Today I cried actual tears in front of a total stranger as I confided in her that my mum-guilt had gotten the better of me.
But now I realise something about mum-guilt. It isn’t the enemy.
Let me explain.
My teary story
My eldest boy is in kindergarten at school, and I’m finding life as a newbie school mum a little overwhelming.
There are SO MANY days and things to remember. I get constant app notifications from the school reminding me about this and that, as well as emails from the class mum and daily WhatsApp messages from other parents.
It’s information overload.
Which is why I missed the memo, in the sea of memos, advising parents to book their kids into the space incursion (an excursion that happens at school after hours) because places are limited.
No biggie, others would say. Except that when it comes to my son and space, IT IS.
Space is his obsession. There is nothing he’d love more than a space incursion. He even has a solar system pencil case. Space posters decorate his bedroom walls, and he will casually drop into conversation that Jupiter has 79 moons and there’s a volcano on Mars called Olympus Mons.
I was also too unwell this year to throw him the space party he’d asked for, or any party. He understood; he’s a good kid. But I felt bad about that already. Mum-guilts.
I dropped the ball
When I realised that the space thing at school required bookings and he’d missed out, I was upset.
So I went to the office and asked a nice but new casual admin lady if his name could please be put down on a cancellation list, in case there are any no-shows.
She went away to ask her supervisor, and I crossed my fingers.
“I’m sorry, it’s been booked out for ages,” she told me. “No cancellation list either.”
Then it happened.
My eyes welled with tears, and in a moment of mum-guilt overload, I cried.
“This is all my fault,” I told her.
“I’m such a scatterbrain. He would’ve loved this. Space is his obsession. He wanted a space party this year, but I couldn’t give it to him,” I sniffed. “There’s just so many school things to remember and take note of, and I … well, I missed this.”
She was nice responding with, “I know, I know,” but I quickly grabbed my preschooler’s little hand and said, “Thanks for trying” and left feeling embarrassed.
Now I know I’m not the first mum to feel mum-guilt. Every mum I know does, heck, dads feel dad-guilt, too. Parenting is just one guilty feeling after another – among all the joyful moments and everything else, of course.
There’s just so much to feel guilty about. “Is he getting enough milk?” “He isn’t ready for daycare, but I have to work.” “I let him watch way too much TV.” “I should make healthy lunch box snacks.” “I don’t do enough homework readers with him …” It goes on even when the rational voice is reminding us of all the stuff we do well.
It builds up.
So I think what I experienced this morning was something of a mum-guilt avalanche. It had been piling up, and at that moment, it spilt out of me in the form of tears in front of a complete stranger. And for the record, I am not a cry-at-the-drop-of-a-hat kinda person.
Not the enemy
But as hard as it is to live in a perpetual state of mum-guilt, I had this revelation on my walk home.
Mum-guilt is not the enemy.
Perhaps mum-guilt just means that you love your kids more than you will ever understand. You want to do a good job at raising them because you love them SO DAMN MUCH. But the fact that you feel mum-guilt in the first place just proves that you are. You. Are.
It can also help you listen to your inner mum-gut when something doesn’t feel right and nudge you to make a change. Mum guilt can be a tool if we don’t let it eat us up.
As for the space thing, I’ll be honest with my boy when I pick him up this afternoon and tell him I ‘missed the note’. He will be a bit upset at first, but he’ll forgive me. He loves me, and he knows I am a good mum.
I know it too, even when I start to question it on those bad mum-guilt days.
We might even go to the space exhibition sometime at the museum and invite a friend. He’s owed a birthday space treat.
So the next time you feel a pang of mum-guilt (which, let’s be honest, will probably be within the hour), maybe you should give it some credit. Mum-guilt isn’t the enemy. It may be just another expression of the enormity of the love you feel for your child/children, and consequently, the pressure you put on yourself to be the mum they deserve.
But I’ll let you in on a secret only our kids know. We actually already are. No one can be a better mum to your little ones than you.
You (and I!), are doing great.