My fellow Swiss blogger at Time For Tea, has raised one of the topics I love to hate the most: guilt. People of various religious denominations seem to vie for the guilty crown (of thorns) but I would hesitantly raise my hand and stake a claim on the title: what about ‘only child?’ or ‘being unemployed?’ or, goodness knows, ‘motherhood?’. There - have a handful of personal issues to stir into your culpability cauldron.
What do I have to feel guilty about anyway? I’m decent - mostly. Well, it can be summed up in two words: money and kids.
Back in the day, before I turned all ‘expat’, I had an actual job. Now, don’t get excited, I was hardly running a bank, but I did receive a modest monthly stipend, courtesy of the BBC, who sweeten their measly salaries with a subsidised bar, outings in the Countryfile Land Rover and free tickets to the Eurovision Song Contest. I was well chuffed with the deal.
Then, in the space of one week, I left my job, got married and moved to Cameroon. After a quick calculation, I worked out that financial dependence = guilt.
I’ve never been good at managing money and once believed that a perfectly acceptable approach to ‘sticking to a budget’ was to keep taking money out of the cash machine until it refused to give me any more. Then, to my credit, I would stop. But as soon as I wasn’t earning any money, I developed an obsessive aversion to spending it. Even now, almost ten years on, I’m plagued by guilt-induced spasms over it. Just the other day, while cutting up a lemon, I was hit by the realisation that, under my own steam, I couldn’t afford the lemon. I don’t deserve this lemon, I thought, guiltily. I haven’t earned this lemon!
And if spending money on oneself is bad, then try spending time on oneself.
After Cameroon, we went to live in Singapore, where we put up for a short while just off Orchard Road in a nice little flat with a lovely pool. Day One and the Husband rides off to work on the MRT, while I consult my To Do List, which only has two items: 1. find supermarket, 2. relaunch career.
We stayed at the flat with the lovely pool for six weeks, during which time I was so riddled with guilt about To Do List item No. 2 - I got No. 1 sorted, I’m guilt-prone, not stoopid - that I never once set foot in the pool. I was simply too shamefaced to swim in or sit by that pool while The Husband spent all day in the office. The lovely little pool became the very symbol of my reluctant idleness and unmerited life of luxury.
Then I got an office job and felt like a right numpty for wasting the pool but, hey, you live and learn.
And then there’s now. Motherhood. All that other stuff was just baby guilt, playground guilt, Guilt for Dummies – motherhood is a crash-course PhD that turns you into Dr Guilt. In fact, there are so many things about motherhood that make me feel guilty, I’m going to have to use bullet points, for fear of stretching your patience...
- Finding out you’re pregnant when you got a bit drunk a few nights before.
- Being pregnant and eating half a plate of something that seems innocuous before someone informs you of a study that found that the comestible is somehow lethal to foetuses.
- Books / websites / people telling you that the way you carry / feed / cuddle your newborn will damage its hips / mental health / life expectancy.
- Not being able to lift Child One onto the slide at the playground because one is pregnant with Child Two.
- Not being able to devote oneself entirely to Child Two because of the presence of Child One.
- Saying that about Child One.
- Spending any time at all away from your children – whether it’s a hospital stay or a day at a spa, it’s all the same, guilt-wise.
- Leaving child in care in order to go to work.
- Failing to be a good role model by not going to work.
- Giving them beans on toast for their tea instead of a nutritionally-balanced meal that includes all the food groups.
- Hearing the Curly Girlie say “the other children don’t want to play with me” because she insists on speaking English at the German-language crèche.
- Letting them watch too much TV.
- Not letting them do exactly what they want (watch TV).
- Shouting at them.
- Putting their shoes on the wrong feet and not noticing for ages.
- Nappy rash (what is that mother feeding them?!).
- Nightmares (why doesn’t she sleep right alongside them?!).
- Falls in the playground (why doesn’t she lock them up until it’s safe to go out?!)
I could go on. Honestly, I could. Motherhood is impossible to get right. And that makes me feel, really... you know.