F*** the guilt, ladies

Scared baby against crazy mother

I often see comments and posts about how being a Mum means you feel guilty all the time. As a Mum-to-be, I found that intriguing yet, even without being a Mum, I understood the sentiment. I was also heartened to see that there’s a real ‘push’ against making Mums feel guilty in the parenting blogosphere – a movement away from judging and denouncing and more toward being supportive and inclusive.

That’s awesome. But why is it necessary in the first place? What is it about being a Mum that means we have to accept being under the spotlight and prepared (and ready) to justify our parenting decisions, whether they’re related to how we give birth, where our child sleeps, whether we breastfeed or not, or anything else (that has absolutely zero to do with anyone else in the entire world). The reality seems to be that you’re going to feel shit no matter what you do because, whatever decision you do make, there will be people who do it Differently and then you’ll either feel guilty or they’ll try and make you feel guilty, and it’s a whole mess of judgey pants and guilty pants, and you have to roll your eyes and ignore it if you can.

But there’s something quite important about this guilt – it’s actually not about being a Mum; it’s about being a woman. Women are brought up primed to feel guilty. We are taught to internalise everything, to look at our own behaviour, to see what WE can change or do differently/better. Men are not taught this. Men are taught that they can be confident, that they can be in control, that being assertive is awesome (assertive isn’t even a word men have to use, it’s just ‘being a man’), and they don’t have to worry about labels like “bossy” or “feisty”.

Let’s take one of the most extreme, horrendous examples of this: sexual assault and rape. Women are told to be careful; don’t drink too much; don’t wear short skirts; don’t flirt. Men are told…well, what exactly are men told? Nothing much. The focus has historically been on women to consider their actions rather than on men to just, y’know, not rape. Happily, things *are* changing and we’re taking steps away from the vomit-inducing “don’t get too drunk on a night out, ladies” to messages like the awesome Tea and Consent video from Thames Valley Police. Consent is everything but it has absolutely NOT been the overriding focus in cases of rape and sexual violence – women have been the focus.

I’m using this example to show that we live in a society that will blame a woman for something terrible happening to her because of someone else’s horrific actions – an extreme example but an important one. And women will take this blame; they will blame other women; they will accept that status quo because we are socially conditioned to do so. We grow up being expected to judge other women on everything because we are judged in turn. We grow up unsure, insecure, always examining our own actions, afraid. And then, when we become Mums, all of that insecurity, that fear, is magnified a million times because, if we make mistakes, we aren’t just harming ourselves, we’re harming the little person or little people that we want to protect more than anything in the whole world. That, to us, is unforgivable. We worry that we will fail those little people, no matter how much we love them because we are always responsible, it’s always our fault and we should always do better.

This was really brought home to me during a recent #matexp twitter chat. One sentiment, which blew my mind, was from women who felt as though they had ‘failed’ at giving birth. The reasons for this feeling of failure varied hugely but, oh my god, can we take a moment to consider how insane that is? These are women who have managed to successfully give birth to their babies and yet they feel as though what they did wasn’t quite good enough. I haven’t given birth yet and I’m really quite scared (er, petrified!) of it. To me, any woman who has managed to give birth to her baby – IN WHATEVER WAY THAT HAPPENED – is a freakin’ rockstar. It breaks my heart that they, themselves, don’t feel that way because of these ridiculous and impossible pressures and standards that society places on women – especially when it comes to pregnancy and parenting. This is where we need to push back, to be more assertive, and to tell the world to stop effing judging and start supporting each and every mother and the choices that she makes.

Birth is the most visceral example but there’s breastfeeding, sleeping, weaning, using dummies…the list goes on and on. Every decision that you make will be one that you make fearing that someone will think you’re a damn idiot for making it. But this all stems from our insecurities, our conditioning, our expectation that we will be judged and should judge others – it’s a really shit, anti-feminist self-fulfilling prophecy. If I decide not to give my kid a dummy and I shout really loudly about it then hopefully others will agree with me and no one will tell me that I’m a bad Mum because, as I haven’t been allowed to feel confident in the decisions that I make my entire life, I really don’t want anyone to tell me I’m a bad Mum and, if anyone else does something differently (like, er, give their kid a dummy) that will make me feel like one because they’ve made a different decision to me and what does that say about me and OH MY GOD THE SKY IS FALLING IN.

Seriously f*** that. It’s time for ALL of us to feel confident in what we’re doing with our own bloody children and supporting other Mums in their choices, even if they’re different from ours. If my mate wants to have an elective caesarian and I’m all about my natural birth then that’s freaking awesome and I can’t wait to meet her afterward and toast to how awesome we both are over a well-deserved glass of Prosecco. As is clear in this post, there is a wider, social sickness of condemning and undermining women that we can’t expect to fight all on our own – but we’re starting with the little things, the parental support networks, the confidence-building (our own and others), the empathy and understanding. Hopefully from that, other things with flow.

Vive la difference.

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8 thoughts on “F*** the guilt, ladies

  1. Absolutely! There are so many excellent and important points raised in here and you have raised them very eloquently. I think pre-baby I would have written a very similar, if less eloquent, post. And I still agree with you 100% in theory. The only thing is that now that I have two babies I see the guilt from a different angle and it’s a different sort of guilt. When you have the crazy all consuming parental love thing going on, it’s hard to imagine that anything you do is quite good enough for these exquisite little people. So when I feel guilty about lapses in my parenting it’s not because I’m not keeping up with someone else, it’s entirely about wanting to do what is in the best interest of my own kids. What is in their best interest is something that I have determined, based on lots of different things, but it is my own standard. I still totally agree with you that there is too much blaming, and shaming, and sticking noses in where noses are not wanted. But for me having a little kick of guilt when my toddler’s had the tv on too long or whatever is actually kind of useful. It gives me a little boost of energy at the end of the day to take him outside for one more game of hide and seek. It’s definitely true that as parents and decent human beings we need to be more supportive of one another generally. Find a good network of other parents who know the meaning of kindness! #coolmumclub

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    1. littlebug

      Thank you! This is an excellent point (and I’m sure I’ll be revising this post when baby comes along!). I think having internal standards for ourselves that we want to strive for is really important – I love your point about getting a boost of energy from a final game of hide and seek – lovely. As you say, it’s up to YOU to determine what is in your own children’s best interests – as long as you feel like that pressure is coming from you and not from society. Thanks for commenting! #coolmumclub

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  2. This reminds me of some comments in a book I read a few months ago: “Daring Greatly: How the Courgage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead” by Brene Brown. She talks a great deal about how shame affects us. In the case of women specifically, she pinpoints to major areas where women experience shame: body image and motherhood.

    “Society views womanhood and motherhood as inextricably bound; therefore our value as women is often determined by where we are in relation to our roles as mothers or potential mothers. Women are constantly asked why they haven’t married or, if they’re married, why they haven’t had children. Even women who are married and have one child are often asked why they haven’t had a second child. You’ve had your kids too far apart? “What were you thinking?” Too close? “Why? That’s so unfair to the kids.” If you’re working outside the home, the first question is “What about the children?” If you’re not working, the first question is, “What kind of example are you setting for your daughters?” Mother shame is ubiquitous–it’s a birthright for girls and women” (pp. 86-87)

    This passage really struck me and I immediately thought of it as I read your post. Had to share it with you.

    All of this guilt that women experience (body image, motherhood, and your example of sexual assault/rape) seem to hinge on this desire to control and manipulate women’s bodies. I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately. I wrote a post recently in which I explored some historical context surrounding shaming women’s bodies, through a discussion of the book, “When God was a Woman.” https://becomingmotherblog.wordpress.com/2015/10/23/god-the-mother/ If you’re interested, stop by and take a look when you want to read a longer piece. 🙂

    Great post! Thanks for sharing.

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  3. Morgan Prince

    You are so right! There have been so many times I’ve felt guilt and wondered why?! I hope we can teach our children that whatever they decide is the right decision for them when it comes to parenting.

    Unfortunately with experience comes the need to ‘impart wisdom’ when it comes to your children having children. You want them to do their best for their children, and usually assume that what you did must be best because, well, there they are with their own children. Perhaps it is down to us, when we’re grandparents, to not judge our daughters/daughter-in-laws on their decisions. Maybe that’s when the world will change…

    #coolmumclub

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  4. Lots of excellent points here. I agree, we need to ditch as much guilt, judging and conditioning as possible. We need to all support each other for a more positive world. The movement needs to srart somewhere… And there is a long way to go, but with enough of us, maybe eventually we’ll start to make a difference. #coolmumclub

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  5. Pingback: Welcome to the #coolmumclub linky…week 6! | Motherhood: The Real Deal

  6. You are a blooming genius and this is a fabulous post. I couldn’t agree with you more. Being judged is just so annoying and what’s sad is that often women are the worst! #mommitment!

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