Quit with the guilt trips

While it may seem from reading this blog that I spend countless hours in the garden or kitchen, reading, blogging or cruising local restaurants, reality is quite different.  Most of my time is spent in child related activities, as with most parents in a full time caring role.   And when I’m not actually doing something with or for my daughters, my mind is often pre-occupied with thoughts about them – how do I encourage Miss Two to say please and thank you automatically; how, oh how, do I get the baby to sleep better; are my girls getting too much ‘screen time’; will they cope with childcare?  The list is endless, but most of the time I feel like I’m doing a reasonably good job.  It helps that I’m not a perfectionist (the state of my house will attest to that) so I don’t try to be the perfect parent.  But like all parents I do get an attack of the guilts every now.

Parenthood brings up a strange mix of feelings.  Of course there is joy, love, adoration, pleasure and pride, but there’s also frustration, worry, anger and guilt.  It’s the guilt part that has been on my mind recently.  I have a bit of a mental list of the things I feeling guilt over, yelling is always up there, Baby Good rolling off the bed made me feel pretty bad, letting Miss Two get sunburnt when she was younger is something I beat myself over still.  But then there are little things, silly things, like not doing all the things I did with Miss Two when she was a baby with Baby Good, like not brushing Miss Two’s hair and teeth every morning, like the mess everywhere when visitors come, or like the ocassional far-from-nutritious meal I serve up. These things mean nothing, so why on earth am I wasting my head space feeling guilty about them.  In a conversation with my Mum I mentioned these feelings of guilt over little things and asked her if she had felt guilty about anything as a mum.  She looked at me like I was mad, why would she have felt guilty, she was at home with three kids under three, as long as you love them and keep them safe and fed and so on, what’s to feel guilty about?  Good question, what is there really to feel guilty about?

Today there seems to be an expectation that parents, and in particular mothers, are perfect, providing perfect meals, perfect educational activities and a perfect house.  I don’t know where this expectation comes from, but I do know that it is impossible to live up to and leads to parents, and in particular mothers, feeling guilt.  What infuriates me is that marketers and advertisers are well aware of these feelings and use them against mothers when they are at their most vulnerable – when they bring their tiny new baby home – to sell their product.  I say mothers this time because it is quite clear that these advertisements are targeting mothers not fathers.  Mostly I find it is baby-related products, like nappies, baby food, formula, wipes and so on, or cleaning products.  They make us fear what our children will be missing out on if we don’t feed them the right food or formula, or what we will be exposing them to if we don’t ensure our houses are completely germ-free and disinfected.  They make us believe that our visitors will judge us based of the cleanliness of our toilets.

For me I’ve decided this kind of guilt is a wasted emotion that does nothing but make me feel bad about myself.  So not only have a decided to scrap this kind of ‘mother-guilt’ in my own thinking and just accept that houses are for living in, not for show, kids are for getting messy and making messes and that reading a good book is a legitimate way to spend any precious down time I might get. But I’ve also decided that my hard-earned money will not be going to companies that use guilt directed at mothers to sell their products.  I think it’s time advertisers were actually made to be a bit more creative in their approach and step away from easy, stereotypical messages directed towards new mothers who already have enough on their plates without worrying about sparkling bathrooms and pleasantly fragranced  lounge rooms for fear of being judged poorly by others.

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10 Responses to Quit with the guilt trips

  1. Victoria Clyne says:

    Hi,

    I just wanted to say well said.

    Victoria

  2. Jessica Pearson says:

    I think I need to save this post for when I (hopefully) become a mum…think I may be a prime candidate for developing these unnecessary guilts!

    ps. you are a fabulous mum so I’m glad you are getting rid of the guilt trips.

  3. nobody says:

    Good for you. Nobody and NOTHING is perfect, better to accept this universal truth than wrestle against it for the rest of your life.

  4. Liz says:

    Good for you. I too have guilt trips quite often – usually about the amount of TV they watch, or how little time I spend actually playing with them, as opposed to being in the same room as them. I have to say that particular ad about the toilet made me laugh as it is so unsubtle that even I, the queen of guilt, wasn’t taken in….had they focussed on dirty dishes on the sink I may have been more concerned though. I do like the idea of boycotting companies who advertise in that way – excellent idea.

    • Barbara Good says:

      The TV thing is a constant worry here too, though I think I’m coming to realise that my Miss Two seems just fine even though she probably watches a little more TV these days than is ideal. I found as soon as her afternoon sleep stopped and Baby Good arrived (the two events helpfully coinciding with each other) I resorted to TV to be able to keep her quiet while the baby slept and let me do a few vital things, like preparing dinner. Oh and I too sometimes feel that I might spend a lot of time in my kids vicinity, but not actually playing with them… that’s why we give them siblings isn’t it?

      Dirty dishes and unmade beds are the ones that would do it for me (oh and toys and crap strewn on every available surface). I started thinking about the companies I would have to boycott to make a point on this, I don’t actually buy that many, but there are a few I will be avoiding in future (Napisan being one).

  5. Alison says:

    I like what nobody said.
    So, for your next blog, I dearly hope you have the wherewithal to compile a list of parenting/baby products that don’t use guilt or obligation to sell products to mums. 😉 I want to follow your example and am secretly dreaming of purchasing *nothing* brand new.
    I have this already. But it’s a bitter mix of two seconds of *want* followed by long cupboard-slamming rants of resentment and a loose commitment to hippy life. The part I have to conquer next is to not flip the same sequence when I fear I’m being judged by my friends/family (read: projecting my well ingrained and efficient self-criticising internal monologue, mostly scripted by the same forces of which you write). To be honest, it’s probably a continuation of the ‘should’-messages I’ve gotten already: should buy a house, should have babies, should have babies soon, should eat healthier, should do housework, should be working… “Should” has got to be the most manipulative word used towards women ever.

    • Barbara Good says:

      Alison, as a general rule I have been able to avoid much of the mainstream baby brands anyway (cloth nappies and breastfeeding help enormously on that front). If I had to use formula it would be much more difficult, formula companies can be really unethical in their advertising techniques) As for baby bath products, I tend to buy an eco brand which don’t advertise at all. And I think it would be perfectly do-able to buy nothing new, check out your local freecycle site, baby goods markets and e-bay and you’ll have everything you need with far less expense. For me I’ve found that babies need far less than many think, esp if you avoid big baby stores!
      I will warn you now, motherhood brings on a whole new sense of inadequacy and guilt if you let it. The reality is that babies just need love and the basics for survival all the rest is rubbish, and mostly driven by marketing companies who want you to buy something, or other people who think you ‘should’ do something the same way they did not because that’s what’s best of YOU and YOUR baby, but because it justifies something to that other person or makes THEM feel better about THEMSELVES. If it feels rights to you do it, and don’t feel like you have to explain yourself or your actions to anyone else.
      Okay, stepping down from my soapbox now.

      • Alison says:

        Thanks Barbara 🙂
        That’s great news about the products. I’ve already looked into fabric nappies and ebay. I’m hoping to not depend on formula but that’s all wait and see. Can’t wait to see how minimalist we can get with the paraphernalia but I’m not sure how much I can discourage family from buying new things for us. Already grumpy at maternity wear: $70 for a stretch top with pleats in the side? Suspect only weddings incur such a mark-up for such simple things.
        For the most part I have your second paragraph down well – especially when speaking to others about their guilt – I even use caps in the same way! It’s the calm, considered “It’s not me, it’s them” reminder that I need when I’m tired (which I will be, indefinitely, I’m sure) or doing the heightened emotion thing (see: pregnancy). I don’t really need to rant when I’m shopping, or snap at colleagues, friends and family – I tend to think of the whole feminist thing at once and crack it, I suppose.
        Anyway, I don’t want to hijack your post with all this, so I’ll leave you with yet another link from a place that helps keep me sane, and will again the future I think: http://bluemilk.wordpress.com/2007/04/27/yummy-mummy-are-you-happy/ I feel like I should be able to find more on http://thesocietypages.org/socimages/ – which is just facinating for reflecting our created world – but it seems that what you’ve said above has summmarised many things I’ve read and felt on this topic. Cheers!

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