Before I had my baby, I recall vaguely (because everything Before Baby is now draped in a gauzy veil of distant memories, am I right?) reading somewhere that motherhood also marks the start of years and years of feeling guilty.
Psh, I thought. As long as I do the best job I know how to, surely I wouldn’t have anything to feel guilty about?
Little did I know.
Even before he was born, I had to be induced as the little tyke was 11 days late. Though it was entirely out of my control, I felt guilty of having to resort to a forced eviction. Then I felt bad that I had no idea how to change that first nappy (true story), that he was sent home with formula because my milk hadn’t come in…
Now, almost a year on, these guilty feelings still come at me, and have increased exponentially since I went back to work – two months short of my planned 12 months off.
Even though my transition back to work was gradual (working two days from home on a designated project – a luxury many others aren’t afforded), going back to work so early threw things off kilter.
I hadn’t found suitable childcare for bub, I didn’t feel emotionally prepared… plus, any mother who has “worked from home” can tell you it’s a bit of a joke – “working from home” mostly involves frantically replying emails when bub goes down for a nap, in between doing the laundry and attempting to make something healthy for lunch, and feeling awful because you let baby watch 30 minutes of TV while you finished editing one last section.
This marks my first week of being back in the office three days a week, and while I enjoy getting dressed in something other than yoga pants and a breastfeeding-friendly top, I’m not immune to feeling guilty.
These feelings are especially strong in the morning when I pry his pudgy little fingers apart from my clothes to hand him over at daycare, and hear his wails echoing down the corridor as I leave. I tell myself by the time I’ve started the car that he’s forgotten me already – part of the coping mechanism is telling myself whatever I need to hear to make it easier.
But I just feel so guilty. About everything.
I feel bad that he won’t take the bottles of painstakingly-expressed breastmilk during the day, preferring to wait until I get home for a monster feed.
I feel awful that he keeps catching colds and worse – last week he caught a viral infection which gave him a temperature of 40 degrees.
I feel disappointed that he’s learning new things, and that I’m not there to see them.
And on the flip side, I felt almost embarrassed when I told my mum I was only back at work part-time because she thought I would go back five days a week to earn more money.
I know these feelings are counter-productive and futile, but it doesn’t stop me from feeling that way.
What I’m trying to do is to be mindful of when the guilt strikes, and to counter it with a positive thought.
When I feel bad about being at work instead of being home, I try to remind myself that I’m doing this so I can give our son the brightest future we can – a university education, educational holidays and books all cost money, and I want him to have the option to go further than his parents.
When I feel guilty about watching bub make shaky attempts to stand instead of working, I tell myself he is and always will be my priority – I can answer my (non-urgent) emails later, but these next five minutes with him is time I can never get back.
My system is far from perfect – some days I manage, and some days I don’t. But I tell myself the fact that I feel guilty means that I care about being a good mother. Some days my best will be ‘just good enough’ and I’ll just have to remember that it will be okay.
Like I said, I’m working on it.
Faye Song is a city girl finding her feet in regional Victoria, Australia. A former journalist, she works in marketing and communication. These days, she finds her most demanding and fascinating client to be her little boy.
Image Credit: Pinterest.