MOTHERHOOD

Mum guilt, thou bane of mothers

For some, it comes and goes. For others, it hovers in omnipresent fashion.

In Summary
  • As a working mum to an almost three-year-old toddler, I am often plagued by feelings of insecurity and inadequacy.
  • Not in who I am as a mother, but in what I do as a mother. Every single day is a balancing act.
Mother and child reading
Mother and child reading

Incidentally, my husband doesn’t suffer from any dad guilt. I want to be like him when I grow up!

After a four-week holiday recess of nothing but rest, family, food and love, I resumed work.

I had ticked all the boxes that self-help articles and vlogs recommend for someone resuming work after the Christmas holidays—plan your week, schedule meetings, catch up on your unread messages and plan your outfits in advance. I did it all in pristine fashion. Everything but figure out my impending mum guilt. Day one back to work was, therefore, a train wreck!

For those unfamiliar with the term, mum guilt is the feeling of guilt, doubt, anxiety or uncertainty experienced by mothers when they worry they are failing, or falling short of expectations in some way. Mum guilt doesn’t look or feel a certain way for everyone. For some, it comes and goes. For others, it hovers in omnipresent fashion. Mine creeps up at least once a week. It’s worse when my son is unwell.

 

On my first day back to work I called my nanny to check up on him. Bad idea! She put my son on and his words finished me. ‘Daddy gone. Mama gone.’ And just like that, those four words led to a downward spiral of my otherwise great day back to work.

You see, during the holidays my life was planned around my son. I would roll on the carpet and watch Peppa Pig with him, schedule any errands during his afternoon nap, and decline social events that required me to attend without him. Like my handbag, I carried him everywhere, and I loved it. As a working mum to an almost three-year-old toddler, I am often plagued by feelings of insecurity and inadequacy. Not in who I am as a mother, but in what I do as a mother. Every single day is a balancing act.

Another friend who recently gave birth to her secondborn, and who now has two children under the age of three, wonders if she is giving enough attention to their first child. Another friend, a corporate high flyer said, “That is why I don’t have a master’s degree. I am away from them long enough, enrolling in a school programme would only compound my mum guilt.”

I checked in with a friend who is a stay at home and was surprised to learn that she experiences mum guilt as well. In my ignorance, I wondered how a mother who spends her day at home with her child could share in my suffering. “I wonder about what I’m teaching my daughter. Is being a stay-at-home mum good enough? How will I teach her that there are other versions of woman?” she texted.

Another friend who recently gave birth to her secondborn, and who now has two children under the age of three, wonders if she is giving enough attention to their first child. Another friend, a corporate high flyer said, “That is why I don’t have a master’s degree. I am away from them long enough, enrolling in a school programme would only compound my mum guilt.”

When I changed jobs in 2018, my mum guilt hit a crescendo. Quitting a job I absolutely love to be a stay-at-home mum wasn’t an option, so I had to make this work. I quickly realised that I had to deliberately make concessions to stay afloat. Realising that I am not the be all and end all for my son was the first game-changer.

There are things I now do to help maintain my sanity. I ship him off to his grandparents every quarter, where he gets a special dose of love. I schedule play dates that keep him happy and tired (a tired child is a happy mum). I’ve realised that my nanny is an ally and not my competition. I cut back on work commitments that require me to travel or work extra hours. I relentlessly articulate my need for work-life integration to my boss, and I fill my tank with the things that energise me.

Incidentally, my husband doesn’t suffer from any dad guilt. I want to be like him when I grow up!

 

As she stands before you making that presentation or pitch, in that dapper outfit and pristine make-up, she is probably wondering if her child has pooped. Show her some love. Cut her some slack.