Parenting: The one thing they don't tell you about mum guilt...

With lockdown easing and the world of playdates opening back up, we met up with some playgroup mums, from way back when, at the park.

I met them when my first baby was under 1 and I was pregnant with my second, and they all were supportive, baffled, excited and terrified for me in equal measure about the prospect of dealing with pregnancy and another baby in that season of life, with increasingly mobile babies/toddlers. 

Since, we haven't seen much of each other, and of course, the last time was before my youngest was fully mobile and was still in the baby phase. I had a double pram or baby in a sling so my focus could be on the Little Inspiration.

Fast forward a year and we met up again, but this time, I have two very active toddlers and it made me realise something. They all have one child currently, which is very normal to have a 3 year age gap, but for me I can't imagine it. One of them has a teeny tiny 12 week baby bump - which is just gorgeous - and part of me imagines it must be so exciting for Amelia to get excited about being a big sister with her being a bit older.

As they arrived, the first thing I noticed was that their 3 year olds were all sat in prams. Which is totally fair enoiugh as they obviously had longer journeys to walk and it makes life much easier  - I get it - but my 3 year old doesn't have that choice because her now 2 year old brother gets the buggy always. 

Even if her legs get tired, I can't pick her up to carry or put her in the pram, as then I have nowhere for the littlest to go. Obviously I'm on my own with them the majority of the time, so she has had to get used to being a little more independent and having to sometimes suck it up.

Now don't get me wrong, we rarely do long walks to places, as we drive everywhere outside of the village, and if we're doing a walk, I try to factor in it not being too long. We do have a buggy board, but rarely use it, and to be honest, I rarely use the pram with either of them now. The littlest likes to walk and I just carry him a lot.

As any mother will attest to, there are many markers along motherhood that bring guilt and this was one for me. As my 3 year old trotted alongside me on the way back, her little legs trying to keep up with mine, I felt awful that at such a young age she has no choice but to be more independent. 

Not just in this way either. She regularly has to hear 'not now' 'wait a minute' or 'I can't be in two places at once' as I run after her little brother who really has no sense of danger or spatial awareness. Of course, I try to make up for it when I can with one on one time, and we do stuff during littlest's nap, but even at the park, as much as I try to run between them, I have limitations.

At just 3, she still needs help on the play equipment sometimes, although she has learnt resourceful ways to get on stuff when I can't get there quick enough. But there is an inevitable lull sometimes when I can't split myself in two or having to fend for herself. 

There's also been the times when we would ordinarily have done a lot of crafts or baking and some activities have been too difficult, stressful, messy or unsafe for them to do together. Not that we've let us stop us, but it has meant a less than serene experience often. Plus it is true that whoever shouts the loudest can pull rank and I don't want that to be the case, so sometimes I have to dial down my rambunctious two year old (or sassy 3 year old) so one doesn't shout louder than the other.

Of course, I can see the flip side of this in her independent nature and very forward abilities for her age, and it has developed her ability to empathise and care for others, as she has had to for her whole life, maybe to a fault sometimes. On the couple of morning's that she goes to preschool, her teachers have said she is so caring towards the other children but she will give up her toys to them and not push herself forward sometimes. 

From Baby Inspiration arriving, she had to get used to waiting for me sometimes, being a big sister and helping with nappies and entertaining her baby brother when he was crying, but as an older sister in a single parent household, I know that it sometimes made me feel in service of my family and I had to grow up faster.

We have been very careful to let her know that there are no expectations on her to 'perform' for her brother, or worry about the things that grown ups are taking care of, but it is so ingrained in her now to watch out for him after observing me.

I want her to know that she is every bit as important, worthy of undivided attention, and can use her voice to get her needs met. Even if I cannot respond straight away, she is allowed to have feelings about that and I give her room to feel them and make sure she knows how much I wish I could baby her sometimes. 

To give her the pram (if she wanted it), to focus wholeheartedly on her enjoyment and needs sometimes, to be the mum at the park who is not running around with eyes in the back of her head, juggling the needs of two young toddlers. 

Of course, it goes the other way too and I get mum guilt for Baby Inspiration too and the compromises it brings, and therein lies the problem. No matter if you do or don't, there is mum guilt. The only thing that makes it largely better is not having the addition of judgment from other anyone who  judges mum's out there, mum's who do one of the most important, exhausting and challenging jobs on earth, just stop!

Having said that, I know how enriched her life (and ours) is since her little brother came along and now that he's a toddler, how much fun they have together. I can't imagine them not being together as they really are each other's best companion, even if they drive each other up the wall on occasion.

The benefits far, far outweigh any guilt I may feel and it is so fleeting when I see how happy they make each other and us, but in honour of feeling my feelings, I felt I wanted to put this out there in case it helps anyone else. 

Being a mummy to more than one child, especially when there's a very small gap, is a real juggling act, but it's quite possibly my proudest achievement that both of our children are well looked after, healthy, happy, enriched, loved and adored. And they also have a ready made best friend in each other.


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