As the Christmas craziness set in yet again, teachers and parents were feeling the pressure, as tired and emotional children struggled to make it to the end of the school year. More than a few friends commented on the emotional states of their children and their own reactions. Two in particular got me thinking.
“C had a full tear streaked meltdown in the car after an awesome day at school about the thought of not being in class XX anymore. As a parent, the mature adult, I supported him by bursting into tears too!!” – Deb on Facebook.
“I’m totally an #emomum. My kids walk on stage and I cry, they skip off holding hands with a friend and my eyes well, you get the picture. It turns out my daughter shares the same emotional traits … and this week, I’m supposed to be her rock. You see, this week we are navigating a lot of ‘lasts’. Last day going to a kindy that we’ve been part of since before my eldest was born; last swimming lesson at a swim school we’ve been going to for 8 years, last gymnastics lesson at a club we’ve been part of for a little less, last mummy-daughter days. Her tears and emotions are heartfelt and very real. But who am I kidding? I’m no rock! … I’m throwing the rock in the river. My new advice is – let it all out, feel all the feels …” – Renae on Instagram.
I suspect these mums and their children, as well as thousands of others experienced similar moments, as school resumed around Australia recently. Emotions always run high, as students, parents and teachers struggle to settle into new routines or back into old ones after the long summer holiday break. Adjustments are required all round and that’s not always easy. Once again, I saw Mums commenting on social media about back to school moments. Some commented on their own emotional state as they supported their children who often were moving onto the next phase of their schooling. More than one bemoaned the fact they were “too emotional” and felt guilty about it.
These experiences and the mums’ reactions to them are somewhat foreign to me. My children never had ‘tear streaked meltdowns’ for me to join in with. (Or perhaps I just don’t remember them?) They have so far navigated each stage of their lives with barely a backward glance, eager to move on and experience the next phase. There was little hesitation in their transition from kindy to school, from primary to secondary school or from school to university. At the end of high school, my son even received an award from his English teacher for “Managing the stress of seniour year with such grace and poise. You honestly never looked stressed – like EVER!” and commented to us he was the most chilled-out year 12 student she had ever taught. Certainly, they have missed friends and teachers as they adjusted to each new adventure but although nervous and hesitant, these reactions have been expressed in less obvious ways, internalised and needed to be gently coaxed out of them; not a good thing, with both mild depression and anxiety diagnoses requiring treatment at different times.
I sometimes find myself questioning my ability to “feel the feels”. I know I express emotions more subtly than many others and this can have its benefits, but sometimes I wonder if I should be experiencing more emotional highs and lows. My excitement and disappointment alike are usually hidden from public view; overt displays of emotion are simply not my thing. I suspect considerable therapy would be required before I could “let it all out”, whatever ‘it’ may be, leaving me wondering if I may be emotionally deficient. Do I miss out because I don’t feel deeply enough? Is my resilience actually a weakness rather than a strength? Worse still, I fear I have passed this trait onto my children and they too may be missing out. This raises a number of issues, but the one I’m choosing to focus on for now, is mummy guilt.
This, I have realised, is yet another form of mummy guilt, starting way back with pre-pregnancy food choices and continuing far off into the future, I have no doubt. Let’s just add it to the collection, shall we? Or not.
You’d think as your children grow older, you’d experience less mummy guilt, wouldn’t you? Not necessarily so. My offspring have recently turned 21 and 18. They are both legally adults, living away from home, studying at university and beginning to make their own ways in the world. They can sign legal documents, vote, open a bank account and more, all without my signature, consent or guidance. I have little or no control over their everyday and longer-term life choices and have had to lovingly let go. Many of the choices they make look very different to ones made by me at a similar age and this both excites and scares me. They are doing some things I could only have dreamt of, whilst I sometimes wish they wouldn’t do others. Their transition to adulthood has me second-guessing my child-rearing. If I did this, would things be different? Would they cope better, work harder, be kinder, call more often and the list goes on. Don’t get me wrong, they’re doing fine, better than fine, in fact, yet doubts remain. Funny, the wisdom hindsight and extra years can bring (not always helpful).
Do you also feel mummy guilt? Do you find yourself wondering, “Will it never end?”
Only if you and I and others like us take a stand and refuse to give in to it.
Join me in the fight. You see, mummy guilt is the ultimate bully, bringing down wonderful women, making them question their choices, abilities and even their value and sadly much (but not all) of it is self-inflicted.
We are all different and we respond to events and feelings in our everyday lives in very different ways. Some of us are outwardly emotional, like my friends you met earlier, whilst others look composed on the outside, concealing a variety of messy emotions beneath a deceptively smooth facade. I have even been led to believe there exists the rare individual who really does have it all together; half their luck! As people … women … mothers, we think, act and react in different ways and you know what? That’s great. It’s wonderful, actually. God made us all to be individuals and different to others. Variety is, as they say, the spice of life. There’s no one way that is right or better than all others. As a general rule, us mothers do the best we can at any given time, no matter what age our children are. We work hard to meet the needs of our children, whatever that looks like for us. Our style of mothering will be very different to others around us and that’s OK. So long as we have our children’s interests at heart, we are enough, we do enough and we need to acknowledge that.
Cut yourself some slack. Tell yourself “I am enough, I do enough and I am a wonderful mother” daily. Maybe you’ll be the only one who ever tells you this, but you may be fortunate enough to occasionally hear it from others. When you see others doing great things for or with their kids, let them know; don’t just keep it to yourself. Us mothers need all the encouragement we can get. A dear friend of mine sometimes comments “You’re a great Mum” when I talk to her about my kids. I always feel a bit taken aback when she says this because it’s not something I hear often and I rarely feel it. It’s easy to encourage someone who mothers in a similar style to you, but what about other styles which contradict your own practices or beliefs? When you see others using a different mothering style to your own, take a moment to look for and appreciate its’ positives too. You may be surprised how many there are.
Maybe you’re not a mother, whether by choice or necessity, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have a strong influence on the lives of younger generations around you. Nephews and nieces, children of friends and neighbours, youngsters in your workplace, church or local club all see you, spend time with you and are influenced by you. This is for you too.
Your mission, should you choose to acccept it:
Back to School is a tough time for mums as well as kids and even sometimes for mums with kids no longer at school. (I class all of Term 1 as back to school, in case you were wondering.)
Find someone doing a great job of mothering (whether their own child or someone else’s) this week and encourage them in some way. This might be a verbal encouragement, a note, text, card or even a small gift or shared experience like a chat over coffee.
Want to go further? Share how your encouragement was received, either by commenting here or on social media.
Together we can reduce the guilt felt by mothers and replace it with pride in a job well done because we are enough, we do enough and we are wonderful mothers but we need regular reminders of this.
To Renae and Deb, thank you for being so honest and open in sharing your journeys. You are both amazing mothers and I occasionally wish my children were younger so I could copy some of your wonderful mothering ideas.
If you would like to print the graphics from this post and place them somewhere as a frequent reminder for yourself, I’ve included them here as two printable PDF files. They could also be emailed or printed and given to someone else as encouragement. Simply click on the links under each image or on the name of the file here to access it. I am enough, I do enough and I am a wonderful mother.