Why should working mums ditch the guilt? Because their children don't suffer at all
So what if you have a sneaky glass of wine or give your kids a ready meal? Cutting a few parenting corners isn't a crime, says Kate Whiting.
This morning, I made my son cry. Not just a little bit, but a stream of tears splashed onto his cheeks. The reason? I had to go to work (Guilt-trip #1).
On the way to work, I read an article with the headline: 'Prenatal alcohol consumption linked to mental health problems'. It turns out that the children of women who drink four units of alcohol in a row while pregnant, are more likely to suffer from hyperactivity and inattention. I definitely had more than that, without knowing I was pregnant (Guilt-trip #2).
Then, later today I'll be stocking up on ready-made meals for my little man to eat over the weekend, knowing we'll be out and about.
Even during a normal week, I don't have time to make him nutritious home-cooked meals, because, you know what? I have to go to work (double-whammy guilt-trip).
From the very moment they discover they're carrying another life, mothers are burdened with the gift that keeps on giving (or should that be taking?): guilt.
No matter what you do, you're damned. Breastfeeding but having the odd tipple to maintain your sanity? Guilty. Stopped breastfeeding and switched to formula, so that your child gets regular feeds minus the alcohol?
Well, now little Johnny's not getting mummy's milk and all the life-giving nutrients it holds. Guilty.
But perhaps it's time for mums to stagger out from under this burden and recognise that, whatever they're able to do for their children, is good enough. Not some unattainable ideal, but if it works for them, it's the right thing to do.
Going back to work
My friend's daughter drew a picture of her at school the other day, with the description: "Mummy works and reads to me".
It left her mortified, thinking she was letting her daughter down by not being there all the time. But while she's often not able to put her little one to bed in the evening, she still takes the time to read to her, which is vitally important for development and future learning (as recent figures proved, with only one in four UK graduates being good at English).
Relying on childcare
My son goes to nursery four days a week, for about 10 hours a day. That's 40 hours that he's not being looked after by me or my husband. But he loves nursery. He genuinely gets excited when he sees his keyworker, and the nursery is able to offer him the kind of experiences I can only dream of – painting with his whole body for messy play, enjoying Thomas The Tank Engine-themed days and time in the sensory garden.
So yes, I feel guilty leaving him there for long hours, but I know he's getting amazing amounts of one-on-one attention and he's learning heaps, too. According to a new report, children with nursery education get better GCSEs – whether my son will be able to sit still long enough, with that alcohol-addled mind of his, to sit exams, remains to be seen. But still, this helped lessen the childcare guilt.
Not always home cooked
Whenever I have time to cook for my son at the weekend, it's usually fish or cottage pie, meaning his diet's not hugely varied, but thank God he's getting those three meals a day at nursery, which is boosting his nutrient intake.
The times when I have set aside a whole morning to experiment with new flavours, my son generally turns his nose up, and I end up having to just defrost more mince anyway.
No cash to splash
Another of my friends, whose children are now teenagers, used to buy their Christmas presents from charity shops, until they were about four years old.
She'd find the second-hand version of whatever toy they wanted, clean them, wrap them and invariably find that a) they couldn't tell they weren't new, and b) they preferred playing with the wrapping paper anyway. I rest my case.