I’m no stranger to maternal guilt, we go way back. In fact, my first attack was 23½ years ago, as the stunned new mother of a tiny girl, I was asked by a midwife if I’d changed my baby’s nappy yet. ‘Ah, no,’ I’d thought. I’d just been staring at her for the past few hours, and I realized in a moment of ego-crushing guilt, that I’d failed my first test of motherhood.
Guilt has been a regular companion since then. I have had guilt about divorce, long work hours as a single mum, being a single mum. Serving spaghetti Bolognese three nights in a row. Missing speech nights and teenage truancy, step parenting, being too strict, not strict enough. Putting on a DVD for my 4 year old so I can write a post on guilt. The list goes on. And on.
Usually I can rationalize my feelings around guilt, acknowledge that I have been, and am, a good mother, if not always perfect. I know I have always wanted and tried to do the best for each of my three daughters. But sometimes the guilt is irrational and all-consuming and often centred on my need to write. And not just write, but clawing back time to think, creating space to get an idea down on paper, now. Right now. Not after I’ve played Barbies or been Ursula the Sea Witch for the fifth time that day (it’s not fair, I’m never Ariel).
Sometimes the guilt hits when I’m tired, grumpy and impatient because I’ve been up late working or feeling resentful that I haven’t been able to make the room for my writing that I’d hoped to. Other times it’s when I acknowledge that writing is essentially an occupation that requires a selfishness that contradicts the selflessness often needed in mothering.
In the end I’ve come to realise that beating myself up is a futile exercise. I write, that’s what I do. I don’t turn off at 5:01pm. In fact, the writer never really turns off. The writer is an observer, eavesdropper and thinker on constant patrol, a thief looking to steal time, even a few moments to pick up the pen or tap on the keyboard.
Perhaps we’ve given guilt a bad wrap. Perhaps it’s just another tool to allow us to reflect on our decisions, attitudes and behaviour. After all, dealing with negative emotions can be very draining, but the process of placing them in context and acknowledging the role they play in your life, can be liberating. And that can free you to write. Or, be Ursula the Sea Witch for the sixth time.