Guilt seems to be an ever-present feeling for me these days. Off the top of my head, these are some of things I feel guilty about right now:
* That I don't spend enough time properly playing with my children i.e. getting down on the floor and playing a game or doing a puzzle with them.
* That my house isn't as clean as it could be
* That I haven't been in touch with certain friends
* That I'm a SAHM when many mums are working full-time and still manage to juggle all the housework, shopping etc
* That I'm not more understanding of my husband's work stresses
* That we don't see the in-laws more often
* That my youngest son still naps for 2 hours per day so I get some peace and quiet
* That if I sit down with a coffee and wilf on the ipad I'm being lazy
* That my husband is at work, up to his eyeballs in stress while I am at home every day
* That I'm sitting here writing this instead of doing housework or something more useful around the house!
As my boys get older, my guilt is starting to get stronger. Or maybe I am only just realising what it is.
We always thought (my husband and I) that once we started a family, I would stop work to bring up the children. I worked long hours in a senior position in a small company and I couldn't see how I could give my full attention to both my work and my baby. Fate gave me a helping hand, and around the time I found out I was pregnant, I was also made redundant (something that we had known was coming at some point as the company was up for sale). I temped in London for another 6 months before the baby was born, but knew that I wouldn't be going to back to work for the foreseeable future.
The guilt started to kick in once the friends I had made, through the NCT ante-natal group, went back to work. A couple of them went back full-time and the rest negotiated part-time hours. I was the only one being a SAHM. I watched them struggle with their guilt about leaving their babies with childminders and nurseries, and their constant juggling of work and home-life, and felt immense guilt.
On days when I struggled with a screaming, colicky baby and hadn't spoken to another soul all day, I again felt guilty - I should be enjoying and savouring every moment with my baby shouldn't I, as many working mums didn't get the chance to.
There was also the feeling of getting to the end of day and feeling like I had achieved nothing. The house was a tip and the cupboards bare - what had I been doing all day (and I'm sure husband thought the same thing when he came home at night!). Not having the structure of work and the sense of having achieved something tangible was very difficult. The fact that I was feeding and nurturing a small person seemed to illude me!
But I adapted to life at home, and started to look at things like getting all the washing done or a trip to the supermarket as my achievement for the day (and I still do!).
As my boys get older and more independent, the guilt changes. My husband picked me up on the something the other day - he asked why I was brushing our 5yr old's teeth, why wasn't he doing it himself. I replied that he may not clean them thoroughly enough. His response was "if you keep doing it for him then he never will learn how to do them properly". He was right of course. I've thought long and hard about it and have come to the conclusion that I have continued to do things like brush their teeth, put their shoes on, get them dressed etc (all things a 5yr should definitely be doing, if not a 3yr old!), because I've always seen these things as my "job" and if I no longer do them, what should I be doing instead? So I was feeling guilty if I didn't carry out these day-to-day caring duties, but now feel guilty that I haven't been teaching the boys how to be independent and not lazy lumps!
Our youngest starts pre-school in September and will be doing 3 full days a week. A few family and friends have asked what I will do with myself. And it's a good question. Part of me is relishing the idea of some time to myself to get stuck in to some craft project, sewing or decorating around the house. But a big part of me feels guilt. I'd like another baby (husband not so keen though!), but is that desire driven by the need to try to assuage my guilt - if I have a new baby to look after I won't feel guilty about being at home every day!
Re-reading this now, I've come to the conclusion that my guilt is owed largely to having given up my career. I studied for 3 years for my degree, then for another 4 years to get my chartered accountancy qualification. A little voice in my head says "what a waste"! I feel that as I've stopped work to be at home full-time I should be filling every minute of my day with household and childcare duties, and when I'm not, that is when the quilt kicks in. I am so much happier being a home-maker that I ever was at work. I was never hugely ambitious, but went through the paces of getting a professional qualification because I was academic and that's what was expected of me. Going back to work is still not a realistic alternative at the moment, as the boys are still young. Even when they are both at school, there is the nightmare of school holidays, sickness etc to cover, when we have no family anywhere near us to help out. But everyone still asks me when I am going back to work!
Women seem to feel this kind of guilt far more than men. I've never heard a dad express their guilt over going to work every day and leaving their baby in daycare. I never see my husband feeling guilty because he hasn't played football in the garden with the boys all week due to working late every night. Men see it as their duty to go to work and provide for the families, and therefore work often takes priority. Women seem to be caught in the middle of careers and family, and whichever they opt for or any compromises they make to accommodate both, make them feel some form of guilt.
For now, I need to try to enjoy my position as a full-time mum to my two boys and stop feeling so guilty about everything. My husband enjoys the fact that he doesn't have to lift a finger around the house, something that would have to change drastically if I ever did go back to work!