Mother Guilt. Feeling it and Healing it.
There is a stone house at the end of our driveway. It is immaculate in every way. The grass is perfect, green, mowed. The trees are aligned. The gates are beautiful and detailed. The windows reveal fine glass and china and ornate picture frames. I haven’t been inside although I imagine it to be perfectly spotless and a perfect combination of neat and homely. From the appearance of the house I can assume (perhaps dangerously so) so much about the lives of those within. Steady, regular careers probably with the same company for 20 years. All the tools in the tool shed work, all the kitchen appliances are clean and the bin cupboard smells nice. The spare room is ready for visitors and devoid of junk or spare boxes. Bills are paid on time and kept orderly in a file out of sight. There are life insurances, estates in order, lock boxes and savings accounts. Holidays are planned, packaged and extra insurance in bought. There are spare toiletries in the cupboards for when the ones in use run out. There are shopping days, steak days and the fridge is clean. The dogs are routinely wormed, fed the same food – brand and amount – each night. There is order, predictability, and stability. I walk past the house when I walk faith to sleep and each time without fail I feel a stirring inside me. I cant quite put my finger on it, but it lives in the sphere of fear, jealousy and panic.
If there are two camps of people – one camp of those who buy a house, get pregnant, renovate, buy a family car, get paid maternity leave and decorate the house, once, maybe twice…
Then I live in the other camp. Hell I am the scoutmaster of the other camp. As I’ve written before, regardless of my efforts for normalcy, I have lived in over 30 homes, I have had probably that many jobs. I have no idea when my bills are due and I often drive without having remembered to renew my license. I am the antithesis of stability.
So as I walk by this perfect stone house I think of Faith and the life she will lead with me and her dad – co-scoutmaster. I get lost in a world of maybes and stories and examples. I feel scared when I think of her wishing for the same family home and the same bedroom and the sense of security this might provide. I wonder if she will feel envious of her friends or wish for the same sense of normality. I wonder if she will be always having to make new friends and if this will hurt her. I wonder if she will hate us and want the other parents. As I picture her being an insecure and uncertain girl as a result of the constant upheaval I feel it in my stomach and I hate us in that moment wanting more than anything to be different and something I am not. I picture her in therapy hating me and blaming me for her unsettled childhood. My thoughts spin out of control and I churn inside with sadness and self-loathing, guilt and fear.
It hurts me so much to think that something I do or say may one day be the root of pain and suffering for her. That she will be sad or resentful as a result of something I am doing, or not doing. That she wants for something I cannot provide. I know in my heart that I serve to teach her in ways that I don’t know of – that she chose me as a parent to challenge her and that I will perfectly fulfill her soul’s desires.
My saving grace is Dharma – yes from Dharma and Greg. And Brook, a girl I once knew. Maybe she will grow to love our lifestyle? Maybe she will flourish with life experiences and travelling stories and love that she is different to the norm. Maybe she will learn skills as a result of having to meet new people, and adjust to an uncertain life. Perhaps she will learn trust and adventure. Brook would tell me of the amazing fun she would have with her family living in huts and vans and picking fruit for dinner from neighbors’ trees. She cherished the experience and although she never quite fit in at school she felt richer and so grateful for the life she had lived. Would faith feel that? Would she and her dad and I be a tight threesome of love and adventures and travel the world exploring and following whatever path lay ahead at any given moment? Could she possibly grow to be well-rounded and worldly as a result of her experiences?
Yin. Yang. Black. White. Victim. Power. 50.50. It could go either way I suppose. Maybe it will be a bit of both? Maybe some days she will be so grateful for this life and some days she will hate it. Maybe it will depend on whats happening in her life at that time. Of course I will never know. And in moments of clarity I wonder, does it really matter? I have learned that the best way forward is to set the goal and then forget it. Set the end goal and then approach each day’s steps in getting to that goal as individual little goals. In doing so the end is not so daunting and one day I inevitably arrive. So I question my anxiety and fear and focus everything on each day. If I want a close and bonded relationship in 20 years then I need to have a close and bonded relationship now. If I want Faith to share with me and be open in 20 years then Its best I teach her how to do that now, and show her how that looks by doing it myself. The challenges will be there I am certain but I remind myself that the ground upon which they are fought can be solid and nurturing. There can be security within us as a family. There can be stability and consistency in our love and communication. There can be routine within the days which can occur anywhere, at anytime; kisses in the morning, books before bed. I can consistently be there for her when she needs me. I can be her stability when she feels uncertain. My love for her will remain constant and the effort I put into being the best mother I can be will remain my career forever, regardless of whatever I choose to do.
In essence I think for me the message is that if I am confident in my decisions then she will learn that confidence in herself. If I am clear and stand by my decisions then she will have the opportunity to model that behavior. If I embrace being different and being unique and who I am, then at if she repels everything I have taught her and wants the complete opposite of what we have provided, then she will do so with confidence and will embrace her individuality too.
Will Faith hate her life and blame her childhood? I hope to teach Faith above all that it comes down to choice and whether as adults we assume a victim mentality or a position of personal responsibility. Either accepting the childhood we had and using it as a basis of learning and change or being resentful for what we didn’t have. As hard as it can be when life gets tough and I feel completely overwhelmed I know that the best way for faith to learn this is to witness this in me.
Mother guilt can be absolutely engulfing and can tear the toughest of us down. And I do think that it’s inevitable to feel some form of worry or concern or remorse for what I do or don’t do. Whether it be for yelling at her, for not hearing her cry, for not knowing the best thing to do in each and every situation, for not making the perfect cake or dress or present. As unrealistic as it is to try and be perfect I want nothing less of myself for Faith.
This message is to myself and all I ask is that I remember it in the moments of complete meltdown. These are my tools for sanity. This is the small list I have comprised to help me get through to my end goal. This is how I am combating mother guilt….
Number 1 – Knowing that by accepting my imperfections I teach Faith to accept hers. In turn this allows her to accept those around her, which fosters a heart of compassion.
Number 2 – Not being afraid to apologize to her. When I explain that I am sorry and that I was feeling frustrated, upset, angry, confused, tired, I teach her that I am not above making mistakes or admitting them. That I seek forgiveness and that it can be a humbling thing to do. I teach her that its ok to make mistakes and to communicate them and the thoughts and feelings around the decisions that were made. I teach her that I am human too. I give her unspoken permission to feel sad, angry, frustrated and to express her emotions.
Number 3 – I remember that I choose my experiences and thoughts and that I learn from them. And so does she.
Number 4 – I write to her, in her journal and express my remorse for things I have done or for situations that may be less than perfect. I explain my feelings and what’s happening and my fears and concerns. I explain that I am doing my best and one day I know that she will read this and feel some comfort in knowing that perhaps the thing she remembers or feels sad about was something I was battling, or something I felt sad about too and I feel that in that I will be understood and she will find healing. I do this because its not so much an event that hurts long term as the lack of acknowledgment or remorse for the event by those involved. I remember the pain I carried with me for so many years over small things my mum would do when I was little, and that as an adult when I asked her about them she would tell me she was sorry and in that instance it was healed and forgotten. It was magical to me.
Number 5 – I know that as I walk away from her as she cries and feel regret for doing so that I will not do it again. I know that each thing that happens serves to teach me and tell me what I value so that I can choose differently in the future.
Number 6 – I write to her that I love her immeasurably and that I am learning each day and doing the best job I can. Filled with firsts and trials and not so perfect results. I write about my struggles and what I am going through. I write to her of my guilt and ask for her forgiveness – not from a place of neediness or uncertainty but from a place of self-compassion and love so that she might share it, for me and for herself.
Number 7 – I remember that our children are our teachers, in all the obvious ways and in just being. Without Faith I wouldn’t examine this place I am in. I wouldn’t question my lifestyle or my feelings around it. I have always been happy with my gypsy ways and loved the spontaneous, uncertain, carefree way I have lived – trusting the process and free-falling from grace.
Number 8 – I remember all the small but important things I do each day. Not all of them everyday, but some of them, some days. Climbing in the sandpit instead of saying no, reading the same book 20 times on the couch together, stopping at the park instead of driving by. Letting her put my makeup on. Chasing her through the park and making speeding car sounds with the trolley, despite the looks I get. Its all the little things that add up to that big picture in the end.
Number 9 – I remind myself of the pain I have experienced in my life and the great learning that I have had as a result. I remember that it is through our pain that we grow and develop and gain depth and that we need the dark, to appreciate the light. I know that through hardships I have developed compassion and wisdom. As will she know all of this.
And most importantly,
Number 10 – I surround myself with compassionate and caring people. Supportive, nurturing and kind people. I haven’t always! There have been times when deep in my pain and questioning as a new mum that people would jump in and affirm my failings, tell me how wrong I was doing it. Hell one women told me I was damaging Faith – that I should be given a spanking for the poor parenting that they had to suffer through. When I can be surrounded by this or by people who share their mistakes to comfort me, who admit they aren’t perfect either and that all new mums make mistakes, it becomes an easy and necessary choice.
Tonight I will write to Faith about my feelings and concerns for our future and about how I have loved my way of life however much it feels scary at times. Ill explain that my current fears and worries stem from a place deep within me that wants only the best for her; that wishes her the best life I can give her full of love and confidence and opportunities. Ill write about what she did today and how we spent our time together, how she made me laugh and the new words she mastered. Ill let her know its Easter soon and that despite having hand-made her chocolate Easter eggs amidst a week of hell and chaos, that I felt so disappointed with myself for not being a perfect egg-foiler. Hopefully she (and I) will laugh as we read it together one day, as we read together everyday.
It’s a tough gig this parenting thing. The toughest for me as yet. Im going to try not to think about the ‘what if’s’ and the ‘mights’. I’m going to approach this mother guilt thing like the true gypsy I am and face it day by day, as it comes, using whatever tools I have within me at the time. I suppose if Im being honest, I don’t know that I love china or glass or ornate frames much anyway. I find having the same job for more than a few years totally boring. I LOVE jumping in the car and having a roadtrip with no destination. I hate suburbia. I hate family wagons. I love that I sold my family car to buy a huge big campervan just so Faith could sit up with me. I love that our lack of anything stable allows me to teach Faith to trust in the process. To have Faith. I love that we would jump in the car and head off to something without packing properly or thinking it through perfectly. There is always a shop open somewhere for when I run out of stuff and whats wrong with eggs for dinner every now and then anyway? ‘Nothing!’ I tell myself, ‘Nothing’.