I’d heard of ‘Mom guilt’ many times in the past and I always just thought to myself surely if you’re doing the best you can, you wouldn’t have anything to feel guilty about? That’s where my pre-motherhood naivety really shines through as I’ve now discovered that you can give your absolute all and more, really put everything you possibly can into the days and still go to bed feeling guilty as hell. Then you end up spending those precious few hours you should be sleeping before baby wakes for the first feed of the night dwelling over what you could have done better.
Quite frankly, more often than not, there isn’t much more we could have done.
Raising a baby is one of the hardest jobs life has to offer and in doing so it takes so much out of us mentally and physically.
Yes, maybe you could have pressed the button on that talking giraffe for the hundredth time for all the difference it would have made, you’d probably of had to press it one hundred more and still had tears. Or you could have made the trip upstairs to grab some substitute toys but this was the first time you’d managed to but baby down all day and you wanted to indulge in five minutes of sitting down without an episode.
Okay, so maybe you should have persevered with the screaming, reassuring for that little bit longer before taking a second to recover but the chances are it would have continued regardless because the hour of previous efforts didn’t help so why would another two minutes matter? It was a little selfish to lock yourself in the kitchen whilst the kettle boiled to try and drown it out for a moment before gulping down half of your coffee while it was still hot and filling your face with half of the snacks in the cupboard before returning to the tired, angry red-faced baby you left in the living room on his play mat. But if you hadn’t have stolen that tiny bit of time to gather your thoughts and replenish your body’s caffeine supply then you may not have been able to settle them the way you then could with this newfound patience.
Patience, something you remember you lost the night before as you now lost count of how many long, gruelling nights there have been in a row with often no more than two hours sleep. You don’t lose it with baby, of course, it’s not their fault that they don’t understand when they’re overly tired, now too tired to even sleep in the first place. They can’t help that you’ve rolled away in your sleep and they need your warmth to settle or that their grumbling little tummy won’t stop troubling them, requiring that warm milk on tap through the night to ensure they stay full up as they grow. Or, now that they are growing, they constantly have the urge to roll in their sleepy state as well as their alert one. No, it’s definitely not their fault but that doesn’t make the situation any less frustrating.
It’s obviously going to be your doing if your baby doesn’t develop and flourish as quickly as other people’s because you haven’t taken them for an outside stroll in almost nine days due to both that lack of sleep and the fear they will have an inconsolable crying fit in public with all eyes on you. So instead of risking everyone thinking your a bad Mam but getting some fresh air for the both of you, you hideaway with the blinds shut thinking how you’re a bad one for not doing so all the while becoming increasingly down and isolated. You move from room to room finding the one with the best natural light as if that compensates for the fact you haven’t taken baby out in the big wide world to explore their senses.
During those days in the house you realise that you’re lazy too, for leaving baby in just their nappy even though the temperature permits it for lack of wanting to add to the laundry pile or have to change again when the inevitable poo or sick stains appear because, as a member of today’s generation of parents it feels like an offense to not upload at least one photo in a cute little outfit even if you aren’t going anywhere. Regardless of the fact that baby is all worked up and more than ready for bed, as you settle them down for the night the shame of skipping one bath time in favour of an easier night is enough to swallow you up, particularly with the thought that it’s baby’s favorite present at the front of your mind. At least you haven’t the energy to bathe that night yourself either, that makes you moderately more of a decent human being, surely.
Oh, how you could have definitely pushed that little harder to get just one extra smile or giggle during a long day of teething regardless how hard that day was, how you’ve made up every song your brain can muster up as it feels like it’s turning to mush, despite the strain on your already tired body after you pull ridiculous dance in front of the bouncy chair for hours because it appears to be the only thing keeping baby happy. You are the worst kind of person for faking a smile as night draws near because you don’t want them to pick up on your exhaustion or apprehension towards bedtime, yet your cheeks are already sore from the genuine smile that reached from ear to ear until now.
You see, some days as a baby Mama we start to watch the clock at a certain time. The hours have taken their toll, you haven’t had a single split second to breathe or turn around and you’ve been nursing the same headache for a week, always forgetting to take something for it. You look forward to the heavy sighs of deep sleep as you slowly shuffle your way to the edge of the bed, creaking way more than you would like, grabbing the comfiest hoodie you can find and sneaking downstairs to sit in silence. You just sit there, relieved and at peace until you hear those all too familiar mumbled sounds indicating you’re in for a good few trips up and down stairs until you can relax properly.
You get the feeling that time was the last time. Finally.
That first taste of you time in what can often feel like forever. You don’t bother doing any of the thousands of jobs you were so insistent you would get done that evening nor do you make tea for your partner’s return from that day at work where they will most definitely have built up a keen appetite. The huge sense of relief you feel is the first hint of that niggling guilt that builds and builds throughout the night.
There you sit, finally free to have some short yet much needed catch up time with the Mr (usually in front of the telly watching a film) and instead of enjoying it you sit and dwell on every single thing you did or didn’t do for your baby that day passed and, at a time when you should be feeling light, you end up feeling heavier than ever.
The Mam guilt hits you like a truck and it doesn’t slow down after.
Despite your Partner’s best efforts to get you to stay put instead of checking on them for the fourth time, you make your way up anyway knowing in the back of your mind it’s more than guilt urging you to do so as opposed to the fear they aren’t breathing and, even though you wished them to go to sleep so badly earlier, you are now secretly hoping they awake so you can hold them near and cuddle them. An unspoken apology they won’t even understand but it slightly cleans your conscience.
Every single night, this week, in particular, I’ve climbed into bed alongside my little Kaiber Bear, usually way later than I should and I have whispered the words “I’m sorry” into his dark curls over and over as he sleeps peacefully. Watching him so at peace and thinking of all the things I could have done better makes my heart sink so deep.
I’m sorry I’m so tired lately and never take an early night even when I can.
I’m sorry I couldn’t stop you crying.
I’m sorry you were crying in the first place.
I’m sorry you had to see me cry.
I’m sorry I put you down for a moment to compose myself.
I’m sorry I didn’t know what you needed.
I’m sorry I missed that poop and didn’t change you quick enough.
I’m sorry I can’t ease your pain from teething.
I’m sorry we didn’t go anywhere.
I’m sorry I put you in front of Cbeebies whilst I hung the washing up.
I’m sorry I caught your finger with the nail clippers.
I’m sorry I wasn’t as fun today.
I’m sorry if you weren’t warm enough or were too hot.
I’m sorry for trying to get you down for a nap.
I’m sorry I’m not strong enough to hold you standing up all day.
I’m sorry I dropped some food on you while eating as you fed.
I’m sorry you get frustrated and there’s nothing I can do.
I’m sorry I looked forward to you going to sleep.
I’m sorry I struggled to be enthusiastic when you woke through the night.
Even though I wished for you to go back to sleep so many times I look forward to waking up with you tomorrow. Can we try again then? A fresh start when we’re both a little more rested.
It’s up and down all the time, like riding the same rollercoaster repeatedly, over and over.
The thing is though, I have that it’s time to stop wasting time.
I am going to embrace the guilt.
Yep, you heard me right: embrace it. I feel like the fact it exists in the first place is down to us doing a GOOD job and it bothers us so greatly because we care and want the absolute best for our babies. Striving for perfection will always set us up for failure and, when it comes to little humans in particular, perfect is an unrealistic goal to set. If we lower our expectations, we won’t fall as hard when we make mistakes and we are always going to make mistakes.
There’ll many more times you will feel like you have failed in the years to come, but remember that through the eyes of your baby you are everything and more.
Motherhood is about learning on the job so learn Mama and keep your head high whilst doing so. You will look back and think those times were so hard and we got through them, we will get through the ones to follow and we will take on the world together.