‘Mums reaching for a glass of wine at the end of a hard day is toxic. I did it with all three of my kids but in hindsight, it wasn’t helping me.’
This was a sentence from the newsletter that had just landed in my inbox, from a mother I follow online.
I looked at my 22-month-old son, and the glass of wine in my hand and immediately felt that familiar rush of ‘mum guilt’ – was I now a terrible mother for enjoying a glass of wine at the end of a hard day?
At first, I felt ashamed, but then I thought again about the context of this email – this mum was speaking with hindsight.
And then, I started to feel pretty annoyed.
Of course, in hindsight there are things we’d all do differently in life; that’s why people call it a ‘wonderful thing’. But most of us are just doing what we think is right at the time.
That very day, I’d dealt with toddler tantrums, food being thrown on the floor and a 5am start with a nappy that had leaked through the sheets, so a glass of wine felt like my respite; a way to wind down at the end of a tiresome day.
But, opening the email made me feel ‘wrong’ for enjoying the wine and that moment of solace – would I too, look back and think this was toxic?
I learned I was pregnant in the spring of March 2021 and although I was initially excited, I didn’t really enjoy being pregnant, which was when I got my first taste of ‘mum guilt’.
Mine was a fairly uncomplicated one, which led to me feeling like I was being ungrateful for complaining about feeling sick or tired, when some people were struggling to conceive or experiencing stressful pregnancies.
Things took a turn in my third trimester, when my straightforward pregnancy became a little more complicated.
My son was born prematurely at 33 weeks and spent almost a month in the hospital’s neonatal unit, and, along with that stress came a bout of guilt – was it my fault that this had happened?
Was he born early because I hadn’t enjoyed pregnancy?
It was a rough start to motherhood, and one that was followed by postpartum depression and heightened anxiety over everything from my son’s health to my parenting style.
Over time some of those anxieties have subsided, but motherhood definitely hasn’t come naturally to me – hence why you’ll occasionally find me enjoying a glass of wine to relax after a day of parenting.
I’m a natural worrier, and motherhood, teamed with the huge bombardment of information available nowadays – everywhere from TikTok to family and friends – has only served to make me, and lots of other mums I know, more anxious.
It appears there’s a million and one solutions (you only have to search parenting hack on Instagram to see more than 100,000 posts) – and then there’s sleep training methods and discussions around which feeding method you’re using – to deal with everything from night wakes and weaning to walking and talking, and I’ve spent the past two years continually questioning whether I’m doing the ‘right’ thing.
Sadly mums are constantly shamed for things they do or don’t do, especially by other mums, which leads to guilt and worry.
I was shamed for going on a girls’ holiday without my son by other parents, have been made to feel guilty by friends about using formula when breastfeeding was a struggle, and have had comments directed my way from random strangers on everything from naps to snacks, which could be well-intentioned but still lead me to feeling like I’m failing.
Currently, there’s an ‘honest mums’ trend, where mums share their past parenting gaffes and regrets, listing things like losing their patience when their kids were young, or letting their children become dependent on them to fall asleep.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for being honest about the trials and tribulations of bringing up a small human. But for me, what’s unhelpful is the fact that these ‘mistakes’ are with hindsight – at the time, none of these mums thought they were doing the wrong thing.
And, by highlighting these normal things as failures, it puts the pressure on new mums to avoid making the same ‘blunders’ when they’re already completely overwhelmed with advice and information.
By all means, don’t sugarcoat parenting, but don’t look back with a punishing lens, either. I really believe everything you do as a parent – so long as it’s well-intentioned – is the right thing for you at that time, whether you come to regret it later or not.
I think telling a new mum you found things hard, that you struggled or even the stages you enjoyed can be helpful and relatable, but all new mums really want to know is that they’re not getting it wrong.
So telling new mothers about a multitude of mistakes they’d not even considered before is only going to lead to more worry.
Hindsight really is a wonderful thing, and so is looking out for other mums. So by all means be honest and draw on your experience, but focus on the helpful things, like the fact that toddler tantrums are normal and your child hasn’t been possessed by the devil, or that, actually, you don’t have to enjoy every minute of the newborn bubble.
And, if a new mum wants a glass of wine, let her have a glass of wine.
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