Because sometimes the worst labels are actually the best.
While I wouldn’t call myself a terrible mother I certainly wouldn’t say I’m a perfect one either. God knows I’ve tried. When my kids were little I ran the playgroup, created a kids paradise both in and outside our home, took them to sport from the age of four and even put on elaborate themed birthday parties complete with homemade cakes and decorations.
When my marriage broke down I continued trying to be a perfect mother, but this time I was doing it as a single parent. The house still had to be clean and the kids still needed someone to spend quality time with them, only now there was only one set of hands to do it all. Damn hard. The toll of no longer being a family unit was overwhelming and my mother guilt only got worse.
As my children grew older they caught onto this mindset and learnt how to exploit it to get their own way. I can’t blame them, they were only following my lead. They knew I found it difficult to say no and I’d continuously go without to provide for them. It was only when I had the epiphany I didn’t need to be perfect, that things really started to move forward.
I made a decision to be their mother, but also to begin to live my own life. Until then my entire existence had revolved around them, so it took some getting used to. For them and for me. I had to find a new purpose and they had to learn that guilt was no longer my driving force.
In hindsight, life would have been much easier if mother guilt hadn’t been such a significant part of me. Where it came from I have no idea but it was a concept that firmly consolidated in my head from the day my youngest son was born. Perhaps it was the ingrained idea mothers should always do the best for their children and sacrifice should be part and parcel of the role.
It began the moment I was encouraged to breastfeed my babies by hospital staff even though it meant struggling intently to feed my children. They were literally starving before I picked up a bottle of formula out of fear of being a bad mother. In this I know I’m certainly not alone.
Then there were the people around me who placed even more guilt upon me, just in case I’d missed the message of hospital staff. When I spoke of returning to work and placing my first child in childcare, their reactions stopped me in my tracks. Perhaps it was because I was young and felt influenced by those around me and their old-fashioned ideas, but whatever it was, it worked.
It was only when I freed myself of all the compounded mother guilt that it became startlingly obvious just how destructive it could be. It’d forced me into a powerless position, held all my actions accountable and made me feel inadequate in my role as a mother. There was nothing positive about it.
Perhaps mother guilt is it just another way society has learned to quell the aspirations of women. If they can’t stop us from working and having a family, maybe they’ll just make us feel guilty about it. They’ll tell us ‘breast is best’ and mothers should sacrifice their careers and stay at home to raise their children and spend quality time with them. That caesarians are for weak women and hiring a nanny makes you lazy. That we should never put our partners or our sex lives first and anyone who does so is selfish and unworthy of the title of mother.
It’s enough to make anyone feel like a substandard parent. And ironically, the day I learned to let go and embrace the concept that it was okay to do things that saw me labelled a ‘bad mother’, like putting my needs first and letting the kids misbehave for a few hours while I snatched some sleep, I learnt that labels are just that, labels. And if someone wants to call me a bad mother, they can go right ahead. Because I’m not interested in being a perfect parent these days, just one who loves her children, and who still has enough energy left to tuck them in at night. And if that makes me a bad mother, so be it.