Oh, the forbidden G word that plagues us all right from the day the pregnancy test kit hollers that a baby is on its way. The G word that quietly gnaws at us at times, and brings us to our knees and have us weep uncontrollably at others. The G word that is so very hard to shake off, because we are wired to feel that we should do every, if not most, things right for our children. And this is the same G word that we have to learn to let go off, because shouldering it for miles on end is not going to help.
Grappling with Guilt
Two and a half years after becoming a mother, I am still trying to grapple with guilt. It hit me the first and subsequent times my baby girl fell off the bed after I turned my back on her for two seconds. It hit me when she cut her chin on the edge of the coffee table after I let her dance with wild abandon in the hotel room.
It hit me when she cried upon drop-off in pre-school. And it hit me when I lost my temper at her for not letting me cook dinner in peace. It still hits me… much too hard, if I might add, and more often than not, I spend the nights getting consumed by so much guilt that I break down at the thought of how I am nowhere near worthy of being my daughter’s mother.
It is immensely challenging to ditch that guilt and walk out of its shadows; I get a sense that most mothers I know aim to do their very best for their children and to feel that our best isn’t good enough to prevent the unpleasantries can be a huge blow.
Walking out of the Shadow
But, it is important to try to remind yourself that dwelling on what has happened and getting caught up in the guilt that ensues are not healthy habits. Why not put our energy and focus on how to rectify the mistakes, if any, and how we should accept that certain things are out of our control, even if we feel the strong urge to protect our children from the nasties of life.
I remember crying on seeing the blood flow from my daughter’s chin after she hit the edge of the coffee table. Had it not been for the calmer and more level-headed half that is my husband, she would have bled even more because all Mama did was to give in to the guilt and cry. And on losing my temper, I feel terrible whenever that happens, but perhaps more effort should be made to teach myself to calm down when the going gets tough, and less time should be wasted on lamenting over my inability to control my temper?
This is easier said than done, of course. We are but human and we lose control of our emotions at times. There are ways of keeping that guilt in check and regardless of the methods we use to do that, letting go of Mummy’s guilt is akin to working out at the mental gym.
With Patience and Practice
Some people leave notes that they can quickly visit to affirm their thoughts, others may write the episodes down on their journals or turn to fellow parents for help. I try to remind myself of what’s important by telling my husband how I feel about these matters; that way, he knows when to raise the flag and bring me back to what I need to do as a parent, instead of letting me drown in guilt.
I get to practise, with and without success at first, letting guilt go and focusing on the things that require my immediate attention, and the truth is one gets better with practice…slowly perhaps, but surely. I hope that one day, I will get to a point where I look at guilt in the eye, acknowledge its presence for the briefest moment possible and delve elbow-deep into what is necessary to be there for my child.
By Rachel Tan
This article was first published in The New Age Parents e-magazine
Stay tuned for part four of our ‘First Time Mum’ series in our next issue!