In early 2006 as I embarked on a new career path I found out that I was pregnant. The timing was terrible as my partner and I had just decided to separate, the following months were an emotional rollercoaster as I made choices about my future, trying to incorporating this new life growing inside of me.
My birth experience was traumatic, resulting in an emergency caesarian, I remember sobbing on the operating table, shaking with fatigue and disappointment, feeling like I had failed myself and my baby, the mummy guilt had well and truly started. The first year after birth passed in a zombie like haze of sleepless days and postnatal depression. My daughter was a great crier and only seemed to settle when she was being carried. I lost count of the times that I stood outside her bedroom door crying, just praying that she would sleep and give me a few moments of much needed rest. My life revolved around her needs and I lost myself in Motherhood, I felt ashamed and guilty for not feeling the joy and happiness that so many other mothers seemed to be experiencing. I loved my daughter more than anything else on the planet, her smiles lit up my world and her laugh was infectious and yet I had never been more miserable in my life. To make up for her less than ideal entry into the world I breastfed for longer than was healthy for me and quickly learned how to put her needs before my own, thinking that this was the way to fix what I had broken and assuage the mummy guilt that I was burdened with every day.
Before her second birthday her dad and I separated, we had stayed together and tried to make it work but it was a losing battle. My own feelings of childhood abandonment after my dad left at a young age forced me to give it 150% before I called it quits. In the end is was for the safety and well-being of my daughter that I walked away, one of the hardest decisions of my life and one made possible because of the predicted mummy guilt I would feel if I stuck around and raised her in a toxic environment. Sometimes Mummy Guilt has benefits!
“Sometimes Mummy Guilt has benefits – you walk away from situations you may not have if you didn’t have kids!”
This began my solo parenting journey and while there was massive relief to be out of relationship the burden of being Mother, Father, sole financial provider, counselor, nurse, disciplinarian, housekeeper and business owner definitely took it’s toll! I understood on an intrinsic level that as a Mother I could never win in societies eyes. If I didn’t work and stayed at home as a full time mother I would be ridiculed. If I took up a full time position and left my daughter to 5 days of before and after school care I would be vilified. In the end I chose to continue with my own business. While it required more energy and organisation, the flexibility of deciding my own working hours allowed me to be the one to raise my child and while it was exhausting and financially precarious it still felt like the best choice for us. It has not been an easy road and over the years I have suffered Mummy guilt over various things.
- Being an introvert with an extroverted child
- Needing space
- Not being affectionate enough
- Being too tired
- Not being a good cook
- Not being arts and crafty
- Not being more loving and nurturing
- Not going places because she was too wild and sensitive
- Not giving her a sibling to play with
- Not having enough money to do more than one after school activity
- No signing up for weekend sports
- Not having the energy left by bedtime to spend an hour reading stories or singing songs
- Not having her father around enough
- Sending her to her father more than was good for her
- Being to harsh
- Not having enough boundaries
- Giving her to much responsibility
- Not giving her enough responsibility
One of the things that helped me break through a huge amount of the Mummy guilt, and I would like to say once and for all, but I’m not sure that’s possible, was being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2017. For a couple of years previous I had been monitoring a breast lump. I had changed my diet, stepped away from toxic relationships started putting myself first again (at least some of the time) and was re-evaluating my work/play balance. I tried supplements and protocols from the mundane to the wild but the lump kept growing. In one year it doubled in size and that’s when I decided that I needed to have surgery. It was this experience, of doing all of the ‘right’ things but still ending up under the knife that made me realise just how big an impact stress and emotional suppression can have on your health and well-being.
After surgery it took me 8 weeks to get full mobility back in my arm and to be able to massage again. That was 8 weeks without income and during this time I had to gratefully receive help, I finally learned the value of community and tribe and that being humble and vulnerable were not weaknesses but opportunities to connect and grow. My daughter had to step up and do more things for herself, we had to have conversations around who she would want to live with if I passed on, I had to explain to her my alternative health choices and why I was making those decisions, I made a will and faced my mortality. I had to let go of the fear of dying and leaving her alone. It was a massive ‘rite of passage’ experience with more than one dark night of the soul as I grew and transformed into a more powerful and whole version of myself.
I had to admit that the life I had been leading wasn’t fulfilling me; putting my needs second to another persons most of the time was not bringing me joy. I wanted to be that selfless mother that loved caring and nurturing others but that’s not who I am all of the time. I have envied those women that love parenting, effortlessly raising a brood of happy children and I felt enormous Mummy guilt for not being that kind of woman.
It took me a long time to acknowledge that it was ok that I wanted to be more than more than just a Mother, or a worker, or a partner. My passion and soul purpose encompasses so much more than that and yet I am so grateful for what this journey has taught me. I would not be the person I am today without this trial by fire.
It has taken me over a decade to actually feel proud of what I have accomplished, to be able to honour my motherhood journey and pat myself on the back for a job well done! I have raised an incredible child, walking that fine line between guidance, discipline and allowing her spirit and naturalness to thrive and shine. Those first few years felt like an eternity, those middle years I thought would never end and that I would truly break before we made it through but these last few years have shown me what dedicated and loving parenting can achieve.
Now that my daughter is a teenager and doesn’t need me as much I am reclaiming more and more of myself. I can accept more fully the life experiences that she needs to have and the lessons that she will choose to learn on her life journey. She has been my greatest teacher and I have done my best every step along the way.
I honour all of the mothers out there who are doing their best every day, even when you feel like it isn’t good enough. I know the judgement that comes from self and others can be a heavy burden to carry and I encourage you to put down that unnecessary load. You can never win if you play by those rules, you need to make up your own rules and play the game your way, in a way that feels best for you and your family. There is no one perfect way to parent, there is no secret book that everyone but you has access to. Motherhood is the hardest and most undervalued job in the world but I see you and I send my love out to you all!