Monday, 30 May 2016

You're a mother: it's all your fault


I remember clearly the second emotion I felt after I met my firstborn for the very first time and it felt nearly as overwhelming as the first. Contrary to popular belief the first emotion I felt was not relief, though that came a close third. The first was love – perhaps an obvious emotion for a new mother to feel – it is both expected and welcomed. Although I know a mother's love is not a given, I feel blessed to have experienced the depths of its emotion. Though somewhat overbearing, I knew love had the ability to transform me into a better person and I knew I was joyfully helpless in it's grasp - it would make me do and feel crazy things for another human being.

Then the second emotion came upon me like a tonne of bricks – as though all this intense love was not enough of a help to care for my newborn.

Guilt.

Am I good enough to raise this precious human? Am I doing everything right? Is my baby getting enough milk? Is he happy? Is he reaching the milestones?

If not, what am I doing wrong?

But the problem is that the culture endorses this guilt-mentality – we all perform this judgement on other parents too, like we have a right to do so. A tragic accident happens (clue's in the name accident) and we suddenly think that accidents are physically impossible. Who is to blame? What did the family do wrong? Let's think of every eventuality where this could have been avoided, further endorsing the culture of blame that will one day turn around and bite us for something we had no intention of doing.

There are a number of things that have saddened me this week: running out of chocolate hobnobs, the washing machine playing up and the fact that my toddler has defaced the walls again with pen when I turned my back for ten seconds. Where he found this pen from is beyond me because I swear I have confiscated every single pen in the entire house, but he still has a crazy ability to trace one down and draw all over my walls. But there are two further things that have saddened me in deeper ways than a lack of sugary treats and defaced walls. I was saddened by two main things:

1. The beautiful Gorilla that was shot in an animal enclosure
2. That this prompted a huge online petition to prosecute the parents.

Before I continue, let me make it perfectly clear that I have been known to roll my eyes at parents being irresponsible whilst looking after their kids. We've all been somewhere where a parent has deliberately overlooked their kid/s running riot at the expense of everyone else's pleasure. God forbid you witness such a scene and it results in an injury. If we are eye witnesses maybe we can call it - maybe we can say those parents were irresponsible, as a matter of observation. But let's say someone else tells of an account where a four year old has got into some sort of trouble. The initial response is always 'where was the mother?' (note, not father). What was she doing? Except that when you dig deeper you find out that the mother had already warned the child and was also trying to look after several other children at the same time. Have you ever tried to look after one four year old? That's no mean feat. Now try multitasking, watching several other kids, all with minds of their own, desperate to explore and exert their independence. And, sure, maybe you need more help, but what if you can't get it? What do we do, put a limit on how many children people can have, saying that all those with more than two offspring are irresponsible parents?

Those of you will know me will know I lean more on the safe side of parenting; I will be that mother who gets told to 'chill out a bit' by others. Let them play. They need to learn. I've tried to rid myself of the anxiety I feel every time my children loosen their grip of my hand, every time I see them stumble and fall. And even I, along with all mothers (and if you say you haven't, you're lying), have experienced the heart-in-the-mouth feeling of where is my child, having turned around for all of three seconds. That's all it takes. A neurotic mother who society endorses for bleeding her kids dry of all the fun in the world has experienced the heart-wrenching fright of not knowing where her kid just disappeared to. Sure, he was right there three seconds ago, and, thank God, he was only ten feet away in the opposite direction, but it happens. What if I'd been in a zoo where, unbeknown to me, the enclosure to a dangerous animal was not secured? What if I'd warned him? What if I had turned away briefly to fend to my other children? What if someone else had spotted him, tried to stop him, but couldn't because he was too fast?

Because all of the above happened when the child fell into the gorilla's enclosure. And sure, who knows, maybe the parents were the type that let their kids run wild. But the fact is that we don't know. We don't know and then we sign petitions telling them to burn the parents - sorry, prosecute them. We have no real idea what actually happened apart from a child fell in with a gorilla and the gorilla was shot. I wonder what percentage of the people that signed the petition against these parents have signed petitions against animal cruelty.  If we cared so much would these animals have even enter our enclosures for people to stare at them whilst they live in small inhibited worlds, away from their natural habitat? Most people don't give a shit about gorillas until a mother is to blame. Do we petition against keeping animals in captivity? No, we petition for the parents to be sued, namely the mother. We care more about blame than we do about protecting these beautiful animals. And although the newspapers will say people are angry at 'the parents', the news stories only show photographs of the mother. The posts shared on social media imply that only 'that lady' is to blame. No one asks where the father was. Because that's what we do: we endorse guilt and shame of mothers. Maybe it makes us feel better about our own failings, but it's only feeding the culture that says you're not a good enough mother, and maybe it's only a matter of time before someone puts the blame on you too.





It's always the mother's fault. So much so that mothers talk about guilt as though it is as normal as making toast. Now don't get me wrong, conviction is not a bad thing: it helps us to make positive changes, it makes us apologise to those we have wronged, it makes us become better people having listened to our consciences. But I would like to suggest that guilt - mother-guilt - is completely and utterly futile. We are not talking about a healthy conscience here, we are talking about guilt that is bred out of anxiety, fear and judgement.

How many times have you heard 'I felt so guilty' from a mother? Perhaps you've said it yourself, maybe for something like your baby wasn't putting on enough weight. Are you seriously telling me you were deliberately withholding food from your infant? Unless you are a psychopath I very much doubt it. Why then is it okay to talk about guilt like that's an acceptable feeling to take onboard? As though we all secretly have something to apologise for?

Your child hasn't learnt to walk yet like his peers.
Maybe it's because you haven't gone outside enough with him, maybe you carried him too much, maybe you needed to buy him better shoes, use better shoe polish...
YOUR FAULT.

Your child isn't eating her vegetables.
Maybe it's the time you didn't heat up her food enough and she resented having to eat luke warm vegetables. Now she associates eating vegetables with below-par food and your lack of attention to detail...
YOUR FAULT.

Your child didn't pass his exams.
Maybe it's because you made him revise too much, didn't make him revise enough, gave him too many Mars bars, played Cluedo instead of Scrabble...
YOUR FAULT.

Your child got herself into danger.
Maybe it's because you didn't make her wear reins till she was ten years old, maybe you forgot to install that little camera into the back of your head, maybe you should have had more sleep so you could concentrate more, or less sleep to make sure you fed/rocked/nurtured your baby enough – but just enough sleep so you can be coherent and focus on your child's every step.

Utterly bloody ridiculous.

Are most mothers not just doing the absolute best they can? And are we not just absolutely exhausted, pulling our hair out trying to think up every eventuality that might happen to avoid an accident? The worst thing I can imagine in the event of such is hearing condemnation for it - do you not think a mother suffers enough at the thought of her child in danger? And if we go the other extreme - of becoming neurotic controlling mothers - we get told we're psychologically damaging our children by mollycoddling them. We're not good mothers if we watch them like hawks in the playground, not giving them their freedom to play and to explore. But if anything happens while they do so? YOUR FAULT.

Here's what we need to do: Get back to the first emotion. It's enough.

Forget the second.

Love helps you to do the best you can with good intentions. Love does not focus on the things you can't. Love is about can. Guilt is about can't. Love helps others; it solves problems. Guilt places blame and does nothing. Take, for example, a healthy eating advert that popped up on my newsfeed the other day - it told me the worst five things I could eat for breakfast (namely my favourite breakfast foods). Did it make me want to stop eating them? No, but now all I feel is guilt when I bite into my slice of toast in a morning. What would have been better is if they'd given me five delicious recipe alternatives for a healthy start to my day. What may have persuaded me to change is by telling me how much more I'd love my life by changing my diet. Guilt is far less successful than love. Besides which, half the time we don't know what we're even guilty of. We're not talking about instances where parents are being deliberately malicious here - we're talking about false guilt.

So, what can we do to support other parents? What can we do to create a culture where there is less blame and more help? What can we do to ensure animals are better protected? That the world is a better place? Let's cut the blame and let's start with ourselves.

Now excuse me while I go and clean my walls of the ink from that one bloody pen I should've spotted.

It's not my fault.


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