Oh, mothers guilt is real! I have seen it alive and well, presenting itself in many ways. I’ve seen it in the eyes of people I don’t know very well, I have heard it sneak into people’s voices and I have seen it manifest in pressure and stress. But most if all, I have seen it in my own eyes, heard it in my own voice, felt it my heart and allowed it to dictate decisions I’ve made because the guilt was so strong I let it live in my head and gave it a seat at the decision table.
When I returned to work after my first and second children, I had weekly meetings with my amazing, supportive manager and she would ask me about the kids. My voice would tremble when I told her how much they loved day care (they really did). If someone asked me how many days I was working, I would say five, and nearly start to cry because I felt like a bad mother.
I felt like this even with absolutely no pressure from my husband, manager, team and colleagues, who were all incredible. Later, once I’d cleared my head, it made me wonder how people coped if they were feeling pressure from all sides.
The day I decided mother’s guilt no longer had a seat at that table brought me a feeling of utter relief. My conscience was still intact, but it was no longer on a leash being pulled in a direction that I didn’t want to go. A weight had been lifted that allowed me to stand tall and walk confidently into my decisions rather than explaining my way through them.
I also had an experience I will never forget. I was sitting with a group of parents when I worked for a large corporate in Melbourne. Our CEO was speaking about balancing “life.” A woman across the table asked a question and gave a small snippet of her situation. She said she worked three days, one from home, and her voice shook when she talked. I was looking straight at her and thought, “You are engulfed by mother’s guilt. You can’t even say out loud how many days you’re working without nearly crying.”
She was a reflection of me 18 months earlier.
I connected with her after the meeting, asked if she wanted a coffee and a chat. We started talking about being a working parent. I explained I had heard her voice, felt her pain and had walked in her shoes. This is what I said to her, and many others since that day:
- Get your guilt under control so you have clear and rational room in your head for the next step. The only person who can control it is you. Simple. But hard to do. We aren’t easy on ourselves but this is the first and most important step.
- Make decisions. The decision-makers in my family are my husband and I, so making hard important decisions around care and hours of work for both of us felt empowering. Now we are aligned and committed to a plan for what is best for our whole family.
- Don’t look back. Once you and your partner know what the game plan is for your family, that’s all that matters. Do it as a team and don’t let outside pressures or other people’s judgements cloud your thinking. If you do, mother’s guilt will creep in and sit alongside judgement (they are best friends). If I was able to swear, this is where I would write that you must not give a (you know what) about anyone other than your family.
- Show mother’s guilt the exit and go for it. Love your family and your life, work hard and achieve what you want to achieve.
Two years on, with a change in roles and company and one more addition to the family, I am never surprised by how many women I meet who struggle daily with mother’s guilt. It will always surround us, but we need to be strong and put mechanisms in place to ensure it doesn’t consume us.
Is life still a juggle, absolutely.
Do I still get judged, most likely.
Do I care, not in the slightest.
Do I get it right, sometimes.
Do I make mistakes, of course.
At the end of the day, I am giving life a good crack and my children are loved and happy, so I have nothing to feel guilty about.
Written by Belinda Allitt, General Manager of Communications. Belinda is the mother of Alice, 5, Harriet 3, Edward, 1, and wife to one awesome supportive husband