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No one tells you even half the story when you are pregnant! No one mentions what it’s like to hold an inconsolable baby – not knowing why she is crying. No one mentions or if they do you have no idea how tearful it can make you. And no one mentions maternal guilt – the overwhelming feeling that you are failing your baby and the turmoil you go through to make the ‘right decision’ all the time.
The old adage – “Maternal guilt, it comes with the placenta” is completely true. Being an expectant mom is an overwhelming experience and it never really changes. We are overwhelmed by the guilt – guilt over what I ate in pregnancy, when I stopped breastfeeding each time, leaving my baby with the nanny for the first time, going to work every morning when baby was little, loosing my cool and shouting at them all over a little mess…. the list goes on and on.
Where does this crazy overwhelming guilt come from? As parents we feel an enormous weight of responsibility for a life. We take every decision very much to heart because we have a real sense that we are impacting a human life forever. And that is a huge responsibility, a colossal task. This is the reason we analyze every decision we make and strive to do the best for our baby all the time. But a lot of the time the decisions we make, have to consider other variables – our own needs, another child’s needs, our husband or our work. So when we are balancing all these needs and responsibilities, it is a given there will be some compromise. It is in the moments of compromise and in the small errors we make as human beings that the guile of guilt manifests.
Another major factor in the guilt we feel is the pressure and expectation to be the perfect mom. We live in a society that expects excellence and sets the bar very high. Many moms come from a background of academic success or career achievements and they have very high expectations of themselves. High expectations are both external (society, husbands and family) as well as self-imposed. Sadly we seem unable to cut our selves any slack and just as bad, we judge other women on unachievable standards too. The mommy wars are a very sad manifestation of the expectations we have of each other to be the perfect mom all the time.
So take it that maternal guilt is absolutely part of parenting and it starts from the moment of conception and continues through life. What can we do? The important thing is to keep perspective. 99% of the things we sweat and the guilt trips are really irrelevant in the big picture. Will your baby be scarred forever because he got a nappy rash when you left a dirty nappy on for too long? The answer is no. Will your little one be an emotional wreck because you had to leave him to cry for a few minutes while you wiped your toddler’s bum? No, he won’t.
So a message would be:
- Keep perspective
- Don’t sweat the small stuff
- Tell your self daily you are a good mom
- Encourage your partner and your friends on their journey
- And just be good enough – NOT perfect.
By Meg Faure