I’m pretty sure my mum was one of those mothers. You’ll know the ones I mean in a moment.
I was talking to her about comparing Freya with other children and worrying that she wasn’t doing this or that, then feeling guilty that I probably wasn’t doing enough of this or that with her to aid her development.
If I take a step back I think she is probably doing just fine and I don’t have too much to worry about outside of her limited diet – and even then what she does eat seems pretty healthy – so why, some days, am I sent spiralling into such a tizzy?
I had a theory.
I thought this “mummy guilt” we hear so much about was a result of social media; that because I (we) have unlimited rolling access to every detail of so many lives (yay!), including toddlers of a similar age, it would be hard not to compare – even if you thought you were the best mum in the world.
To put this theory to the test I thought I would ask someone parenting babies and toddlers pre-Internet (how?), my mum, who raised my brother and I, with help from my dad (but no Dr Google), in the 1970s/80s.
“Did you ever feel like that?” I asked.
“Oh, I never had to worry about you,” she said. “You did everything early.”
I bet we were very popular at playgroup.
As it seemed like I wouldn’t get a sensible answer from my mum, I turned to one of the other best mums I know, my mother-in-law, who did the bulk of her parenting in the 80s. Thankfully she had a more considered opinion.
She said: “…the stresses came from face to face interactions. The weekly trek to the clinic was a nightmare. The waiting room was full of mums happy to tell you how their child had slept through the night since two weeks old, had been potty trained by one and ate everything on their plate.
“You always felt inadequate if you told the truth; that you were struggling, that baby was so delightful and a total nightmare at the same time.”
I also asked her about distractions. I feel guilty that I’m not 100% focussed on Freya when I work but also because I get distracted by responding to email and checking social media every so often (which I attempt to justify by saying it’s part of my work).
“The distraction for me was reading. I had always read a lot. Now, picking up a book while my child was awake seemed wrong, almost neglect. A pleasure had turned into a guilty secret,” she said.
But here is food for thought.
She added: “It was the best time of my life and we had loads of fun times and laughs but I spoilt it a bit with my own anxieties. If I could go back and do it again I would be more chilled out…”
Amen to that!
But how long does this “mummy guilt” go on for, I wondered? Is it just while they rely on us so much or a lifetime sentence?
My mum, having gone away and thought about it, came back with the answer.
“The real guilt I felt is from when you were both older – I wasn’t able to visit you at university when my dad was ill [she was my grandad’s carer for many years] or go to your brother when he was on his own in America and so poorly [he had moved to the US but had only been in the country a few weeks when he got pneumonia]. We didn’t have mobile phones or tablets so it wasn’t as easy to keep in touch like now,” she said.
So it seems mummy guilt can’t be blamed on social media. Although I would argue it exacerbates the problem – but perhaps only if you let it.
Another theory shot down in flames.
And, of course, it does have its plus side (aside from blogging). I don’t know what I would have done without the internet in terms of working out what was up with Freya in the early days of reflux and dairy intolerance when the doctors were still saying she was “just being a baby” – and especially the support forums I belong to – so maybe I just need to take what I need from it and give myself a break?
Freya is happy the majority of the time, relatively healthy, we have a lot of fun but also she seems to be learning new things daily. What more could you ask for really?
While it’s entertaining to see the things other people get up to with their children, I’m with Mark Twain on this one: “Comparison is the death of joy.”
And that goes for the real world (what’s that?) as well as online.