“The best gift a mother can give her children is a happy mother”, I often hear myself say.
I’ll tell you up front: I am a happy mother. I take good care of myself. I feel no guilt, ever. And my child is a well rounded happy individual.
How is that possible?
My mother was not a happy mother. She suffered from depression in a time when there were no antidepressants. She took “pills for her nerves”, sleeping pills and a lot of alcohol. Our existence as a family was tumultuous to say the least. And so, at age fourteen when she left, I told myself that if I ever had children I would be, if nothing else, a happy mother.
I realize now that she was sick and I am not, which makes it easier for me to be happy. However, that pact I made with myself as a teen has come in handy many times during the last twelve years of motherhood. Like a mantra, I would recite it to myself when times were hard. I have also used it with my friends, neighbours, coworkers and family members on numerous occasions to help them cope.
I realize that a big part of our unhappiness as mothers is rooted in guilt.
As women, are we naturally guilty creatures? Are we programmed that way? I would argue no. I would also argue that it's the women with a lot of resources available to them (supportive partners, friends, money etc.) that tend to feel the most guilt.
It IS possible to be the mother we want to be for our children and take care of ourselves at the same time - without feeling guilty!
Here is an incomplete list of things I do for myself without a drop of guilt. :
1. I take a bath every night
In fact, I have taken a bath every single night since my daughter was born. She has another parent, after all. If you do not have the support of the other parent, take a bath instead of doing the dishes.
2. I don’t do chores all the time
The picture on the right is the current state of my sink. I’m waiting for the child to empty the dishwasher and this morning, instead of doing dishes, I wrote a blog post. The state of my kitchen doesn’t affect anyone’s life in the least.
3. I go to the toilet alone
She will survive for two minutes without me. (Disclaimer, the dog and the cat are exempt from this rule.)
4. I have hobbies
I’ve been to yoga and zumba classes, and gone curling and running, and get massages when I want to. Without her. She has another parent, after all; and now she's old enough to stay home alone.
5. I go on trips without her
The first one was my honeymoon (New York) for three days when she was fourteen months. Then at age tree (London), and four (Dublin) and ten (Palm Springs) and eleven (Turks and Caicos) - all for one week each. Why not? When she eventually leaves home, my husband and I will be left behind, together. We might as well nurture that relationship before we become strangers. Plus, children benefit from healthy relationships with grandparents, uncles and aunts, neighbours and friends; and as a bonus, they have a blast. It’s a holiday for them too.
6. I go shopping alone or with friends - without calling home
In fact, I’ve done this so much that I now have to beg her to come with me. She does, which makes me happy!
7. I don’t always clean up after her
Shocking, I know. She can do it herself, and learning to be a disciplined human being is a great asset.
8. I save my money
She can pay for the frivolous things she wants as she gets an allowance.
9. I don’t share my treats
I got a box of Turtles for Christmas. And the same way I would not take her Halloween candy without asking, she would not take my treats without asking. Most of the time when she asked, I have said no. She survived.
10. I don’t always serve her
She is capable of getting her own glass of whatever (what she could do at what age varied, but kids are often more capable than we think.)
11. I let her, and even ask her, to serve ME
I show her gratitude, of course.
12. I read undisturbed
Sometimes with a glass of wine and in front of a fire! She has another parent, after all.
13. She occupies herself
I don’t always play with her or organize her a playdate, and I didn’t even do that when she was little. She learned to occupy herself, and now she loves and even needs her alone time.
14. I sometimes watch what I want on the television, even when she is awake
I've watched my share of Max and Ruby and Phineas and Ferb episodes to last two lifetimes. She can go do something else.
15. I do date nights
I go out alone with my husband all the time! My daughter goes to friend’s house and has a good time. We started this when she was three years old.
Are you gasping? I promise you, I feel no guilt.
I don't know if I've always been like this. I often had to take care of myself as a child, or maybe I taught myself that I am worth my own time. Nevertheless, my daughter is smiling most of the time! She is happy.
You might wonder if I dislike my child or if being a mum is not something I particularly like. That could be, but no. I would spend every minute of every day with her. I often do, actually. I have always loved being her mother, even when I wanted to throw her out the window (can I say that?) My husband and I love having her around and we prefer a trip with her than without her.
You might also think you can’t do any of these things because you have lots of children. Well, your children have another parent too. He or she can manage without you; they have a right to. They might even surprise you with their abilities. You have to remind yourself that he will do it differently. My husband and I joke that if I die, my kid will be dirty but well fed, and if he dies, she will be clean but malnourished. In fact, I once came back on a late Sunday afternoon from a weekend away and my kid was sitting in front of the television with her father, still in her pajamas. Her teeth and hair looked like they hadn't been brushed in days. Yet, she had this wonderfully goofy smile on her face. I guess she had enjoyed her break from me, too.
And remember, your children also have grandparents, aunts and uncles and friends who are just waiting for you to ask them to enjoy your children’s company, even for an hour or two.
Trust me- you are worth it, your child is worth it, and your family is worth it. Without the guilt.
by Angèle Alain