Ever heard of “dad guilt”? I haven’t. But “mum guilt” is everywhere.
What would the world make of James if he felt guilt for being a one legged father? (Disclaimer: obviously he doesn’t. He’s a man, after all…)
It’d clearly be a ridiculous thing to feel guilty about – there is no alternative world in which our children were born to a two-legged father. They exist because of this, one-legged, father.
James is generally treated like some kind of superman for parenting his own children. (And being married to his disabled wife.) It’s a bit odd. But also the opposite of any expectation he feel guilt as a parent.
Before I became a parent I thought a lot about the whole “mum guilt” thing, and decided that I wouldn’t treat it as a legitimate feeling. Because I don’t think it is.
It seems to me to be mostly be about things we have absolutely no control over and no reason to feel responsible for: pandemics. C sections.
I decided I wouldn’t express it in front of my children.
I grew up with the ideal of an all-giving, selfless mother. I think it ran deep for her. And it was confusing – it gave me expectations my mother could never fulfil. Because of course she was human, with human limitations.
Children are sponges, they absorb what they see in simple terms. If I expressed guilt for not being able to walk, wouldn’t my kids reasonably presume it IS my fault, and within my power?
Society often treats disabled people for our disabilities. Disability still carries shame. And we frequently become scapegoats within our own families.
Children pick up on all that. Even the children of disabled people. They’re not angels – they’re kids, hungry for information.
If I accepted “mum guilt” where would it end? I’m mostly housebound, live in bed, constant pain – there are millions of things my children can’t do because of my disability.
But. But! It isn’t my fault. Wouldn’t I confuse my children if I behaved as though it were?
There is no world in which my children were born to an able-bodied mother. Just me, as I am. Of course they feel sad about the things they can’t do with me – so do I. But if I blame myself they will too, which will get us nowhere good.
Which is surely the last thing any of us needs.
I am absolutely not rubbishing the feeling, but the way guilt is seen as an expected, legitimate part of motherhood. And the glaring inequality of it all.
First posted on Instagram on the 8th of September 2020
[Image description 1: Lucy sits in her wheelchair with Mainie on her lap and Viola attempting to climb the other side of her, they’re outside and are very windswept. She is wearing a very fine honey coloured linen skirt, which billows a bit. Hair is everywhere. We’re all white with brown hair. Lucy’s is ridiculously long.
Image 2: James – a one legged man with crutches – is standing with newborn Viola strapped to his chest, 4 year old Mainie is looking up at him adoringly.]