Good morning and welcome to a new week! Today I have another in the Mental Health Monday series and I have decided to write a bit about Mum guilt and how being chronically ill can often add to these feelings.
Some women, like me, are chronically ill for as long as they remember and this has to be considered when you are planning a family. Some women become ill when they have already had their children and this can be an extra aspect to deal with when coming to terms with a diagnosis.
Mum guilt is an epidemic. It is almost seen as being part of the role of a mother these days – chronically ill or not. There are huge amounts of pressure placed on mums leading to guilt for all different reasons – because you work, because you don’t work, because you aren’t as good as the mums you follow on Instagram, because you haven’t got your pre-baby body back, because we aren’t a Pinterest mum, because we don’t feed our children organic, home cooked meals every day. The list goes on!
One thing to remember is that our guilt comes from a good place. The reason we feel guilty is because we want to do the best we can for our children. But the truth is, we cannot do it all. There are simply not enough hours in the day and we need to give ourselves a break.
Being a Childhood Studies and Psychology student I have done quite a lot of work on the early years development of children. Donald Winnecott was a British paediatrician and psychoanalyst and he coined the phrase ‘the good enough mother’. After studying thousands of babies and their mothers he realised that babies needed to be failed by their mother’s in manageable ways, in order to develop their sense of self and be prepared for life.
The use of the word failing sounds harsh, but what Winnecott meant was that rather than in those early, newborn days where a mother hands herself over to her baby, loses sleep, responds to every whimper and devotes herself entirely to the infant, they begin separate from their little one. A mother will learn to let their baby cry for a minute before responding, for instance if they need a wee. This will not negatively affect the baby, but going to the toilet when you need it is a basic element of self-care.
‘Good enough’ takes into account that we are all human and we all have flaws, imperfections and limits. It helps teach our children that failure is not the end of the world. As well as telling our children that when we fail, we pick ourselves up, learn from it and try again, if we model that behaviour to them, the teaching is so much more effective. They need to learn how to cope both physically and emotionally We don’t expect our children to be perfect, we understand they will make mistakes – so why don’t we give ourselves the same amount of understanding?
Adding a chronic illness into the mix can make Mum guilt even worse. Especially when we are having a bad day or flaring, we make ourselves feel even worse because of guilt. When our children are ill we are great at tending to their needs and every little whim. Jelly for breakfast? Why not? Yes of course you can watch episode after episode of Paw Patrol all day long. I will go and get your pillow and duvet so you are comfy on the sofa! When it comes to ourselves though, we rarely give ourselves the same treatment.
Focusing on the guilt and what we can’t do, will only make us feel worse. Instead, try focusing on what we can and do do – let those thoughts be the strongest ones in your mind. Identify your most important parenting values. Maybe you want to make sure your child gets at least an hour of fresh air every day. Perhaps you want to make sure they have a home cooked meal which you all sit down together at the table to eat every day. Perhaps you want to limit screen time and have a maximum one hour per day. These are those things you feel the most strongly about and have to be top priority for you on a daily basis. My to do list tends to come in two parts – the must do jobs and the would like to do jobs. Your core values will be on the must do list but everything else comes under the would like category.
Having your top priorities straight in your mind can be really helpful on your bad days. Parenting when you are chronically ill does mean that sometimes you will have to push yourself a little but not to the point where you actually make yourself even worse. If you like to get at least an hour of fresh air a day, that can quite easily be spent in the garden. Get yourself a comfy chair for outside, so you get the benefits of some sunshine too and can keep an eye on the little ones. You can easily blow bubbles while sitting, play a throwing and catching game or just watch your children as they play. Being chronically ill does not mean you have to put aside all the activities you want to do with your kids, but they may just need to be adapted.
Another example of this is if you enjoy and want your children to eat home cooked meals every day. The truth is – a beige dinner every now and again really won’t hurt your kids and you do not need to fell bad about one every now and again. One thing I do often though, is batch cook. I always make more than enough food and hate waste so will portion any leftovers into pots and pop them in the freezer. These are then perfect for the days when I am not well enough to cook – I can take one out the freezer to defrost and know I have a healthy, home cooked dinner for that day still. If you don’t have leftovers very often, you could cook extra on your goof days. Maybe make an extra lasagne that you can pop straight in the freezer for a bad day.
Some other tips that will help you on bad days and can help ease the guilt include:
Offering your children consistent love, every day as a minimum, despite what that day brings, means you are doing good enough. Despite the tiredness, tantrums and frustrations of the day, that love is stronger than anything else that happened. Stop shoulding yourself – I should be more. Instead look at what you have achieved that day, despite being poorly. Guilt won’t change anything, it will only make you feel terrible. Perfection is an unrealistic expectation we place on ourselves and will only ever result in us feeling more anguish. You do your best and that Mama, is good enough,