I can’t help noticing that we modern parents seem to flail in a muddy pond of guilt most of the time. We are either expressing doubt over our own decisions, or firing down others who have made the opposite decision to us.
I have been wondering lately why that is. As far as I can tell, this is a new phenomenon.
My Gran never expressed guilt for popping her babies in a pram and leaving them outside the back door while she got on with her housework. She also never expressed guilt about letting her children play in the woods near their home unsupervised for hours on end, even though my mum was once invited to go and see a stranger’s rabbit (thankfully her friend stopped her!)
My parents never expressed guilt at letting us eat non-organic food or processed sugars. Mum didn’t agonise over giving up her career to stay at home when I was born. Their decisions were confident, assured.
(They have acknowledged some guilt, like the time my mother got so frustrated with my repeatedly getting out of bed at night that she shut my bedroom door so I couldn’t get out (not locked – apparently handles were beyond me as a three-year-old) … and in the morning she couldn’t open the door because I’d fallen asleep on the floor, blocking the door, waiting pathetically for her to come back).
Why is our parenting experience so riddled with guilt? I’ve thought about this over the last few days, and I want to explore it in the next few blogs. Tomorrow I want to look at the history of parenting, and see if we can learn anything from our past about where we are today. (That may sound boring, but trust me for now – it’s fascinating!)
For now, I want to suggest that one of the reasons we experience so much guilt is because of the internet. We have access to an unprecedented level of advice, help and opinion on every aspect of parenting. If I choose, I can research any decision I have made as a mother and be made to feel guilty about staying home, going to work, breastfeeding, formula feeding, leaving baby to cry, co-sleeping, weaning, baby-wearing, and having a forward facing pram.
Shops guilt-trip us into buying the all-singing-all-dancing bottle warmers and food warmers (what happened to a good, old-fashioned bowl of hot water?), beeping swings and cot accessories. Blogs abound which can make us question every single decision I ever made as a mother, including the decision to become a parent at all. Forums are bursting with people ready to accuse you of everything from neglect to being a bad parent.
We also are made to feel like we are constantly falling behind those wonderful mothers who share soft-toned images of the sensory trays they made for their children, and picture of little kids making cup cakes with an adorable smudge of chocolate on one cheek (one of my ambitions is to set up
a ‘reality pinterest’ site, where parents can share pictures of their houses after they tried these idealistic projects … we were finding pinto beans in increasingly weird places for months after our one sensory tray experience.)
My mother never made us a sensory tray. She did bake cakes with me – once – and there is a photo to prove it. I have to wonder if any of the cakes were edible as the flour that was clearly meant to go in the bowl is all over the kitchen cupboard, the chair I am standing on, the floor, and me.
What my mother did do was be there for me when I was happy, sad, hurt or angry. She told me when I was wrong, and (because it was the eighties and Dr Sears wasn’t around to advise her to praise me) she maintained an approving silence on the occasions I did something good. She fed me and my two sisters, tried to limit the amount of sweets and junk food we consumed, kept a supply of clean (glaringly eighties) clothes in our cupboard, chose wholesome toys for us, taught us right from wrong, and, above all, loved us. I was happy and secure.
So if you don’t bother reading the next few instalments to my ambitiously titled ‘guilt-free parenting’ series, take this with you: if your kids are currently tucked up in bed, feeling loved and secure, then you won today.
Even if you did lose it with Johnnie when he ‘helped’ by cleaning the toilet floor and sink with a bar of soap and the toilet brush. Even if you served McDonalds for tea. Even if your kids have no idea what a sensory tray is, or sing ‘What’s on your plate?’ when you tell them it’s lunchtime, or think the right place to put still clean(ish) clothes is in a pile at the bottom of the bed … if they feel loved and secure then you deserve a mental high five. In fact, you deserve a glass of wine or a cold beer (or a cup of tea) and a sit down. You did a great job today.