By Jane Trask
When a baby is born, new parents often joke about a manual needing to come straight afterwards to ensure we know what we are doing. Would, I wonder, such a manual have a chapter on mum guilt?
The moment our babies are born, we feel guilt. Guilt over normal mum things like is my baby sleeping enough? Eating and drinking enough? Am I playing with my baby enough?
And then guilt over teeny tiny things like mounting giant washing piles and dishes, vacuuming and tidying up. Then there are bigger guilt triggers like am I paying my partner enough attention now that I'm a mum? As our babes grow into young toddlers, so too does our guilt.
We stress over food. Our food, our children's food, the right food, the wrong foods, how to keep sugar away from our children for as long as possible. Is my child eating enough to sleep through the night? Is my child snacking too much and therefore not wanting dinner? Are they eating enough at childcare? We feel guilt over making them eat what's in front of them and then guilt over caving in and offering a sandwich or banana when they scream hunger in the dying seconds just before the freedom of bedtime.
We live our mum lives walking a thin line between hero and captive, a slave to the needs of tiny mini versions of ourselves. We argue, reason, bribe and cajole these tiny people, trying to meet their every need while not losing the last threads of sanity we have.
In between these massive mum feelings of guilt, there are happy feelings of rainbows and unicorns, sunshine and sparkles. We relish in the achievements of our offspring and celebrate their successes with love. Each time they say "I love you" or we share a cuddle, that mum guilt slate is wiped clean. We take photos of the good times, the winning times and the love. We hide behind the shame of feeling mum guilt every single day even when a voice of reason in our brains tells us we are doing fine. The kids are alive; they are happy and fed. We're still winning, right?
We worry over whether our children are nice to others or not nice enough. Then there's the lunchbox guilt over the "right" packaging, the balance between healthy, a treat and food your child will actually eat if they sit down long enough to consume it.
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We feel mum guilt about other mothers' judgment when, in fact, most mothers are working in a silent solidarity of knowing just exactly what each of us goes through each morning to just leave the house.
Are our children doing enough extra-curricular activities alongside their schooling, or are they doing too much? Do we leave them to play with their imaginations running wildly and then struggle to encourage them to help with the massive clean-up that comes only moments after complete play freedom?
We feel guilt over meeting our children's emotional needs and balancing our love and attention between more than one child should we choose to have more.
Devices cause a lot of guilty feelings in my house. Do I let them have time on them just so I can get jobs done? Is it even worth it when after a set time I almost have to wrestle the device from their prised little grip as they heckle "just five more minutes" with a crazed look in their eyes? I feel guilty letting them watch TV but in the same instance beg them to just sit down long enough to watch 10 minutes so I can have a break from the constant questioning and close contact of my little people. Then I feel guilty that one day they won't need and want me as ferociously and all-encompassing as they do now.
I feel guilt over letting them play outside when it's cold and wet and the reverse when they are stuck inside. Heck, we even feel mum guilt over feeling mum guilt when we know we should just be enjoying these precious moments and memories.
Our mum guilt is not limited to our children. It infiltrates our being. We feel guilty that we've let friendships and relationships slip by the wayside because we are either too busy or tired to physically make contact or meet up. We angst over our fluctuating body weight, our lack of fitness and exercising, our socialising and our loss of organisational skills.
These were all things we used to have complete control over pre-kids. But we aren't the same. We have changed. Physically, emotionally and mentally. We need to be kind to ourselves and learn from the simple lessons that we are trying to teach our children daily.
Our bodies will never be the same as before we had kids and quite rightly so. We grew children in them! I can't even look after a house plant, and yet I've nurtured two children.
My children wake up at the crack of dawn. I'm talking anywhere between 4.30-5.30am. It kills me. I feel guilty about not waking up bright and happy alongside them when I'm just craving another one or two hours' sleep. The small pay-off is that they go to sleep at 7pm, and after 7pm is my time. I literally just want to sit idly by myself and have no one talk or ask questions, just to relax and not feel like a mum for a couple of hours before it all begins again.
Mum guilt can increase tenfold if you are a working mum. I've been there and the exhaustion was next level. Being a mother is one of the hardest but most rewarding things I have ever done. But I do feel mum guilt every single day. I saw a meme on good old Facebook this morning with a picture of a ragged, tired woman and the words "me trying to raise decent humans, maintain a household, keep my husband happy, have a social life and not lose my s*&t". Touche.
• Jane Trask is a Rotorua writer