Thursday, 7 January 2010

Guilt Trips

Mothers feel guilty. An awful lot of the time. It's a fact of life.

I have a friend who feels guilty if the vegetables she feeds her children have been bought from the supermarket, and not lovingly hand plucked from her own organic garden. I'm not joking. Being around her makes me feel guilty for not feeling guilty enough.

Fear of being labelled a 'Bad Mother' is enough to drive the most confident of us into a pit of self-doubt. It is the worst thing we can be called. Why? Because we love our children and want to be seen to be doing our best for them? Well yes of course. But also because deep down, despite all the progress that's been made in terms of womens rights and equality, there still exists a belief that this is what women are for. That motherhood is our only true purpose. So if we can't cope/don't like it much/fail to persuade our little darlings to eat ten different types of green vegetable a day; then we have failed utterly in our duty as human beings. And that's a bloody big guilt trip...

The trouble is, we can't win. It begins before a woman has even had her pregnancy confirmed. A few too many tequila slammers before you got your positive test result? Perhaps you forgot to take your folic acid? Then shame on you, you Bad Mother you. And so it goes on through every stage of pregnancy. Still enjoying regular exercise? Puts the baby at risk that. Sitting around all day? You'll get swollen ankles. And besides, nobody wants a mother with a fat arse you know.

And after the baby's born... well. Lord help you if you need to go to work to earn a crust. Or because, god forbid, your work is actually really important to you. Because if you choose to bottle feed and put your baby into child care facilities, you may just as well proclaim your membership to a sadistic satan worshipping cult and have done with it. But then on the other hand... you've got these stay at home mothers. Boring, sponging, brainless amoebas with nothing better to do than give their children serious dependency issues.

You're a Bad Mother if you don't breastfeed. You're a Bad Mother if you breastfeed too long (a lack of consensus on how long might be too long making doubly sure that breastfeeding mothers don't escape their share of guilt). And if you breastfeed openly in public you're a shameless hussy, putting everyone off their lunch. When I was breastfeeding, I had the idea of writing a weekly magazine column, which was to be imaginatively entitled: 'Places I Have Breastfed'. My list was long:

1. In a tipi.
2. In the Liverpool Museum.
3. In the queue at the dole office.
4. In a Working Mens Club. I swear this is true. I'd love to be able to say I was being deliberately provocative, but actually there was an acoustic band playing and there were loads of women there.
5. In the back seat of a moving car, contorting painfully in order to feed the baby who was safely strapped in his car seat. Highly illegal, and probably not to be recommended, but I (or should I say the
baby) was desperate.

There's plenty more where that came from, but you get the gist. I am a completely shameless hussy. And a terrible mother. But I feel endlessly guilty about it, so that's o.k. then.

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