The journey I’m about to take you on in this post will remind you of things you may have done or may do in the future, and possibly make you feel guilty about your decisions or ideas. Please read to the end because I can’t stress enough, there is a positive point to all this. It doesn’t end with us all wallowing in a mud bath of worry and anxiety, okay? If you really must then skip forward, but, obviously, I’d rather you stayed for all the chatter!
Hi! Do you feel guilty?
I struggle more and more each day with high-impact, high-stress, high-importance problems. Finding solutions to them and troubleshooting shit seems to just be daily life here. I know well that strain like this can increase anxiety to a dangerous and impossible level and when those issues centre around responsibility for another life, whose future balances on the thoughts and decisions I make, it’s a bloody nightmare.
In fact, sometimes it feels like a responsibility I wish I didn’t have because it’s HUGE. Steering your own child in the ‘right’ direction…well, how do you choose?
***TRIGGER WARNING*** Some discussion of baby loss is coming in the following section.
We went through hell to have a child, with satan himself setting up camp in our local hospital and lying in wait to destroy every pregnancy we managed to conceive. For the record 3 attempts ended in miscarriage and one of those (unfortunately the first) created serious danger for my own health on top of the pain of losing our first child.
Every miscarriage was physically exhausting and mentally draining. We were frightened and in pain. It was jointly harrowing, undescribably sad and mentally destructive. Even today it effects my brain to a terrifying degree and continues to leave me a very, very broken woman.
Our 4th pregnancy led to the labour, delivery and birth of our first daughter. But despite the delivery, she was still, and we were demolished with grief. I struggle to put in to words the infinite sadness and painful mess those days caused for both of us. Her funeral and the mental anguish for us as parents of a child we were destined not to raise, talk to or watch grow to a woman, is still very real and very horrific.
If you’re travelling a similar journey yourself then I’m filled with sorrow for your loss. It’s not easy and some will manage better than others, but I will say these few things;
- As time passes try to let go of any blame you have for yourself, because it’s making your pain worse and isn’t necessary.
- It sounds like a cliche, but it will get better. In any grief, time is the ONLY healer and as the days pass it will get a fraction lighter.
- Be there for each other. Don’t avoid conversations for fear of causing upset. Talk, support, cry, listen and most of all keep the love you have around you (whether that’s from a partner, friend, professional or family member) as close as you can. It’ll help get you through.
- Finally, I send you my love and thoughts at a time that is difficult to describe and horrible to survive. But survive you will. Use support if you need it – your GP will be able to help with something appropriate. You will get through this.
One day I’ll find the courage to talk about what happened on our pregnancy journey and our absent children. But when I have to talk about the reality, for example, one of our lost children was christened but never experienced our love, comfort or cuddles, it’s very hard to write. I sound flippant, uncaring and monotone OR I feel it’s too much information and worry about upsetting someone else.
But we all need to talk. It’s a personal journey, a painful journey, a journey you’ve never heard of until you’ve started driving, and people are living through it (often silently and with no support) every single day.
Responding to the subject of this post, I don’t think these circumstances warrant any level of guilt at all. In fact, anyone who asked my advice, whether man or woman, while experiencing baby loss at ANY stage of their pregnancy (yes, they are ALL huge losses), would hear the same response from me…
- “It’s not your fault”.
- “Do not blame yourself”.
- “Do not continue carrying any guilt”.
But for me, 7 years since our last miscarriage, it’s not advice I am able to hear or accept.
I still feel incredibly guilty.
Now, finally, we are parents to an energetic and effervescent 5 year old girl whom we love with every fibre of our being. But a new style of guilt arrived when she was born, and I want to talk more about that.
Before I start I want to be very clear – our daughter is an incredible child with levels of love, laughter and light that I’m baffled, somehow, sprouted from our DNA. On the whole we’re pretty normal people, but I have a background in difficult physical and mental health. I was personally convinced that she would be highly effected by this, the quirks of my brain rubbing off on her personality and making her a risk-averse and socially-cautious kid.
I was very wrong.
Having a child is a blessing in many ways and when you have your first it opens your mind to the uncharted challenges of caring for, loving and managing the life of a fellow human. A human you’ve created, fostered, surrogated, adopted – however you did it, you now have a kid.
And on top of that, the moment you get your first scan, when you see a silhouette of your little one for the first time, a new narrative starts. It brings with it a droning chatter of opinions from the people around you who relish the opportunity to tell you how hard it is, how much sleep you’ll lose and how much better they are at it than you will be.
They are lying (mostly).
I believe the tsunami of guilt starts right here. The same people with all the comments about your upcoming arrival start to ‘help’ by telling you how to eat, whether or not you should visit the gym, their disgust that you’ve had a glass of wine on a Friday evening and that you should work as long as possible before taking maternity leave.
Oh, and before I get attacked, I’m not naieve, Dads are getting guilt shoved down their throats from this moment too. They’ll have to give up football (other sports are available!)/ regular workouts / being career minded / drinking / seeing friends and start having early nights / looking after themselves / putting someone else first.
Do people really, HONESTLY think we’re so stupid that we haven’t understood someone else will be the priority? I’m yet to see a new parent who isn’t just as wary as they are excited. That’s because the future is unknown and the responsibility is heavy and serious. It’s NOT because admitting to missing their gym-buddies is too much to bear.
We were too.
These opinions are benign. Because they are opinions. You obviously need to follow appropriate and professional advice when you get it or need it and GPs, midwives, gynaecologists (for the ladies) and anyone else in the NHS is well-placed to do so.
However, comments and ‘advice’ like this from generic friends and family does nothing but cause anxiety and (often) unnecessary internal paranoia, lack of confidence and questions.
I felt this way when we got pregnant for the first time. We were over the moon with our news, and although that was mirrored by others, after the 5 or 10 minutes of ‘congratulations’ was over, the comments and opinions would start. We’d heard ideas on everything from my weight, my health, my partners health, our desire to ‘have fun’ (something we rarely did anyway, but I’m kinda proud we gave the impression we were exciting), my decision to keep my fitness routine going (I’d been a runner for many years – more on this one day) and the need to move to a better neighbourhood and ‘research the right schools’.
Our daughter is now 5 years old and those opinions haven’t stopped.
So yes, I feel constantly guilty when I’m told I’ve done something wrong in motherhood at every stage. I’m confident my partner has felt the same at various times throughout too. He’s just better at ignoring it.
So if you’re like me and the guilt eats you alive, what about us? What happens to the people who take it to heart?
Mental UNhealth guilt
I struggle to talk about the guilt that comes with parenthood when you are also juggling declining mental health all day, every day. Sometimes it feels heavier than it should and I wonder if my brain pain is what causes that feeling?!
Our daughter is pretty unphased by things, in fact she’s a loving, inquisitive, sociable child who spends most of her time smiling and trying to make others do the same.
However, in the interest of honesty and hope that someone else will realise this shit happens, I’m ashamed to say she’s seen me upset a couple of times. The guilt that my mental illnesses have caused her to help wipe my tears makes me feel sick. Sick in the deepest pit of my belly. I’m to blame for that. My stupid broken head has made a 5-year-old a bit worried and / or confused about how I’m feeling. ‘Is Mummy ok?’ ‘Why is she crying?’.
How do I manage it? Well, it’s forced me to push my pain deep deep down and make sure she never sees it. The guilt was so great that I make my own diffculty even harder to manage. It’s supressed all day, covered with the laughter and smiles of a hopefully ‘normal’ looking mum, and at night, on the days I need to, I let it out.
But I’m a Mum, that’s what I’m supposed to do, isn’t it?
Then there’s getting her everyday needs right. Feeding her healthy food, buying clothes that fit and she approves of, ignoring the strenuous price rises in gas, electric and fuel because she needs a warm home and a car to get to school, teaching her good manners and respect (the same as us) and making sure she’s an inclusive child with no bias (again, the same as us).
Her educational needs cause us even more culpability, knowing that we’re not particularly well educated ourselves increases the anxiety every time she finishes school with homework in her grubby hands. What the fuck am I going to have to pretend to have an encyclopedic knowledge of this time?
At this stage I’m lucky. She’s learning handwriting and reading, as well as social stories and routines to help with her development. Am I teaching her correctly at home? I have no frigging idea. How do you teach letter writing? They use phrases and rhymes nowadays, confirming the correct way for a student to learn the shape of the letter – I don’t know what those bloody limericks are. Because I’m bloody useless, aren’t I? I’m a failure as a parent because I don’t know the ins, outs and plethora of nuiances within the national curriculum.
The onus has never been more forcefully placed on the parents to know and understand the needs of their childs education and to be able to successfully continue that development within a home environment. I stupidly thought she went to school to be schooled, and we got to have the fun, relaxed, special time at home with occasional book reading and watching Elmo for english and maths.
And when I don’t understand, or I can’t get my head around something she needs to be taught in time for Monday, I feel guilty and useless. I’d understand if you do too.
But you’re not…I hope I’m not either.
Fortuntely or unfortunately, I only have direct experience up to the age of 5 years, although I used to have friends with older children. So through their passed-on knowledge and my own expectations of the future, these are the added layers of worry I expect to be adding to the ‘guilt cake’ soon.
Secondary school transition – I worry about choosing the right school for a second time. I worry about finding a school where she thrives. I worry about not agreeing on the right school. I worry that she’ll hate it. I worry I’ll trust teachers who treat her badly. I worry incessantly that she’ll be bullied. I worry I’ll get any or all of these things wrong and if I do I am GUILTY.
Puberty – Wowzers. Thankfully I don’t think much detail is needed here. Will I teach her well about growing up and growing pains? Will she hate me for getting the level and type of support wrong, as my own mum seemed to (at the time. She did try)? Will puberty morph her into a version of herself that dislikes us and starts to blame us? I worry she’ll hate me for being weird. I worry she’ll be ashamed because of the same. I worry I’ll get any or all of these things wrong and if I do I am GUILTY.
Understanding death and grief – Fact is, there is plenty of death to talk about in this house, but at the age of 5 it’s clearly not appropriate for her. The day will come, however, when she needs to know, when she wants to know. Will I handle it well? Will she handle it well? Have I equipped her with what she needs to manage this sort of news? Will she understand? Will it turn her into the same paranoid, afraid, socially anxious person I am? I worry I’ll get any or all of these things wrong and if I do I am GUILTY.
Understanding my brain – It’s inevitable that she’ll know mummy is weird one day. As things are today she never asks why I stay home and haven’t taken her to the park, visited her at school or saw her first nativity (feel sick saying all that, but sadly, all true) but I know it’s coming. Will she be angry for the choices I’ve made? Will she hate me for being odd? Will she hate me for embarrassing her? Will she introduce me to friends or pretend I don’t exist? Am I so weird that she’ll wish I wasn’t here? Will my problems and failings rub off on her and cause a mental illness of her own? I worry I’ll get any or all of these things wrong and if I do I am GUILTY.
Mistakes – On both parts. Yes, mistakes will be made. Whether it’s her or us, people get things wrong all the time. But will she have the courage to tell us? Will she have the courage to tell anyone? Will she feel safe talking and understand it’s the right thing to do? Will she make serious mistakes? Will I end up bailing her our of jail? Will she naievely get caught up in the mistakes of others, leaving herself to blame when she’s innocent? I worry I’ll get any or all of these things wrong and if I do I am GUILTY.
Being set free – When the time comes, she is going to be desperate to move out and move on. I want her to be free and happy, even if she leaves to make (small) mistakes as a teenager, the same as I did (I left at 18 and never looked back. A mistake). When she moves out, have we given her the tools to be able to manage? Will she be responsible and pay her taxes and rent? Will she have a career or education planned and know where she wants to be one day? Will we have taught her enough to understand the real dangers that exist outside? How will I manage without her? Will I worry incessantly and be calling all the time, probably driving her mad in the process? Yes, it’s highly bloody likely. I worry I’ll get any or all of these things wrong and if I do I am GUILTY.
There is soooooooo much I don’t even know about yet, but from my gathered experience of others and my own genuine fears, these are the things that concern me the most about our impending parts of the parenthood journey.
Hold fire, don’t go. I realise I’ve made you feel worried and possibly shitty, but there’s a positive point to all this…
Letting go of guilt
So after my thorough meandering into the world of parental guilt, from conception to adulthood, you’ve probably found something you can relate to. Maybe a couple of things.
However, HOWEVER, although this guilt exists for so many of us, and the concern it causes is very real, I want you to try and be kinder to yourself. I hate that wanky phrase ‘you need to be kinder to yourself’ – fuck off, Karen.
Hear me out…
From time to time, let go of the guilt and be happy with the job you’ve done so far. This is the hardest, most testing and bum-hole clenching job you’ll ever have. You love your kid/s and you want to do right by them, I know that because you relate to the guilt I’ve talked about. I also know that because you’re here.
That alone, means you’re a great parent, but I’ll explain some more in case you need extra convincing.
Remember that guilt doesn’t make you wrong, stupid or bad. In fact, there are positve attachments to feeling responsible.
Just because you FEEL guilty, doesn’t always mean you made a mistake or should have done better.
You’re human. Remember that.
You’ve sat here, reading this article for 10, maybe 15 minutes, because the title made you think ‘yeah, I feel guilty as a parent all the time, I’m gonna read that’. You clicked and for those 10 minutes your guilt probably rose because I listed things you hadn’t even considered.
Forget it all.
The lesson here is actually really simple. You clicked because you wanted to read, understand and empathise with someone else living through Parental Guilt. You clicked because you wondered if someone else feels the same as you do or did. You clicked because you missed the nativity and it’s been eating you alive ever since. You clicked because you care.
You clicked because you are already a fucking great parent.
The click proves it.
Cor I loved this one. Giraffes are my daughters favourite animal and we endure a consistent rhetoric about them and their friends in the zoo (lions, zebras, wolves, the usual shit) all flaming day.
But I love that kid, and if she says she wants giraffes on a post about her and the guilt I feel over my responsibility for her, then giraffes it bloody is.
In the interest of honesty, I found a similar picture of a Giraffe I liked through Digital Dragon Fruit on Etsy. The outline for one of them came from that picture and the rest was added from my own brain, including the giraffe patterns and detailing, flowers, foliage, background, crowns and the whole of the mummy giraffe.
And yes, it’s a mum and her girl, because what else would I draw?