Working mums have to feel guilty, right? I’m not sure I do. At least not permanently.
I was rung up by a local radio station the other day because Victoria Beckham said she felt guilty being a working mum [she also said she really loved her job, but no-one takes any notice of that bit]. What was my view? Well, I thought about it for a nano-second and then I realised that I don’t actually feel guilty that much. I feel lots of other things, mainly exhaustion [I woke up on Thursday thinking it was the weekend. What a bad start to the day], but guilt is not uppermost. Maybe it’s because I’m on number four child; maybe because I’ve been able to twist my life around to work mainly from home, but I’m not sure I felt guilty before that in any event. Maybe it’s because it seems totally pointless to feel guilty about something I can do nothing about. I want to work, but I also have to work. Why should I feel guilty? My partner does not feel guilty, but then again no-one ever asks him if he does.
The kids seem perfectly happy. I am pretty sure that my working will not be the thing they pick out as having damaged them for life. There will clearly be a lot of other imperfections that precede work. Singeing the food may be one; repeatedly asking about whether teeth have been brushed, saying ‘we’re already late’ about 10 times a day and arriving three minutes after school’s out on a regular basis are others. Another potential contender is going on and on about algebra, even though I can’t really remember how it works. Daughter one’s maths teacher said she needed extra help with algebra at parents’ evening and I, perhaps foolishly, said that algebra was one of my favourite subjects. “It’s fun,” I said to an unconvinced daughter one. “It’s like a game or a puzzle. A bit like a crossword.” That was before we began our 10-minutes a night algebra sessions. “It’s not coming flooding back to me like I had hoped,” I said as we stared at something along the lines of 7x + 9 = 3x – (x – 4). I am thinking of squeezing in a Youtube tutorial over the weekend. Anyway, I feel no guilt whatsoever at forgetting my former algebraic prowess.
I feel guilty when I get annoyed with toddler boy after he has pooed on the floor and attempted to clean it up and then says “sorry, mum, I really really love you”. I feel guilty when my partner asks me specifically to get olives from the supermarket and I get a whole basket full of other stuff I didn’t go in the shop for but forget the olives. I feel guilty when I book a birthday party treat for daughter three only to find I have to cancel it because it is twice as expensive as I thought it would be because you have to book for eight children even though you are only bringing four. Had I been able to actually get through to the zoo on the phone instead of an endless stream of ‘push number one for meet an animal’ messages which ended up with ‘go to our website at www’ I could have avoided her disappointed face. So basically the zoo should feel guilty, but actually I do because I probably misread the website stuff in my excitement about meeting a snake. Nevertheless, I do not have a permanent feeling of guilt about working, although I do occasionally feel guilty at how many hours I sometimes have to do.
I am not some “hard-hearted” career woman, though. When toddler boy occasionally cries when he gets to nursery, I do wish I could stick him in the car and drive off into the blue yonder, but I know that he will be fine in a few minutes and that he generally has a ball at nursery. I also know that spending all day with his mum playing volleyball [he’s in training for the team] would bore both him and me to tears after a couple of days. In an ideal world, I would like to spend more time with the children, individually. En masse, things can end up a bit loud and there is never enough of me to go around which means I end up playing endless volleyball matches with each child because if they play doubles one person inevitably stomps off halfway through.
But generally I don’t feel guilty – mainly because I am too tired for guilt. This is possibly because I have not yet tackled the toddler in our bed syndrome which I am also apparently supposed to feel guilty about, but don’t. In fact, there are so many, many things I should feel guilty about – ironing the school uniform on the floor, never dressing toddler boy in matching socks, not using eco-friendly nappies, having a globally unsustainable number of children – and I do have the occasional twinge, but things in our house move fast, as does time itself, and so guilt never gets a permanent ringside seat.