Clearing mother guilt with one hand

The house was silent, the room was dark, and my little daughter was nearly asleep with her dreams. Sitting there stroking her hair and waiting for my moment to quietly leave, my mind started to wander. What I had done that day. What I’d said. Who I’d seen. What I’d planned.

And then it began.

The tiny tendrils of doubt, quickly stoked into a roaring fire of fear as my thoughts gathered pace. Gripping my gut with a quick acid-wash of panic – and then SLAM, in it went with full-force: the guilt.

Did I do enough today?

Did I look her in the eye when she asked me a question or did I turn too quickly back to my task, impatient to get on my busy way?

I only got one load of washing done.

And none of the folding.

I got cross in the rush of gathering everyone and everything into the car for school. I often do, dammit.

I probably seemed fed up when he lost his hat for … what? … the seventh time that week?

I wasn’t patient enough.

I certainly wasn’t fun enough.

Perhaps I wasn’t even present enough?

I didn’t DO. IT. ALL. well enough!

In the dark room, my panic was rising and I knew I had to bring it under control. I knew enough by then to recognise the dangers to my own health of this stressful inventory and the cascade of hormones that would be wreaking havoc in my body as my mind raced along like a horse without a rider.

Whoa girl!

I brought myself up short. Surely there was something I could do to alleviate this feeling of inadequacy? Surely I did better today than my fearful re-telling was suggesting now?

As I continued to stroke my daughter's hair, I watched my own hand moving gently through the golden strands. And I thought:

I only have two hands to love you.

I only have one heart, one body, one mind …          

And they have to reach so far each day. They have to do so much.

As my hand came to rest, I saw in it a possible way out of this sticky web of self-doubt and guilt.

My own hand.

I held up my fingers and I began to count …

If my thumb represents me, what was one great thing I did for me today?

If my pointer finger represents my marriage, what was one great thing I did for us?

My middle finger for our children: what one great thing can I be proud of doing for them today?

The ring finger, my job/career: what’s one great thing that pushed that forward today?

And finally the pinkie, for our home: could I find just one great thing I got done that was worthwhile today?

And as I thought of those ‘one great things’ to assign to each finger – each category of my life, if you like – I began to feel better. Less lacking and more abundant. Less panicked and infinitely calmer: calmer simply by looking at the positives right there in the palm of my hand.

And I thought: that’s enough. That’s enough for me today. One great thing for each important thing, every day. I can do that. Heck, I can even do that well!

And, in the moment, I smiled. 

If you do this exercise, don’t berate yourself for the tasks you’ve left undone. No-one can do it all. No-one has infinite hours in the day. Prioritise and take action. Keep moving forward. Stay focused on the main event, not the sideshow.

And because we all feel dreadful about our own parenting every now and then, here are two great reads to make you feel better right now:

A funny and uplifting free e-book from Leonie Dawson.

A thought-provoking (and reassuring) article on women appearing ‘not present’ at the park (or anywhere else they are with their kids):

And this beauty from Beth over at Baby Mac.


Natalie Bartley