Ask many a parent to name the first emotion or feeling that comes into their heads when they think of their children and they will say, without hesitation, “love.”
Ask them what the second is and most will joke “tired” or “insane” or reply with the more blissful “happy” (all contenders) but my answer, and I think the deep-rooted answer of others – “guilt.”
Big meaning for such a small word really isn't it?
The moment Wilbo took his first breath, was the moment I started worrying. “Is he okay? Does he have a cleft palate like me? My syndrome? Someone tell me. Did I ruin him?” It’s an honest admission, but it’s how I felt, it’s how I was speaking inside my head.
Then he wouldn't latch on. I felt guilty that I couldn't breastfeed like a cow straight away.
Then he would cry. “What am I doing wrong? Oh baby, I’m sorry!”
Then I went back to work. He was eight weeks and six days old. Some may just round that off to nine weeks but every day counted for me.
Ever since then I have battled with so many stages of guilt. I can’t seem to stop. And it was bringing me down. I felt that I could have been such a better mother, but I just didn't have the facilities to do it. I just needed to win the lottery, have a perfectly clean and nicely decorated house, the lactation properties of a dairy herd, patience of a saint, imagination of Mary Poppins and I’d be sorted.
But that’s not real life. It will never happen, and has no chance of happening, especially as I don’t actually buy a lottery ticket that often...
If I stayed at home with my son and taught him to sing Do, Re, Mi just like good old Maria (I’m sensing a Julie Andrews theme here) and cook wonderful cupcakes to make Mary Berry jealous, and held him close when he has a cold and his little nose makes snot bubbles that makes him look, to quote my mother, “like a bull frog” then he wouldn't have a home. He wouldn't have the things he needs. And I’d be back to square one in a fog of guilt.
I know so many mothers who feel guilty for staying at home. But considering that research has found that the average mother would need four months pay just to cover childcare costs, it’s no wonder that many mothers are deciding it’s better, and more financially viable, to stay at home. And then they feel guilt about not bringing bread to the table, or watching their partner take the financial load on his or her shoulders.
Society doesn't help parents. And a lot of us fear what we don’t know. No doubt I’ve made people feel guilty by mistake, in the same way I feel guilty when someone says that children need their parents there as much as possible. Or that Wilbo needs his mummy over money. Or whatever.
Last year was filled with guilt, and I almost lost the fight to it. I almost became a version of myself that I hated, because I was so willing to let myself feel this way. I am fortunate enough to not have battled post-natal depression, and yet I was allowing myself to wallow in my own self-pity because it felt better there, and because it was my party and I’d cry if I wanted to. I wasn't focusing on the fact that I was both fortunate and blessed to see the way out of my darker days. I had the key to the door that let me out and sometimes I’d just lock that door and sulk instead.
I will never be a perfect mother. I have done so many things wrong already. My son doesn't sleep through, has eaten a sausage roll and already has a deeper relationship with his Jack Russell than he does with me. But who cares about his sleeping habits, his salt intake and his consumption of the occasional dog hair. He licks the very carpets he rolls on. He’s a happy, healthy person.
I haven’t failed him. I've done everything I have done for him. And I’m entitled to have bad days. I’m entitled to plonk him on his dad’s lap, while I watch a bath bomb fizz away and watch YouTube videos in the bath. Just because I work, it doesn't mean I don’t know my son. Just because I work it doesn't mean I have to spend every waking moment with him when I am there. I need me-time just like every other individual out there.
I suppose what I’m trying to say, is that we take these things and make them our crosses to bear. But I’m not doing that anymore. My baby doesn’t sleep through. But he’s beautiful, happy and loved. He doesn't always benefit from a full-of-beans mummy. But being tired is okay – you should see what he’s like when he needs a nap. I probably won’t get to see his first step. But it’s okay, because I’ll be there to hold his hand for the next step, and I’ll be taking the right footsteps in life for him to follow.
I’m a working mum. And I’m bloody proud of myself.
I’ll always be guilty. But it’s the guilt of loving someone too much. And I’m okay with that.