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Parent Guilt Part 1: "I miss the pre-child me"

Being a parent, I feel guilty about numerous things. It seems to be a huge part of the parenting package. I have felt guilty about going to work, having family babysit for me, not giving my child the sweets she wants, wondering if letting her watch Hey Duggee all afternoon will impede her development…the list is endless. The reason for parent guilt differs for everyone and is unique to their own circumstances (mummy guilt, dad guilt, birthing/non-birthing partner guilt, main breadwinner guilt, stay at home parent guilt etc.) They will all look and feel different due to our roles, lives and situations.

The thing that hit me lately was the guilt I felt when I went to a lovely pub for lunch.

My daughter and my dad were with me, but when I went to the loo and used and smelt their posh hand wash which gave me fond memories of lovely weekends away, I felt an aching feeling of loss. I miss those days. I miss (my version of) luxury. And I miss the old me before I had my child. Cue the big wave of guilt that followed.

There is no doubt that having children changes your life and your relationships. It can take away parts of our identity and drastically alter ways we have been used to living, but it also gives us new identities and things we perhaps weren’t expecting. During my wave of nostalgia, I ached for the things I no longer had and the person I used to be because of them. Some of the things were material I am not going to lie – I miss not being able to get nice clothes because they will be pulled, covered in snot, spit, mud and food. I miss not being able to afford the finer things (childcare costs are astronomical!) and going out to nice restaurants on a whim. But mostly I miss the version of me that spontaneity, free time and not having so much love invested into a little human gave me. The guilt wave allowed me to take a step back and reflect on these thoughts though, and do a mental stock take of loss and gains because I don’t want to feel guilty for reminiscing and admitting that things are a little tougher now.

What I lost

The freedom to do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. I was easily able to find alone time. I could go into a room and lay down without being disturbed. Freedom and having alone time meant I was more rested, less stressed and more alert. I could have lay ins and only ever worry about me.

My identity. I used to love going to the cinema, going to the gym, exercising, seeing friends, nights out and this fuelled a huge part of who I was. All these things are still possible but not as frequent or manageable. This inability and lack of being able to control how and when I can do these things has taken a massive hit on this part of my identity and the things I loved. I am no longer Vikki, I am someone trying to bring Vikki back.

Bonds and time with friends. The reality is that I cannot be there for my friends as I once was, and I can’t go out and away with them as much as I used to. When we do meet up and my daughter is with us, I am constantly keeping one eye on her and feeling on edge at the next thing she will be shouting, wanting, needing and so conversation with friends on any meaningful level is really hard. I miss time with friends when I am not tired, stressed or worried about being ‘scatty’.

What I gained

I have a bigger purpose. Pre-child me had a life that in comparison to now was straight forward, but I didn’t have a big career or life activity that defined me. My child has given me a reason to strive, a purpose to achieve that is greater than myself. It is a very primal feeling, but life’s priority now is far more important than it once was.

Unconditional Love. I love members of my family and my friends and get those lovely gooey feelings of affection for them, but it pales in comparison to the unconditional and overwhelming love for my child. What makes this so utterly mind blowing is the level of uncomplicated reciprocal love that I have never experienced before. I now completely understand my mother’s love for me.

I am someone new now. Being a parent has enabled me to learn something new every day about myself, about her, and about seeing the world slightly differently. From the outside my identity is mum, but it runs so much deeper than that (I am an educator, pupil, partner, leader, role model, confidante etc.). I love this process and discovering how I am growing alongside my daughter.

Enjoying the little things so much more. The 10 minutes of quiet at home when they arise are so wonderful. Having that cup of tea, grabbing my phone to catch up, reading a bit of a book or watching my favourite programme just feels so good and I appreciate it so much more than before. Adding to this, having my child point out things to me I never noticed before or showing her the little things (the bugs in the bark of a tree for example) makes me appreciate the details, nature and life so much more.

Respect for all parents. This parenting stuff is hard. We are all trying our best to navigate our way through without any directions within a social/education/financial/political system that at times is flawed and doesn’t work for everyone. We are raising little humans as best we can with no guidebook or FAQ’s. The more parents I speak to, the more I am in awe of everyone’s unique circumstance and how we are all doing our best. And our best is more than good enough!

Reflecting on my guilt and missing pre-child me, it is ok to feel that sense of loss and it more than ok to acknowledge this. I do miss ‘the previous version’ of me and how I was able to do things I can no longer do, and how I experienced things differently to how I do now. However, I have gained so much more from being a parent, more than I could have predicted. I try my best everyday and sometimes it works, sometimes I end up covered in play sand crying in the corner, but I am persistent, I am compassionate, and I am all the things my child is teaching me to be.

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