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.