I did a live video on my Facebook page tonight where I asked “When are you at your best?” and I don’t know where it came from, but I cried as I spoke aloud of the mum guilt I feel every day.
I’m typing this now in my office upstairs in my house because I think if I go down and try to cuddle up to Blake on the sofa I will lose it in big waves of snot-filled tears.
The bad news is, I’m a hormonal mess which doesn’t help. The good news is, I’ve got a few days off next week. We all have, as a family. It’s our first time off together since Christmas and it is long overdue. I want to try and have a device-free couple of days to see how it affects our connection because I worry we are really becoming so much more disconnected every day.
The Mum Struggle
In lockdown, my husband has been a keyworker and has been out working every weekday. I am trying to run my own communications business, market my books, do my weekly radio programme and build a new marketing coaching programme aimed at fitness professionals. It means neither of us has been there for Blake as we had hoped. When you have work to do, the homeschooling goes out of the window.
I could’ve and should’ve tried harder. We got off to a good start establishing The Happy School and following lesson plans thinking it was all going to be one big lovely jolly. I got involved with running a community kitchen for those in our village and surrounding areas who were in desperate need of food and The Happy School was overtaken by endless hours helping to facilitate the logistics of the community kitchen in that first month of lockdown. Blake was babysat by the Playstation and I’ve made a pathetic attempt at salvaging any form of routine since.
I know I’m not alone and I know I’ve had it easier than many parents. Especially those trying to juggle multiple children of differing school and pre-school ages with different needs. Jeez I cannot imagine how hard it has been for anyone trying to hold down their job with endless Zoom calls and a demanding toddler at home. At least Blake can be self-sufficient.
I’ve tried cutting myself some slack, being grateful for having Blake at home, reminding myself that we’re all in the same boat and I even reached out in desperation to my mum to have Blake for a few days – more to soothe my guilt and give him a change of scenery and someone I knew would focus her undivided attention on him which I felt he deserved.
But I just can’t help but feel really shit about it.
To the point where if I think about it too hard and too much my throat closes over, my eyes sting and the tears form (just as they are doing as I type out this very sentence). Blake just came in to give me this hug as I typed that too, it’s like his little spidey senses just knew I needed one of his cuddles.
Tips for Easing the Mum Guilt
I’m writing these out for myself really, I haven’t cracked this mum guilt lark at all, but here’s some tips that common sense tells me might help us parents going out of our heads with crippling guilt.
- Remember there’s nothing normal about the ‘new normal’ we are ALL out of a routine and just craving some time and space to think. We kept our kids alive and that’s all that matters!
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help. For as long as I can remember Shaun has come home from work and entered a ‘power down’ mode. I’m not going to change that about him and there’s no point thinking he should just know to spend time with Blake. It’s not part of his routine so I have to ask him to play with him, entertain him or cook for him to give me that last hour to get my work done. As I mentioned in this blog I also asked my mum for help to take Blake for a few days to give him a change of scenery and me the chance to have a holiday from mum guilt for a couple of days.
- Don’t be afraid to say no. Because Shaun is out working and I’m ‘working from home’ it means I get asked to do things all the time that break up my workday, delay me and mess up my scheduling. Like going to B&Q five times in the last week or moving a tonne of logs from the driveway was actually not the greatest use of my time, delayed me and caused me to get stressed and behind with my work. I should’ve said no
- Get up early. I know this is shit and not what anyone wants to hear but I think I might have had my second nervous breakdown if it wasn’t for my 5 am get-ups. Has your kid been going to bed at the same time as you in lockdown? Mine too. So I moved my bedtime earlier and then got up earlier in the morning. At least I get an hour of peace to myself
- Write a gratitude list every morning. I know, I know, roll your eyes at me because this just sounds too simple to be a magic trick to end mum guilt. I promise it helps
- Meditate. Yeah, double whammy on the eye rolls but if you’ve never tried this, don’t poo poo it! Give it a go and you’ll be amazed at how much calmer you feel
- Take regular breaks. I am guilty of this but take regular breaks with your work and have focused time in those breaks to either just play, go for a walk or even sit together, cuddle and have a chat
- Knock the drinking on the head. I know I’m biased with this one but THANK FUCK I do not drink anymore. Lockdown, with kids? AND a hangover? FUCK THAT. Trust me the pain of giving up alcohol and feeling like you’re missing out on your one and only coping mechanism of choice is all a big fat lie. Alcohol just makes everything a million times worse
- Have things to look forward to and stick to your promises no matter what. If, like me, you have to work and your kid(s) end up neglected/babysat by their phone or PlayStation for a large part of the workday plan stuff in for when works ends and STICK TO IT. Kids hate false promises. Have things to look forward to at the end of the workday or the weekend and stick to it. This will help give you something to look forward to and the kids too
- Have a clear time that work ends and shut down the computer. Again, I’m writing this to myself. It’s getting later and later recently. Parkinson’s Law states that work expands so as to fill the time available, so make the workday shorter and get work done quicker! Shut that door on the office or completely pack away the computer and notepad
- Make some time for creative things you enjoy. Give your brain some well-needed breaks and even get your kids involved in something creative. I love to sing and write but as writing is my job too, my creative writing or poetry is the thing that I love the most
Getting Creative to Ease the Mum Guilt
Before lockdown I used to teach poetry every week. Another thing I feel very guilty about. I haven’t kept in touch with my class as much as I’d hoped but the truth is, if I can’t bolt a phone conversation onto something else like household chores or outdoor solo walks, it just hasn’t happened.
I miss my poetry. I miss teaching my lovely class and I miss speed writing a poem or two and using the prose as a way to release my feelings.
I’m going to have a little go at one right now. I’m a bit rusty having not written one for over five months but here goes:
Let The Guilt Be Theft
I feel guilty for the hours
I’ve spent before this screen
The wasted time together
The places we could’ve been
I feel guilty for your hair
That’s grown like something wild
I’m your mummy and I should
Be caring for my child
I feel guilty that you don’t wash
Don’t dress and teeth don’t brush
I feel guilty I’ve got no battle
Left in me to try and push
I feel guilty that you connect
Via video games of war
I soothe my guilt with V-bucks
As you whine and ask for more
I feel guilty that it sometimes gets
Way past two or three
Before I remember to feed you
Something nutritious and healthy
I feel guilty that you have lost
Your love to learn things new
You’d rather spend your waking hours
Roblox, Fortnite, Minecraft too
I feel guilty that I’m not doing
My duty as a mum
Not managing my time better
To try and have some fun
So next week I want to unplug
From technology and phones
From social media and Zoom calls
and endless YouTuber tones
I want to look back on this time
In quarantine together
And know it wasn’t wasted
As I look back on it forever
I want to take you in nature
Your freckled face in the sun
I want to sit under the stars
Or on soft beaches run
I want to talk to you at length
And really dig so deep
To hold a conversation
Without the interruption of a bleep
I want to capture memories
Right here in my mind
The happy moments I will store
Of us all intertwined
I want to laugh with you
Until it hurts my tum
I want to hold you close
And remember I’m your mum
So my dear boy lets make
The most of what is left
Let’s not let working win
And the guilt finally theft
We’ll get there mums and dads. Right?
As always, this post inspired my weekly #WankyQuoteWednesday
Gemma Ray is radio presenter, best selling author, communications coach and always the most filthy person in a WhatsApp group chat. Gemma tells it like it is and opens up about the stuff most people would never even dare admit to themselves, let alone put out in public.
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