Sam plays beautifully on his own. He pushes his cars, trolley, chairs, the dog, toot toots with his trains and repeatedly punches his baby in the stomach so that he can hear it shout Mama, Papa and cry, and has a lovely time doing so. Cue bout of maternal guilt: is it right that I should simply leave him to play independently whilst I supervise / drink coffee from my ‘Please be fizz’ mug (or is it actually fizz?) or should I be interacting with, playing with and generally providing a 24-hour red coat entertainment service, worthy of Butlins, day in day out?
Now I chose to stay at home with Sam and so I’m always acutely aware, therefore, that any experiences will need to come from me. And whilst I don’t profess to be an expert, most of the time I think we do a pretty good job of having a lovely time together and attempting to do many different things. Okay so maybe we don’t paint as much as I feel we “ought” to, or gloop as much as I think we “should”, but I try to allay the nagging guilt by telling myself: we have a dog, who has to be walked and therefore Sam experiences the countryside and gets lots of fresh air; we go to playgroups, so he can, in theory, interact with others, do some arts and crafts and in reality spend 90 minutes pushing the same car around that he has at home, in isolation; and that maybe, just maybe, it’s not all bad that he spends so much time with the bonkers lady, who calls herself his mother, and genuinely tries her very best, despite self-flagellating every week that she is doing a terrible job.
I’m a naturally guilty person anyway. I see a police car and despite knowing I’ve honestly done nothing wrong; I feel guilty. I wake up in the night remembering I plum forgot to text a friend back and feel – you guessed it; guilty, and don’t get me started on what train conductors can do to me even when I’m in possession of a perfectly valid ticket. I kind of therefore guessed then, that I’d experience a bit of mama guilt, but I didn’t expect just how much I’d question myself and go through phases of such low self-esteem – hey if the babes can go through phases then us mamas are certainly entitled to them too!
Anyhow, this latest bout of mama guilt came just last week as I enjoyed my fizz / coffee and a little sit down upon returning from walking the dog. There Sam was merrily shouting “toot toot” and ramming his trains in to the wall, before moving on to wheeling his cars on the track and generally having a really sweet little boy play. Well, I’d sat down, I’d got a coffee, I had five minutes to spare and what better way to spend those precious moments, than by feeling a spot a guilt? Armed with this self-condemnation and my phone, I did what any self-respecting mama would do and googled “is it detrimental to my child’s development if he plays on his own?” I feel I should explain here that for some unknown reason, and much to the great amusement of my husband, I always have to ask google full sentences, sometimes even complete with a please at the end. And well, for once, google actually put my mind at ease!
HELL YES! Was the resounding answer! Independent play is good for toddlers, one expert even went as far as to tell me that in fact I should be actively encouraging my toddler to play on his own. Well who’d’-a-thunk-it? Certainly not me five minutes previously. Yet again I felt like hugging all those mamas out there who had asked a similar question, netmums and babycentre were full of this worry and one other kindred spirit had even used the word detrimental – virtual high five to you lady! It got me to thinking about mama guilt though and how it’s so prevalent in so many women. I have friends who feel guilty for administering Calpol; friends who feel guilty for not; friends who feel guilty for working; friends who feel guilty for not; friends who feel guilty for being a stay at home mum yet have a cleaner; friends who feel guilty for making deals to do with chocolate buttons to make their child behave / eat vegetables; you name it and I can probably guarantee a mama somewhere out there has felt guilty about it. And that’s bad, it’s wrong. Whether we work or don’t, whether we give Calpol to abate a spot of high level whinging before playgroups, or not, or let our children play on their own for ten minutes whilst we have a sit– we shouldn’t feel guilt, yet we do and sadly, I think mama guilt is in for the long haul.
But why is this? Do dad’s get it?
I know many dads who, of course, miss their kids and wish they didn’t have to go to work every day, but I seem to get the impression that their feelings stem from a more rational place than mama guilt does. My husband certainly doesn’t feel guilty if he hasn’t offered Sam any vegetables with his dinner, and openly tells me I’m being neurotic when I voice my deepest, darkest fears that I’m doing a terrible job, that Sam would be better off in a nursery and that he’ll probably grow up to be a strange child with mummy issues. I like to think I have some semblance of intelligence and yet these, along with so many others, are actual real thoughts I’ve had and felt a raging sense of guilt over. Bonkers right? I know that, you know that and so why do we feel this way? I simply just don’t know, the jury is completely out.
One thing I do know though, is that I definitely don’t know how to rid myself of it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not constantly carrying this ridiculous notion of guilt with me all day every day; it’s more of a fleeting visitor, but one which most certainly makes a huge impact on me when it comes to pay an unwanted call and despite sitting here now typing about how ludicrous I know it is, I also know that give me a couple of days I’ll have found something new to reprimand myself for. I have, however, found that after a glass of wine, or three, I oft find myself saying “Be gone mama guilt, I do not want you in my life, be gone” and have moments of clarity where I know I’m doing a great job, have a happy child and am a darn good mum, obviously until I wake up the next morning with a bad head and feel like the worst mama of all time.
Rather annoyingly my husband couldn’t help but supress a wry smile this morning, when as I was gathering up shoes and jackets and checking the change bag ready to dash off to a play group we were already late for, I voiced my newest concern: “Do you think I do too much with Sam, should I simply let him stay at home some days and play with his cars, do you think he’d prefer that?” Sigh. One to mama guilt and nil to me. Let’s just hope I’ve a bottle of mama medicine in the fridge for tonight.