As part of our #BREAKFREE from 'mum guilt' campaign, Gillian Harvey asks whether science and psychoanalysis is actually making parenting much harder...
When I was first sprogged up, after my second IVF attempt, I didn’t realise that – as well as a longed-for baby – I’d be pushing out a side-order of guilt during labour. But guilt, I’ve realised, is an intrinsic part of parenthood.
In this age of enlightenment, we know – don’t we all know – that any mistakes we might make could cause irreparable damage to our little ones’ tiny psyches. And whilst knowledge can be powerful, it can also be pretty damn scary.
In my first few minutes as a mother, flinching as my baby-exit was stitched back together and holding a wriggling bundle in my arms, the awful truth dawned: that I could actually, possibly really mess this up.
I spent some time in therapy in my twenties, and – as a result – was able (with the help of a professional) to realise that most of my problems were thrust on me by my mum and dad’s well-meaning, but ultimately flawed parenting.
But the only problem with parent-blaming psychology is that it comes straight back to bite you the moment you adopt the title ‘mummy’ yourself.
No-one tells you before you get pregnant that from the moment you birth your first, every second you spend not focusing on your child will be marred by a wave of worry. And when – like me – you pop five babies out in quick succession, it’s virtually impossible to give any of them your complete undivided attention. Like, ever.
Which means I’m pretty much riding on a tsunami of guilt 24/7.
Oh, and I work too. From home. Which means not only do I have to deal with the guilt of not being with my youngest daughter when the others are at school, I also am painfully aware of her presence on non-nursery days: even though she’s with her daddy, I hear every cry, every “what mummy doin’?” that she utters.
Of course, I realise that (whilst my longing for a child was at one point all-consuming) now a mummy, I’m still entitled to also be myself – to exercise the parts of my brain and body that were around BC (before children) and will hopefully still be there AD (after they’ve ditched me for someone more interesting).
So I shouldn’t feel guilty. Not really.
I’m sure I’m not the only parent who sometimes longs for eight o’clock, when I can finally sink into the sofa with a cup of tea (or something stronger (coffee)).
Or who feels terrible when she realises she forgot to iron a favourite top, or buy yoghurts, or discovers that the baby’s nappy probably should have been changed an hour ago.
In this modern era, we like to think of ourselves as being well-informed. A simple search on Amazon for parenting books reveals that there are over 115,000 to choose from. And it’s great that we – and of course those scientists – have taken the time to understand our little ones more than perhaps our parents’ generation.
But, despite this, I still think my mum and dad – haphazardly raising me in the 80s – were somehow the lucky ones.
They might have completely screwed me up, but at least they were blissfully unaware they were doing it.
Follow Gillian on Twitter @GillPlusFive.
Find out more about our #BREAKFREE from ‘mum guilt’ campaign here.