I have been thinking of writing a post about mum guilt for some time, but I keep putting it off. Partly because I don’t have all the answers (far from it!) but also because it’s something I struggle with time and time again. But I have felt particularly burdened by it in the last week or so, so thought it was time I say SOMETHING, as something is better than nothing.
I think this is something that all mums feel right from the very beginning – possibly it is something to do with hormones, but I think there’s something in our culture that really ratchets this up to a high level. I can remember being in the hospital a few days after having Scarlett, having read all of the leaflets the midwives give you about breastfeeding your baby and how formula is essentially poison that will not allow their gut to form properly. That was all well and good but my milk hadn’t come in yet and there was this three or four day old baby who was screaming her lungs out day and night because she was hungry. Eventually the midwives almost insisted I give her some formula, whilst simultaneously handing me leaflets about how dangerous it is to do so. The guilt started… and it hasn’t really gone away two and a half years later.
I gave her formula. This time I had a planned c-section. I didn’t swaddle my first baby. I did swaddle my second baby. I moved her into a forward-facing car seat one month before I was supposed to. I gave her some chocolate. I let them watch TV. I gave my two-year-old a slice of pizza for dinner. I left my two-year-old in front of the TV so I could cook and not give her pizza for dinner. My laundry basket is piled high. I left the baby crying so that I could do some laundry. I didn’t sterilise that dummy before giving it to the baby. I gave the baby a dummy in the first place. I never lost the baby weight after my first baby. I dieted whilst breastfeeding my second baby. I sat the baby in a Bumbo. I introduced solids before six months. I’m behind on the housework. I’ve not had a proper conversation with my husband because I am too tired from making sure I’m not behind on the housework. I went back to work. I only went back to work part time. I didn’t cut a grape in half one time…
It’s endless. It’s exhausting. And it doesn’t achieve anything!
This is the image that set me off this time. You may need to click on it to read it properly. It is meant to be warning mums off the ‘advice’ to leave your baby to cry, as if you keep picking them up you’ll spoil them. That sounds reasonable. Obviously we want to respond to our babies when they cry, and that has to be a good thing. But then the smaller print mentions that not leaving your baby to cry creates positive associations that lead to good brain development. Great. But what if you do leave your baby to cry? What if you don’t always cuddle them? It left me feeling really guilty about all the times I’d left Harvey crying so I could just get dinner in the oven. Or go and hang the washing out. Or because I was supervising Scarlett in the bath. Is he going to have hampered brain development because of it?
I felt like even this post designed to encourage mums has left us (or at least me) feeling guilty, when really we are doing the best we can. We try and try and try until we are locking ourselves in the bathroom while our kids are crying, just for five minutes of quiet. But everything around us is telling us it’s not good enough. It feels like every time we come across something that makes our lives easier (TV, wet wipes, ready meals, Bumbos), the government tells us that we shouldn’t be using them. And so the guilt continues because we do need something to make our lives easier, or because we have stopped using them but did use them at one time, or because we have stopped using them and are finding it harder now. It feels like there is so much pressure from every angle to eat organic, cook from scratch, be perfectly skinny, be fashionable, have a spotless home, have a job, have well stimulated children, and also keep a smile on our faces, and if any part of this slips, the guilt stabs at us.
Sometimes it feels like even the Bible is perpetuating this, or at least Christian culture. Every time I read about the wife in Proverbs 31 I feel guilty that I’m not getting up at daybreak, spinning my own yarn, trading in the market place and being called blessed by my children. But that’s not where we should be focusing. Sure, we can aim at these things, but the Bible isn’t a moral guide book full of people to copy. The more I read the Bible the more I realise that it is full of flawed people who have mixed motives at best. Except for one, the one who the Bible is really about. Jesus. We can read all the rules in the Old Testament, and we can look at Jesus’ life in the gospels and we know that we fall hopelessly short of God’s standards for us. But that’s OK, because Jesus kept the law so that we don’t have to.
If we have put our faith in Jesus, we can know that God looks on us and sees not our filthy rags, but Jesus’ perfect righteousness, which he freely gives to us. Mums, run to Jesus. Know that he died for your sins so that you don’t have to bear the burden of them any more. And remember that not feeding your children on kale and quinoa is NOT a sin. We don’t have to strive to be that Pinterest-perfect mum that inside we long to be. We just have to do our best. In Matthew 11:28 Jesus tells us, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”