I hear “MUMMMMMYY” echoing through the house just as I sit down to spend a quiet few minutes checking the backlog of messages from my friends back home (my lifeline to my old life in the UK). I do the best I can to plaster on my mum smile, leave what I was doing and push my “me time” to the back burner yet again. Turns out Emmy needed me to put a sticker on her foot. I can see how that was a life or death situation. Fast forward to nap time. No one is more full of false hope than a parent who wants to achieve something during nap time. For me, I just want five minutes to drink a hot (or even lukewarm) cup of tea and watch something that doesn’t have an animated pig in it. I think Emmy is in her room taking and nap and I just get Aria down to sleep (which is no easy task, the girl is the energizer bunny) and I feel like super mum. I can practically taste the indulgence of hot caffeine running down my throat. My heart is pounding at the thought of watching some grown up TV. It’s finally happening, my five minutes is coming. I turn to leave the room and I spy Emmy standing in the doorway with her extremely loud roaring dinosaur toy, her little finger poised on the button that will emit a noise level comparable only to the launch of a space rocket into the room. I look at her pleadingly but this is where I make my first mistake. Toddlers can sense when you don’t want them to do something like a shark sensing blood and something in their DNA prompts them to do exactly what it is that you don’t want them to. As the deafening noise fills the room waking my little sleeping grenade I think to myself “I just want five minutes”. Then I feel guilty. All those Mom blogs tell us to cherish each and every moment with our littles. “Hold them as long as you can”, “you’re a mom now”, “they grow up so fast” they preach. It is true, my children are growing at an alarming rate and I want to soak up every sticky, paint covered messy moment with them. However, these blogs designed to show us we’re not alone in parenting sometimes do more to perpetuate the cycle of Mom guilt than they do good. As much as my cold heart is melted by poems about “letting them be little” and “holding them longer” I can’t help but feel like they make those of us who need to put a sleeping child down to do menial things like pee or shower feel like they’re committing some heinous mum crime. It’s not fair and just because you want five minutes alone does not make you a bad mum and does not mean that you’ll miss out on the important moments. It means you’re a human, you’re exhausted and you are an entity apart from your children. That’s OK.
Guilt is a terrible thing and it is something that we all battle with on an almost daily basis. As an expat, I feel crippling guilt pretty much all the time. I know that sounds dramatic and maybe I do have a penchant for hyperbole but I really do struggle with guilt. When I moved here I felt guilty that I missed out on birthdays and Christmases and other things that were important to the ones I loved. When I got married I felt guilty that most of my husband’s friends and family couldn’t make it to Wales to celebrate with us. When I’m in the throws of homesickness I feel guilty that I’m short with my husband and resentful that I live here. But nothing compares to mom guilt. I didn’t think it was possible to feel so guilty about so much until I had children.
Things I feel guilty about as a mum
- The fact that my child has too much screen time. I try to do pinteresty parent things like painting, crafts, playdoh and drawing but when you’re in the depths of a Canadian winter and you’ve exhausted your energy reserves for pretending to be a dinosaur sometimes you need the throw the TV on and watch a movie. Full disclosure, my child is on the Ipad now while she uses the potty and while I take five minutes to write this post.
- The fact that I spend too much time on my phone . I am CONSTANTLY worrying about whether I am looking at my phone too much. The truth is, as many of my friends live far away, I message them daily to maintain contact and it’s an important coping mechanism for me. I feel so guilty when I sneak a look at my messages when my daughter is occupied with something else only to be greeted with her eyeballs burning into my hunched back as I look through my messages like an addict.
- My daughter’s diet. Emmy LOVES fruit, vegetables and dairy and will pretty much eat anything from those food groups. Sounds like the dream right? Well not quite. She refuses most meats apart from chicken nuggets. Put your pitchfork away Susan, I feed my kid McDonalds from time to time because it is pretty much the only form of meat she’ll eat and at a tiny 31lbs, I worry that she’s too light. She also wont eat most carbs. I feel guilty when I am firm and refuse to give her anything else to eat after throwing another plate of uneaten food away. I also feel guilty when I let her eat crackers for dinner to try and get calories into her.
- Second child guilt. Now this one was a doozy. From the minute my eldest cried that she wanted a baby dinosaur and not a baby sister when we told her our happy news I felt guilty about adding a second child to the mix. We were so happy as a family of three I agonized whether I making the right decision. In those first dark few months when Aria’s colic meant she needed my full attention almost 24 hours a day I felt awful when I saw my first born playing alone or when she would ask me to play and I had to say no as I manically rocked, bounced and shushed her screaming little sister. I would burst into tears about it all the time.
- feeling guilty about second child guilt . Now we’re through the colic and we’re rocking our new normal I feel guilty that I ever felt guilty about having a second child. Aria is the sweetest little thing and when I look at her squishy cheeks and gummy smile I feel guilty that I ever for a moment questioned my decision to have another child. This is mum guilt at its finest.
- Not being able to breastfeed my second child. Aria would scream bloody murder pretty much all day and was diagnosed as colic. Every time she ate the screaming got worse and her gas and reflux were causing her so much pain. After crying to my doctor and begging for a diagnosis of something to prove I wasn’t crazy he suggested going dairy, wheat, soy free. In my fragile mental state after zero sleep and a lot of screaming I made the decision not to test the waters by eliminating food from my diet and switched to a hypoallergenic formula. I cried for days about not breastfeeding and I convinced myself that I was ruining Aria’s life. I would justify my decision to anyone that would listen. “Oh hi checkout lady, yes I’m buying formula but it is only because my child has colic and I feel like I’m going to pull my hair out by the roots if the screaming goes on much longer. Breast is best!”. This guilt wasn’t made better by nosy dental hygienists that told me I should be breastfeeding. Why does everyone feel like they can comment on your life as a mum?
- The fact that my kids don’t see much of my parents This is more of expat guilt than mum guilt but it keeps me up at night. I feel bad that my children only get half of the grandparent experience. I grew up so close to my maternal grandparents and it was such a wonderful upbringing. My children see my parents a few times a year and it is hard to accept that.
- The fact that my fitbit keeps telling me to get off my arse and move. I don’t know why I thought that buying a fitbit was a good idea as it only adds to my guilt. I’m only 5670 steps away from my daily goal? Grand, I’ll just go out for a run with all the extra time I have. Oh great, now I feel guilty that I’ll die young and leave my husband as an attractive widower with two gorgeous children who will struggle at to call the glamorous American “mummy” at first but soon will forget about me and they’ll have glamorous new years eve parties with their glamorous new friends. Wait, this is the plot of “The Holiday”, I’m clearly spiraling here.
These are just a few things that I feel guilty about and I’m sure if I opened up my anxiety and things that I can’t control but still feel guilty about vault I could come up with more. But you know what? No matter what you do you will still feel guilty because as a mum we are constantly bombarded with images of perfect families and blogs with perfectly put together houses and women who have it all together. I bet these women need five minutes now and then. We all do.
Three reasons why taking time for yourself every day to yourself is important
- Ego depletion is real. What is this fancy science term of which I speak? Well basically, we only have so much willpower and once it runs out we struggle to make good decisions. As a mum, you are constantly at battle with your willpower. It is the thing that stops us screaming “GO THE F&^K TO SLEEP” or “WHAT THE ACTUAL F%$K?” every second of the day. If you have toddlers, you will know that you are constantly shoving these urges down as your little dictators do charming things such as pee on the floor, poke their sleeping sibling, magic marker your quartz counter top, colour on your couch, cry because you did the thing they asked you to do etc. I’m a teacher by day so let me tell you I am fresh out of ego by the end of the day. Taking five minutes to yourself helps you reset and gives you time to not have to make decisions and to just do something you truly want to do. You want to eat that candy bar? Go for it girl! You want to watch Gossip Girl? Get on it! You can read more about ego depletion here.
- Dedicating every waking moment to other people is exhausting and will make you feel bitter. Just because you are a mum doesn’t mean you don’t have other interests outside of wiping bums and watching Peppa Pig. If you enjoy reading
celebrity gossipthe news and have did it every day before you had kids you really should try to carve out five minutes to do it still. If you enjoy long baths and you find them good for your mental health then this is important to your well being. If you are a yogi and get peace from twisting your body into strange shapes then this is part of who you are and you must make space in your life for it. Taking time to yourself helps you reconnect with the person you were before kids (and she’s still in there I promise).
- YOU DESERVE IT. I get it, keeping other humans alive is exhausting. You deserve to take time to yourself every day whether it be for 5 minutes to read an article or for an hour to work out.
So mums, what I’m trying to say is just because I feel like you need five minutes away sometimes doesn’t make you a bad mum. It doesn’t mean that you aren’t soaking in every minute and it doesn’t mean that you will magically push the fast forward button on time and miss out on the important stuff. You are important, remember that. Some days all you’ll need is a five minute breather, some days you just need to go to the store alone and other days you need a night away in a luxury hotel. It’s OK to feel that way. It’s normal and it’s nothing to feel guilty about.
Now I’ve got to go because I feel guilty that my laundry has been sat in the dryer for 4 days.