I realised today that it’s been well over a month since my last blog post. That sounds a bit like “Father it’s been two months since my last confession”. Not that far wrong, really, as my blog often feels like the place where I confess my true self.
Well today I am going to confess to the crisis of Identity I had at 2am this morning, after my first night out in months. It wasn’t even a night out, just a meal with my baby group girls, who I’ve known for four years. They consist of a Paediatrician, two teachers, a psychiatric nurse and a self-employed business woman. That’s half the issue right there: Marketing Manager or Writer seems pretty weightless and meaningless next to those guys. I worry about not earning enough money while I fart around writing novels and they worry about whether one of their clients is going to kill themselves or if a child will die that week.
It’s always a humbling experience for me when we get together.
We always talk about parenting – we are a baby group after all, even if after four years our offspring aren’t really babies anymore. That leaves me feeling inadequate too. Two of the parents are from big families themselves and now have big families. They have parenting sussed. Their kids are gorgeous and lovely and polite and eat all their dinner and go to bed on time and their parents are fully in charge.
In our house we epitomise those t-shirts you see on babies, “Mum and Dad know that I’m in charge.” Hmmm
Needless to say I approach baby group dinners with a certain amount of trepidation, because I always come away feeling like I’m failing. I’m not funny enough (they all are), I’m not thin enough (they all are – or they’ve just had babies), I don’t work hard enough (they all do – long shifts, extra shifts, three hours marking homework every night. I fall asleep watching Strictly It Takes Two), I’m not a strong enough parent (my kids have no routine or consistent discipline) and most of all I’m a horrible parent (I shout at my kids way too much and tell them they’re being stupid or pathetic. I told myself I’d never use words like those. I know the power of words).
So I lay in bed at 2am this morning, unable to sleep due to the thoughts whirling round my head. I picked up a book I bought months ago but lost (it was at the back of a drawer of clothes for some reason – one of my “tidy the room by chucking everything I a drawer” moments). It’s called Ten Mindful Minutes by Goldie Hawn and Wendy Holden. I bought it maybe even a year or two ago (tempus fugit) after hearing Goldie Hawn talking about her MindUP programme on the radio. I remember thinking at the time that it sounded like something I needed – reprogramming your brain so it doesn’t get hijacked by your emotions.
For some reason I stopped reading it after a couple of pages and that was the end of my attempt to be a better parent. Last night I started reading halfway through and got hooked. When I went back to the beginning I realised why I’d stopped reading. On the first or second page it says that British children are the unhappiest in the world. I didn’t want that guilt on top of all my exiting guilt so I obviously stuffed the book under the bed only to lose it in a the-family-are-coming drawer-stuffing tidy up.
It seems almost fate that I came across the book again yesterday in my rummage to find something -anything – that still fit that was suitable for a night out with the girls. After laying awake chastising myself about losing my temper with the kids so often and saying terrible things to them in my rage, it was wonderful to read that it’s possible to learn control. And learn it from a neutral person. I’ve been told it before but by some of the perfect parents I know, and so in the past I’ve been resistant. (Defensiveness = stubbornness).
After reading a chapter I got out of bed, went in to tell my daughter I love her and I’m sorry and then, when she came in twenty minutes later for a cuddle because I’d obviously woken her up, lay snuggled into my beautiful girl and thanked the universe for her and her brother and my general good fortune. Because despite my apparent failings as a parent I, too, have gorgeous and lovely and polite and caring children who go to bed when they’re told and 99% of the time are amazing (note I left out the eat-all-their-dinner bit: you can’t have everything).
I vowed to change.
I didn’t vow to be a better parent, or reading Goldie Hawn’s book cover to cover, or to lose weight, become organised, or anything that I’ve vowed and broken before.
I vowed to give up Guilt.
Because during my hours of wakefulness I recalled something my husband said the other morning. “You could accomplish so much more if you stopped feeling guilty about everything.” I remember responding, “Great, one more thing to feel guilty about.”
Guilt is like that. It’s an addiction. It’s a habit. Feeling guilty for being a rubbish parent or a meaningless person or for eating too much cake is just a way to not have to do something about it. At dinner last night my psychiatric nurse friend was talking about someone with depression who wouldn’t get out of bed to talk to her. She said of her client, “She bloody well had to get up. If she isn’t trying to get better I’m not interested.”
It really got me thinking. By feeling guilty about everything, I’ve given myself the excuse not to get better. Every time I yell at the kids I feel guilty for being angry and aggressive like my Dad. Instead of thinking of all the great ways I’m like my Dad – how I’m creative and spontaneous and loving. I forget that Dad didn’t have the chance to be self-aware, so he didn’t have the chance to change. I am self-aware. So I have no excuse not to change. No excuse not to take a deep breath when my children have pushed me to the limit, to walk away, to swear at the plant in the kitchen rather than them, until I have my brain back under control.
When I feel guilty about writing novels instead of having a life-saving, world-saving job, I forget how many people’s lives are changed by reading books. Maybe not my books, maybe not yet. But one day one of my books might save a life. My own life has been saved or enriched or expanded by literature. I undersell myself and let the guilt box me in until I’m spending more time wringing my hands than I do writing my books.
When I feel guilty because my kids have had pasta shapes and toast for the third night in a row I let that guilt stop me from trying to give them something different. I feel guilty when they don’t like their dinner and don’t eat it, instead of being a proper parent and encouraging them to try new things and eat healthily.
So, although it’s a bit early, I’m making a New Year Resolution: No More Guilt.
What do you feel guilty about? Have you started thinking about New Year’s Resolutions yet?