I don’t know when I first felt guilt, or was made to feel guilty; but it has been an integral part of my make-up for so long, I would put it down as a personal trait. What I can pin-point, almost exactly, is the moment when it stopped being something mildly colouring my reactions to various mishaps in life, and became the constant undercurrent of my emotions.
Monday October 19, 2009: 12.45pm.
At that time, or very close to it, my daughter was pushed out of my stomach. That alone cranked the guilt machine up to 11. Obviously it was my fault that my body resisted any move to give her up “naturally.” Then, I couldn’t feed her myself. More guilt. My bottle feeding technique gave her colic. Yet more guilt…And so on, and so on.
Which brings me to why I feel guilty today. This time last year, I made the decision to stop being head of the English department in our school. It was, at the time, a temporary post, but various circumstances had led to me holding the post for 9 months by the time that I decided to give it up. I held the post for another 3 months, just to make sure that we had enough money for the family trip to London at Easter, and because, well, a year’s worth of experience in a promoted position would look better on the old c.v.
I don’t regret giving it up. Not one bit. Some people are made for leadership. I am not. At best, I am an RSM to someone else’s NCO.
My family certainly doesn’t regret it either. I don’t know if Eleanor understands what has changed, but I think that she could certainly articulate it: “Mummy’s not tired”; “Mummy’s not grumpy”; “Mummy’s my friend again.”
And this is where the guilt comes in. Because, for a year, my little girl had a mummy who was tired, grumpy, snappy, disengaged and generally not “fun.” If I am doing anything to excess at the moment, it is the business of trying to be as present as possible with her.
I am aware of the various warnings from experts about helicopter parenting, or about the modern parental affliction of ensuring that their kids are always happy. And there are still times when I need Ele to go off and play by herself, while I take a breather. I also realise that this guilt is probably unnecessary, founded on very little, and not helpful for my health.
I get flashbacks to the way I was, however. And what message my behaviour was sending to Ele during that long year – that she mattered less to me than 6 colleagues and 600 teenagers.
If “helicopter parenting” means fixing some strained bonds, and making my wee girl feel important again, then, sister: I’ll be a goddam Apache.