and how do you let it go? What measure do you rely on to give you the confidence that you’re not making an utter hash of it!?
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