Guilt is only a burden when you bend down and pick it up… apparently. Unfortunately, I keep bending.
Our last post saw Lea talking about whether it’s right that the children should always come first and how, as a couple parenting our four children, we don’t think it is – for them or for us.
One of the reasons I find it hard to let go of the idea that we SHOULD be putting them first is because I feel guilty if I don’t.
I feel guilty for considering my own needs, guilty for not making everything about them – whether that’s money, food, holidays, days out etc. Hell, I even feel guilty when I encourage their father to step up and have them more!
Take an incident this week for example…
My children’s father had agreed to have them on Friday and take one to a party she’d been invited to. He was meant to arrive at ten to be there on time. This was my day to work. That morning he announced he couldn’t come at that time, cue me (why not him??) scrambling around trying to arrange transport to the party and work out why he thought it was ok to drop this on me an hour before he was due to arrive.
Also cue me feeling guilty because neither child wanted to go to him for the weekend and were quite happy he wasn’t coming.
In moments like this I want to scoop them up and not make them go. But is that really the best thing for any of us?
After a lot of cross words from me, he finally came and collected them much later than agreed. When I packed their bags I snuck their school uniforms in the bag with the idea of telling him he should take them to school on Monday (they were due back with me Sunday afternoon) given I’d lost work time that day.
This didn’t feel ideal at all given I’d not told the children this, but I’m at the point where I feel forced to take drastic measures to get him to step up and take his parenting responsibilities seriously. Not only does it impact my working time and ability to make money but it also demonstrates to the children that they are not his priority.
After a quite spectacular row and him venting on me what I suspect is his anger at himself, he agreed to take them to school (something he never does). This feels important in so many ways…
First, because his children need to experience him having an active role in ALL aspects of their lives. Not just being a fun daddy (or not) for 1.5 days a week.
Currently I organise everything for them:
- School stuff – homework, spellings, reading, trips, dinner money
- Activities – forest school, violin lessons, dancing, play dates, sleepovers, parties
- Emotional well-being – sportscasting, processing, talking, listening
- Physical wellbeing – making elderberry syrup, ensuring they don’t eat too much shit, talking to them about looking after their bodies…the list goes on.
Second, because my kids want to home educate at some point and there’s no way I can do that on my own. The more engaged he becomes in ALL aspects of their education now, the more chance we have of making that a reality for them instead of a promise that’ll never happen.
Third, because I want them to have a relationship with their father and experience him as just as capable of meeting their needs – albeit in different ways – as me…or do I?
This is the tricky bit. Whilst part of me, of course, wants this for them – hell my relationship with my own father was a once a fortnight job that didn’t feel enough – another part of me wants to keep them away from him and his influence!!
I want to be their number one. Not ideal! I suspect from hearing other women talk that this is common.
Letting go of our children is really difficult, who are WE, after all, if we’re not their everything? When motherhood demands so much sacrifice from us how do we be ‘us’ when we are only ever defined through our children?
No wonder we have feelings of guilt for giving them to other adults to look after – even when it’s their other parent, for fuck’s sake. It feels like a massive taboo…
Society tells us that mothers shouldn’t want to do that; that mothers should be the primary caregiver. Mothering as a verb comes with an implicit all-encompassing assumption that your children are your entire world.
We are ALL sold down the river by these narratives…
Fathers because they assume there is no place for them other than as a bit part actor to the mothers leading role. This then often stops them learning or having the confidence to step up and parent their kids and develop a strong relationship with their children accross all areas of their lives.
For the kids, well they often don’t get to see the model of both parents stepping up and parenting them competently (and incompetently at times!) which then repeats the narratives of whose job child rearing is when they become adults themselves. It also denies them strong loving and more complete bonds with their fathers which will sustain them throughout life.
Mothers because it is unrealistic to expect or want one person to be another person’s everything. That’s symbiosis and doesn’t end well for either party. Mothers need time and space for themselves aside from their kids.
The guilt we often feel though is pervasive and is based on the strength of the narratives that outline what motherhood is meant to look like in our society.
When we can’t or no longer want to live by these narratives, guilt is the common consequence. How dare we step outside of those narratives and define motherhood differently?
Sadly most of the time it is other women who are our worst enemies.
We’ve certainly had the biggest anti-feminist responses from other mothers. Is this because so many of us feel the pull of this all-encompassing guilt and we’d do anything to avoid feeling it ourselves including judging others when they step outside of the ‘good mother’ role?
So what happened in my weekend situation?
Well, after I’d been told that I was like a witch stirring a cauldron trying to come up with new ways to make his life difficult (Like really??!! Like I don’t have enough on already??!! Like asking the father of my children who cost me half a working day to compensate that by having his own children and taking them to school constitutes some kind of black magic??!!), he sorted himself out. Made their pack lunches, had them overnight and took them to school the next morning!
On talking to him afterwards I could see the pride that he’d done it, the delight that they’d enjoyed it so much and his confidence on a high. He also enjoyed telling me they wanted him to pick them up and go home with him that night! (That’s a whole other world of pain and panic in letting go of them for another post!!).
For now, I’m getting over the exhaustion of standing up to him, the anxiety about insisting he be more to them and enjoying their obvious enjoyment that ‘Daddy did it’ and Daddy gave enough of a shit to do some hard stuff.
I am also, as always, extremely grateful to Lea, who shows me where I need to face my own hard stuff around letting go, and supports me through it all, despite the tears and flouncings that often accompany it. She’s a wise one that girl…not least because she aint bending to pick up any goddam guilt. Now that is something to aspire to!