Parents, Stop Feeling Guilty
Oh you’re kidding, aren’t you?!
With just 15 minutes until my yoga class started, my daughter decides to run to the bathroom. Bringing a book in with her of course. It would take 15 minutes to get to the class.
Oh no. I knew what that meant.
Hurry up! I’m going to start the car!
I just need 1 more minute mum…
There it was, my trigger for transforming into the incredible hulk. She had hours before we left, and she pulls this out now.
If I needed a restorative yoga class before, I sure as hell needed it now.
I stomped around, yelling at her to get a move on. Even driving the car out of the garage, down the driveway in the hope that she’d move her little toush faster.
And then I went back in. Because of course, she wouldn’t move faster.
Finally, we got her out of the house.
We hurriedly drove to my class. Knocked on the gate — it was shut because we were late. Rang the doorbell.
Fuming, I got into the car and drove home.
See what you’ve done?! I’ve missed my class because of you!
And while being so angry, I felt a little guilty.
Because maybe I should have helped her get ready earlier. Instead of leaving it to her.
Because maybe I shouldn’t have let her eat yogurt as well as eggs on toast for breakfast when we were pushing time.
Because I should have let her choose her clothes the night before. Not let her eat breakfast until she had changed. Maybe I should have gotten out of bed earlier.
Because I’m soo tired and maybe I need to figure out how we can all get more sleep…
I was so furious at her. At myself. And I always manage to find a way to feel guilty about feeling how I feel. And finding ways for why it was my fault.
We do that as parents, don’t we?
It’s as if when we find out we’re having a kid, we instantly receive the gift of guilt. Guilt that brings out the superhuman in us. The insanity. The side of ourselves we never knew existed.
When women are pregnant, we think:
“Urgh, I’m not giving baby enough nutrients. But I feel like crap and just want to eat fried chicken. I can’t stomach vegetables.”
When bub is born, we worry about feeding. Breastmilk is liquid gold, we learn. We need to breastfeed as long as possible.
I had trouble with it. So to compensate, I did it all. Breastfed, expressed, and topped up with formula to make sure she put on weight. To give her liquid gold.
Even if it took an hour or so to do it all.
8 times a day.
And then as they get older, it continues…
Grrr… she keeps waking up at night with nightmares. I know I said I’d never let her stay in our bed, but I can’t handle walking down the hallway to her room to soothe her 5 times a night anymore.
“Screw it, she can share my bed. Hubby will sleep on the couch.”
“The other parents went to the school assembly but you weren’t there,” she accused me.
I once went out with a friend I hadn’t seen for years. And hubby called and called because she was crying and sick, asking for me. But I had my phone on silent and didn’t realize.
It’s tough being a parent. There’s so much to feel guilty about!
We’re expected to be superhumans, functioning as well as every other person, on years of sleep deprivation, at the beck and call of our dependents and partners, at the detriment of our own wants, needs, and dreams.
We’re expected to progress careers, run our businesses, organize everything and everyone… yet we feel guilty leaving our kids in after-school care.
I can’t bring myself to leave her in care, despite how amazing that extra time would be.
It’s no wonder that many parents don’t take time out for themselves. Their lives revolving around their kids, day and night. Year after year.
Is there a better way to live without guilt as parents?
Well, I’m working on it. Because I am sick of feeling and hearing about guilt from parents.
My friend Margaret from mum’s group has been having trouble with her weight for many years.
She started a weight loss program which includes exercise.
But her younger daughter Selena is 3 and still at home with her. She has 2 choices: to not go. Or bring her along- if there’s a care option and she dared to use it.
“I used to feel guilty. F*!k it. You can go to creche.”
She explains with conviction before I even ask. Every parent wonders how to do simple things like exercise, with a kid in tow.
A win for parents everywhere.
You see, it’s easy to look at someone, and see the bags under their eyes. The weight packing on. And think, “What a slob. How could they let themselves go.”
And just as easily, parents can accept this is what their lives have become. And just roll with it.
“We’ll get our lives back when they’re older”
“They won’t be young for long. Times goes so quickly”
“I’m too tired”
“I can’t leave the kids with my partner/grandparents by themselves”
“It’s not worth paying a babysitter”
But the danger is one day leads to another, leads to a week, a month, a year, leads to 10 years of picking up after your kid, neglecting yourself, feeling guilty, feeling guilty…always feeling guilty about something.
What guilt really means
Many of us parents feel guilty because we adore our kids — and we want the best for them.
We’re aiming for perfection. Perfect parenting. According to who? No one knows exactly. Just that we need to aim for it.
We believe in laboriously making regular home-cooked dinners because it’s healthier for the kids.
Though we’re so over the week and the last thing we feel like doing is cooking on a Friday night.
We believe putting her into plenty of extracurricular activities will help her feel confident.
Though it all adds up to be damn expensive and puts a strain on finances, and parent relationships.
We believe we need to get a home in the right school zone to give her a better future.
Though we don’t like the area, we don’t want to move, and it’s not convenient for anyone.
We believe in missing out on exercise because our kids need us. And it’s been so long it’s all too hard now.
Though our muffin tops are turning into seal blubber, we puff upstairs, and give our partners the ‘don’t fucking touch me, can’t you see I’m wrecked?’ look when they dare to put a little finger on our thigh.
I’m sick of feeling guilty
And so should you.
We love our kids so much we hyperventilate at the mere thought of losing them. That’s why we angrily scold them when they wander onto the road, unbuckle their seatbelts, or catch a bad cold from playing in the rain without a jacket.
We have a bad case of FOMO (fear of missing out) for them. That’s why we sign them up for tennis, swimming, music, dance, reading time, buy maths software for them and a Japanese accelerated learning program before they’re hit 5.
We feel like we’re not enough when our partner comes home from work and we have dishes piled in the sink, toys are strewn all over the floor, and dinner hasn’t been made — because we made a point of ignoring it to work on the business, or go to a job, rather than spending all our free time cleaning the house.
Even when no one makes us feel guilty, we do it ourselves.
Let’s stop the guilt now!
We don’t need to put on hold our lives, our friends, our health, our sanity, for the sake of our kid.
How can we possibly give our kids the best of ourselves — of everything when we’re tired. Unhappy. Stressed. Overworked. Underpaid. Cranky. Guilty. Impatient.
For the sake of our kid, we need to be doing the exact opposite:
Do what excites us and brings us joy.
Spend quality time with our friends and family.
Make exercise a must.
Schedule ‘me time’. Especially if you are an introvert as I am. Go for a hike. Yoga. A run. A bike ride. A spa treatment.
Go away for a child-free, even partner-free weekend.
Share your stresses and your vulnerabilities. It will transform your life.
Ask for help.
Define success — our own version of it. Rather than our mum’s, our neighbor’s, our kid’s teacher’s, or the whiny woman who walks past us waiting to cross the road and feels the need to comment “she’s just a little girl, put a dress on her”.
American research professor Dr. Brene Brown tells us the solution to perfection is compassion. Self-love. Believe you are worthy. Because you are.
Parents, let’s listen to people like her. And less to people like the judgemental outspoken stranger on the street. Or even our well-meaning relatives.
On the way home after missing my class, I racked my brain thinking of a way to let go of my anger.
I’d go home, shut the study door, and start writing, I thought. She could read a book or *gulp* watch TV by herself for an hour and a half.
Then I noticed the gorgeous cloudless blue sky, the delicious warmth on my skin, an occurrence that doesn’t usually happen in April in Melbourne.
I remembered we wanted to get her off training wheels before the school term begins.
I remembered that fresh air every day was good for kids.
And a jog outdoors would surely calm me down.
It helped both of us. I said sorry for losing my shit — and explained why it happened. She understood and perhaps she will try better next time. As I would.
But I didn’t feel guilty about blowing my top. It would have been nice if it didn’t happen. But so many things in life are nice if they don’t happen, aren’t they?
We are parents. We are human. It will happen again.
But through awareness, self-compassion, and honesty, we will do the best we can for our kids. So let’s chill out, feel what we feel, do what we do…
and not feel so guilty all the time.