We know getting caught in the guilt-trap is bad for us, yet we keep doing it.
Becoming a mother is a road fraught with guilt and insecurities from the get-go.
What if we challenge the belief that guilt is part and parcel of motherhood? Maybe Mums choose to feel guilty? What if the reason Mums jump on the mummy-guilt bandwagon is because it offers some irresistible rewards? Like the time-suck quizzes you can take on Facebook, you want to stop but can’t understand why you don’t. Well, like those quizzes that are designed to addict you, society has set up our beliefs of what constitutes a good mother and the construct of Mum’s ‘guilt’ is a key strategy to make sure that you conform to those ideologies.
By playing the guilt game and accepting the inevitability of guilt, mothers line themselves up to receive the following …
1) Guilt gives us something to talk about
Nothing unites Mums like misery or tales of woe. It starts during pregnancy with morning sickness and it hurries greedily towards the impending labour: “You were in labour for 17 hours? My labour started after my scan at 20 weeks”. Jokes aside – feeling guilty gives us something to talk about.
I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had with other mothers at various day cares and classrooms that go something like: “I feel so guilty for leaving him, but I know he stops crying as soon as I’m gone”.
I mean, what else would two strangers have to talk about aside from the weather?
Talking about how guilty we feel gives us a socially acceptable starting point. I’m not quite sure how heel-clicking, high-fiving mothers shouting “freeeeeedom!!!” while their crying children looked on would go down. And they best not get in the way of the Dads, who are speeding out of the car park. They have to get to work, don’t you know.
2) Guilt is an outward show of love
Maybe we think feeling guilty shows how much we love our children: “I feel SO bad for leaving you, so that I can go and talk to other humans who don’t call me Mummy Pig”. (The Peppa Pig craze has hit us hard. We’re all now members of Peppa’s family while Miss Two is Peppa herself.)
We love our kids so much we can’t bear to be away from them, and when we are apart, we feel SO GUILTY about it.
3) Guilt is socially acceptable
Guilt gives us a reason to stay inside our comfort zone. Citing guilt as a reason for not accepting new challenges and opportunities or for not tackling certain activities, is more socially acceptable than admitting you’re afraid or apprehensive.
Not wanting to be away from your children because you feel guilty is far more acceptable in our society than saying you feel afraid or unsure.
4) You feel part of the gal (guilt) gang
All mothers feel guilty right? This is just part of motherhood, isn’t it? We’ve bought into this version of motherhood, where guilt seems to be an entrenched feature like sleep deprivation, constant worry and endless meal preparation.
What happens to those women who openly reject this version of motherhood and guilt?
They’re given some token public show of respect but secretly viewed with suspicion as selfish fringe-dwellers who don’t deserve the gift of motherhood. A gift that too many women are so cruelly denied.
5) It gets you off the hook
Believing that guilt is a ‘mother’s lot’ means you don’t have to do anything about it. However, swimming against the tide and challenging strongly held beliefs is hard work. To be the Mum protesting against the social constructs that hold mothers back requires a commitment of head, heart and time.
If you accept it, you don’t have to work to reject it!
So next time you find yourself wallowing in Mummy Guilt, stop and have a think about what is really going on. Who is really driving the bus?