At this very moment, I should be in the woods at Exeter Forest School, running my first ever session as a Forest School Leader. Instead, I am sat under our biggest, cosiest blanket with a large cup of tea feeling rather sorry for myself. I’ve been ill for close to two weeks now and feel like I might finally be on the tail end of it but certainly not well enough to run a session without coughing and spluttering over the unfortunate parents and children in attendance. I feel so cheesy saying this, but my proverbial village has, once again, leapt into action to assist. A dear friend (who I now owe so many childcare favours to it’s ridiculous) is having Eli at the group and for the afternoon and Dan has gone to deposit the big two with her as well so she can take them to the older group where they attend by themselves. I have a whole day to rest and hopefully finally recuperate after an incredibly busy two weeks where I have just kept going when perhaps I should have declared a few more movie (or to assuage my home ed conscience, documentaries) and sofa days for the kids.
However, my primary emotion today is guilt. Guilt that I’m letting down work by not being able to run the session. Guilt that my friend is helping out and looking after my kids again, especially when she’s not feeling 100% herself. Guilt that I’m probably not going to be particularly productive even though there are things that need to be done (work, cleaning…etc). Guilt (ridiculously) that once again this week, I won’t reach my step count for the day. When I sat down to write this I was thinking mainly about what some term ‘mother’s guilt’. The guilt that means you feel like you are constantly failing those around you. That you don’t have enough to give to your kids to fulfill what they need. That there isn’t enough of you to go around. That your house is a mess. That you can’t find the work-life-fun balance. That you have goals and projects left unfinished. That you shout, nag and lecture. That maybe your priorities aren’t where they should be. That sometimes you take more from your friends and family than you give.
But then I realised that guilt is not exclusive to motherhood. Guilt is something that lots of us are plagued with. Most of that list above could apply to all of us, regardless of whether we have kids or not. And we could add more. Guilt that we’re not doing more in the fight against climate change would be one for me. For someone else it might be guilt that they skipped the gym. Guilt that they let down a friend. Guilt that they pay someone to clean their home. Guilt that they don’t cook their meals from scratch. Guilt that they got a promotion over a colleague. Everyone feels guilty for a myriad of different reasons.
Clearly, guilt that we feel because of something we’ve actually done (deliberate or not) that we know has affected someone negatively (physically or mentally) is a different category. It’s right to feel remorse and to try and make amends. But I’m talking about the guilt that so many of us feel unnecessarily. Guilt that we essentially make up for things that we don’t need to feel remorseful, shameful or sad about.
I’m struggling to think of anything positive that comes out of this kind of guilt. Acknowledging a fault or weakness and acting on it to promote positive change is one thing. But endlessly beating yourself up about stuff, valid or not, is useful to no-one. I know that if the situation was reversed, I would do the same thing for a friend or family member in need. I know that I would cover sessions for a colleague if I could. But it doesn’t stop me feeling bad about being the one needing the help right now.
I don’t know what the answer is and I realise this may come across as a somewhat woe-is-me post which is not my intention. Rather, I wanted to start a conversation about unecessary guilt. About why we feel it, about why we shouldn’t let ourselves get so caught up in such a negative feeling. It’s not something we talk about a lot I think. A quick google produces a wealth of articles from people much more equipped to talk about this than me. And a few things stood out to me particularly as helpful ways to break the cycle of self-flagellation caused by needless guilt.
Firstly, as I mentioned above, engage in a spot of role reversal. Imagine what you’d say or do to a friend or family member saying what you’re feeling. Chances are you’d reassure them that their guilt isn’t based in anything real and advise that they need to be kinder to themselves. Which leads nicely to the second point which is to make an effort to remove yourself from the situation and actually look at what you do. Look to see if there is any evidence to back up your guilt, I bet there isn’t! Practice a little bit of self-gratitude. Make a list if you need to of all the things you accomplish. But acknowledge what you do and try and be at peace that this is enough.
Finally, practice some self-care. I know this is a bit of a buzz topic at the moment but there’s a reason for that. You can’t give from an empty glass and we live in a world where we try to do much more than is practically possible for any one person. Our villages are broken and dispersed and people often don’t have the support they need. I’m going to drag out a parenting phrase that I have quoted many times before, bestowed on me from a very wise friend ‘your child is your mirror’. If you are overworked, stressed and brimming with negative emotions, your child(ren) will feed off this and reflect it back to you. If you take some time for yourself to do something you enjoy, just for you, you will be calmer and happier and your children will absorb this positive energy and that makes for a more peaceful household all round (if only in attitude and emotion rather than actual volume. Even when happy, my kids are loud.)
Funnily enough, as I came to the conlusion of this post, a message pinged up from the friend who has my kids today saying simply (in response to my apologies and thanks)
“Don’t feel guilty! It’s lovely having a village”
And whilst I know not everyone out there is lucky enough to have a village in place like I do, I think the take home is the same. Don’t feel guilty. We don’t need to haul any extra baggage around with us if it’s not needed. And if you don’t have a village, why not try and make one? Social media is great at connecting people, find some other folk who are village-less and start building a group based on friendship, support and community. And when you’ve got it, accept offers of help when you’re struggling, gratefully and guiltlessly.