I have a confession to make… last Friday night I ventured out into the adult world (that doesn’t sound right, but mums will know what I mean). And with this bold attempt to allow myself one evening of mindless gossiping and cocktails, came one massive side order of mum guilt.
I swapped my leggings and breastfeeding friendly top for a pair of high waisted skinny jeans, heels and a NORMAL bra. I spent most of Thursday, and all of Friday, trying to justify cancelling last minute. It wasn’t that I didn’t WANT to go… I was DYING to go!! I couldn’t wait for an evening with my girl friends. After all, I hadn’t been out since November 2015 (19 year old me would have cringed at that). There was however an overhanging feeling of guilt, and that’s what was ticking over in my mind as I tried to think of a good enough reason to back out.
I HAND expressed 7 oz’s of milk (I KNOW, hardcore) and off I went after some words of encouragement from Andy. Now, before I delve into ‘what happened next’, I’d like to stress that I am a strong believer in equal co-parenting. Fathers are just as important as mothers. Fathers spending one on one time with their children does not (in my eyes) constitute as ‘baby sitting’ – it’s parenting.
Long story short, Tobias freaked out. In hindsight this was the most likely eventuality. His routine was upset – he’s used to going down at 8:30pm with me beside him. For this, I feel massively guilty. When Andy text me at ten to 12 saying he had to come and get me, I knew it was bad. Andy can get Tobias out of a strop quicker than anyone, so I knew things mustn’t be going well. I climbed into the back of the car, and there Tobias was, in his car seat screaming his head off. I unclipped him and cuddled him in close. By this stage I’d sobered up, I wasn’t drunk. But nothing will snap you out of fun mode quicker than knowing your partner is outside WITH your son. As he calmed down and caught his breath, I couldn’t help but feel immense guilt followed by a few blubbery tears of my own. I felt like it was my fault. In that moment I felt very selfish. My 6 month old son was upset because I decided that a night out in the grown up world was more important than sticking to his bedtime routine. A flood gate of emotions was opened as I started to worry. I didn’t want Andy to think it was a case of “dad wouldn’t do” – Tobias is obsessed with Andy. On reflection the main problem was us straying from normal bedtime routine (still kicking myself for this).
Andy has reassured me since that night that it’s okay. Okay that he just wouldn’t settle, okay that for one night I did something I wanted (and maybe even needed to do). In truth, he’s managed to hush some of the mum guilt madness going on inside my head.
This particular instance wasn’t worth it for me. Yes I had a wonderful time, but the feeling I had returning home unfortunately hindered it for me. I realise it’s just a phase, and at 6 months old it’s highly likely that separation anxiety and the “strange” phase is starting. So I’m very happy to put evenings out on the back burner for now.
When I get down to the real point of this blog post, it’s not about Tobias’ bedtime routine, or where he is developmentally. I’m not looking for affirmation that I’m a good parent or for someone to tell me that it’s okay that I went out and it didn’t go as planned. The situation itself just made me very aware of mum guilt, and in truth made me realise that this won’t be the last time it rears its ugly head throughout the journey of motherhood.
It’s important to strike the right balance. Parenthood feels very much like a ‘learn-as-you-go” process. It’s wonderful and chaotic all at the same time. I’ve felt a huge amount of varied emotions. I’ve been ecstatically happy, inspired, confused, frustrated, sometimes even anxious or sad (I’ll touch on postpartum depression and anxiety another time). The one feeling that threw me a curve ball was the guilt. And although I’m reluctant, I think I’ll have to accept that it’s part of parenting.
So although this time it was about leaving my 6 month old at bedtime to enjoy a Gin and Tonic with the girls, someday it will be about dropping him off for his first day of nursery. It’ll be there when I tell him he has to earn rewards like a new bike or football boots. It’ll be there when I tell him his new girlfriend can’t stay overnight. And it might even be there when we tell him he needs to go out and get a part time job to join the “real world” someday.
What I do know is this; Mum guilt is normal. Striking the balance however, that’s the tricky part!