The house was silent, save the gentle breathing of my daughter as she began to drift off to sleep. The room was warm and dark, with only the sweetly reassuring stars from the night-light tracking softly across the ceiling. I lay beside her, my heart rate slowing in step with hers. I smoothed her hair and waited for her to fall away to her dreams. Such was my routine.
Abandoning myself to the silence, I let my thoughts float along with those passing stars. 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 darkened 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.
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 her 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 its presence a possible way out of this sticky web of self-deprecation 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: of what one great thing can I be proud of doing for them today?
The ring finger, my 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 darkened room under the canopy of soothing starlight, I smiled.
I’ve recently discovered I’m a simple solutions kind of person. I like to cut through the chaos of overwhelm to find that one simple but effective thing that will move me forward to a place where I can feel better. My ‘hand’ strategy is one of those simple solutions.
How you can use your own hand to combat mother guilt:
- Look at one of your hands. Create a category for each finger. I use the five categories of me, marriage, children, career and home because they’re my big agenda items each day. You can create the categories that work best for you.
- Each night, think back over your day and find ‘one great thing’ you did that day for each category (finger). Your ‘one great things’ don’t have to be earth-shattering in their greatness. They can be simple and meaningful, such as: ‘I phoned my husband to say thank you for that folding he did on his way out the door’. Or, ‘I admired my son’s painting and hung it up with pride in the hallway’. ‘I hung out two baskets of washing’ or ‘I finally called the plumber’. These are all great things in their own way because they need to be done and they build on each other for a brighter, more beautiful whole.
- Once you’ve found your ‘one great thing’ for each finger, feel good about your achievements and acknowledge that you’ve done enough right now. One really nice bonus is that you will probably find it difficult to choose just ‘one great thing’ for each finger because there will be plenty. And in recognising this, you start to see that you are doing better than you think, you are enough as a mother, you do enough as a mother, and you are OK just as you are.
- 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.
Here are two great reads to make you feel better about your parenting right now:
A funny and uplifting free e-book from Leonie Dawson: http://leoniedawson.com/brand-new-free-e-book-how-to-be-a-domestic-goddess/?utm_content=buffer890c9&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer
A thought-provoking (and reassuring) article on women appearing ‘not present’ at the park (or anywhere else they are with their kids):