Guilt tripping

June 8, 2009

Huge hoo-ha about working and non-working mothers over at Alphamummy, with the slightly peculiar notion that those of us who aren’t in the office 24/7 are living lives of gin-soaked misery. Potty Mummy and English Mum have written excellently on the whole issue, so I won’t rehash it all, except to say I think it’s woman’s old enemy, guilt, at work again. Ever since we were fitted up by Adam and his naughty old snake back in the garden of Eden, we women have been taking the blame for everything.

I’ve noticed that Child One, at 13, has suddenly got guilt – she frequently says, ‘you’re trying to make me feel guilty/I feel so guilty’ when I ask her to do simple things like clean up her room. This wouldn’t have happened a year ago and Child Two, two years younger, is still immune.

Once girls and women start feeling guilty and responsible, they are very easy to manipulate. They will do almost anything if you tell them they ‘ought’ to – that it’s their responsibility or duty. I know this, because Child One will now tidy up if I approach her this way – I did it once, but ironically I then felt so guilty that I won’t do it again.

Women are programmed to try to make everything work, to help their employers, to do their best for their children. When they feel defensive and guilty about the sacrifices they are making, though, they will attack – not employers or children but, most likely, other women. This is my theory about the Alphamummy piece and I’m sticking to it. The author feels guilty because she is not at home for her children, so she has a go at stay-at-home mothers instead. Does it make her feel better? Probably it just gives her something new to feel guilty about!

I’ve tried various options myself and find it’s impossible to get the balance – either I work and see that my children feel, and are, neglected, or I stay at home (economic circumstances permitting) and feel resentful that I am denied an outlet in the wider world. There is absolutely no easy way, and too much choice just seems to equal more guilt.

Two things sum it up for me – the first comment left on the Alphamummy article, which reads something like, ‘if you leave work, your colleagues won’t miss you – but your children do.’ The second was a line from Decca Aitkenhead, in her recent profile of Clive James in the Guardian, saying that on their deathbeds, not many men wish they had spent more time at the office.

A lot of women have no choice, however, and have to work, and work very hard, to support their families. We shouldn’t attack them – and they shouldn’t attack us. Ladies, let’s call a truce!

* On another note, I feel very guilty – of course – that I didn’t make it clear that the printer I was raving about last time was actually loaned to me by HP, so that I could review it. I think it costs something like £2,000 so there is no way I could ever actually own one myself unless (please, pretty, pretty please) the HP people take pity on me and let me keep it. It is lovely, though.

* And read about my staycation in Margate and Ramsgate on The site is a wonderful resource if you’re thinking about summer holidays, and is run by the fabulous Linda of

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  • English Mum June 8, 2009 at 6:21 am

    Well said, lovely lady. As I said over on Potty Mummy's blog, when will women stop making each other's lives more difficult? It depresses me that we have no sisterliness (is that even a word?) and are prepared to keep slagging each other's different roles. Aren't we all in it together, where we're stay-at-home/working/running away with the circus/whatever? *sigh*

  • dulwich divorcee June 8, 2009 at 7:17 am

    You're so right, EM, we should all stick together. The circus, you say? That's a great idea, I so want to ride on one of those white horses with a plume ….

  • English Mum June 8, 2009 at 7:44 am

    Ooh, me too! I want a spangly leotard and some of those shimmery tights too tho…

  • dulwich divorcee June 8, 2009 at 7:58 am

    Fantastic! Sarah can be the ringmaster, and the rest of us can trot along in formation with matching spangly leotards …sigh …will that count as being working mothers?

  • itsasmallworldafterallfamily June 8, 2009 at 8:35 am

    I agree with everything you've said! Why can't we just respect each others choices and get on with it. Some days I wish I was in a gin soaked haze, but that's another story…

  • Lindsay June 8, 2009 at 9:33 am

    Your comments about feeling guilty when asking your children to clean their rooms reminded me of how I have landed my son right in it. When he left school and still lived at home he had to clean his room and do his own ironing. He turned out to absolutely love ironing (mad fool). He is now married with two children – he does the ironing for the whole family whilst his wife sits down and watches TV!!!!! Poor chap is what I think – I wish I had never introduced him to the iron.

  • Perfectly Happy Mum June 8, 2009 at 9:49 am

    You are so right there!! Why is it that we constantly feel we have to explaing why we make any decision and especially to other women? We are so worried to be judged, it is so sad really.
    What people should really start doing is realise that we are all different people with different circumstances and like you rightly said some can stay at home and not work, some can't afford it. Some love staying at home and crafting and just hate it!
    There is no need for any of us to feel we are doing better or worse than the others just because we made different decisions. We should just decide what is right for ourselves and that's it. And that my friends is called tolerance! Let's all be tolerant…
    Well on that note I smell a smell that tells me a nappy needs to be changed… my favourite job in the world… not!

  • Linda June 8, 2009 at 9:57 am

    Hiya – I actually physically collapsed at the weekend through trying to do too much – I would make a crap stay at home mum – and would love to be able to do that – I never understand why any 'battlelines' need to be drawn and have always been a fan of working part-time so that you can in theory at least, get the best of both worlds, course you end up getting the worst. I loved having time with my children before I went back to work (one day a week when they were seven months) I was lucky as the 'dilemma' about returning to work when they were really little didn't exist – with two of the same age, childcare options were limited – I wanted to work four days a week by the time they were at school, but of course what I failed to mention is I'm a workaholic and work went through the roof – I chose to share it out so I didn't kill myself. And here I am six years later, blacking out, something has to give! I admire and respect mums who are at home with the children – same as I respect the mums who aren't – son long as the kids are loved and happy – who the hell am I to pass judgement? But if they're not, then it's time to reassess I think!

    Good day, it's back to death for me. (You know what I mean!) And thank you for the link, you are such a lovely and classy lady. Wish I could be more like that.

  • dulwich divorcee June 8, 2009 at 10:10 am

    Hi IASWAA, I so agree about the gin haze, why has this never been an option for me? That Times lady obviously knows all the good coffee mornings!

  • dulwich divorcee June 8, 2009 at 10:11 am

    Hi Lindsay, well, if your son wasn't already married, I'd definitely be dragging him down the aisle! Bringing up a man who likes ironing is excellent work in my book – well done you!

  • dulwich divorcee June 8, 2009 at 10:12 am

    PHM, yes, tolerance is the way – women can be very competitive, I'm not sure why. Hope that nappy wasn't a 'special'! You won't believe me but I even feel a bit nostalgic about nappy days now girls are so big!

  • dulwich divorcee June 8, 2009 at 10:20 am

    Linda, what are you like???? Go and lie down immediately and get your husband/girls to make you a cup of tea or ten! You do miles too much, but you do it all so well I can see why you want to! I think the website is doing brilliantly. I keep trying to put a link in my blogroll but it doesn't come out – no idea why. Your compliment has made my day! You are wonderful and classy and unique already – don't you dare change a thing xx

  • Potty Mummy June 8, 2009 at 1:25 pm

    DD, thanks for the link and for your honest post. A truce, I say, a truce! Especially since that's all I was asking for the in the first place.

    And now that's out of the way, please can I be the candyfloss seller at your circus? Pretty please?

  • That Girl June 8, 2009 at 2:46 pm

    Ooh… something close to my own heart right now. Having done both and now about to be a part-time-work-at-home-mum again (see… there's just so many different variations!), these debates always interest me! Whatever choices we make we should respect each others… trouble is that doesn't seem to happen very often. And now I'll stop wittering and go read the article!

  • MelRox June 8, 2009 at 10:18 pm

    Nice post 🙂

  • geekymummy June 8, 2009 at 10:57 pm

    Spot on with the guilt angle, divorcee, I like your analysis. I work (full time, the joys of life in the USA, I'm so envious of all the flexibility UK mums get that I may even return) and I do feel guilty that I don't want to spend all day of every day with my babies. But I love my job too. I want to have it all; happy children, and a career. But I appreciate that not everyone wants this, or even believes it possible, and that we are lucky as women of the 21st century to have these choices.

  • Not Waving but Drowning June 9, 2009 at 8:15 am

    Couldn't agree more re guilt thing.


  • dulwich divorcee June 11, 2009 at 8:44 am

    Hi PM, great, glad to have you on board as the candy-floss seller, I think that post comes with shimmery tights too!

    That Girl, I know, choices, choices …..

    MelRox, thanks!

    Geeky M, I know I ought to feel lucky about all the choice, but sometimes (shoot me!) I think it might have been easier when we didn't have to make it all up ourselves ….love your blog, btw!

    NW, isn't guilt a pig? Wish we could have bypasses on the NHS!

  • 小貓咪 August 10, 2009 at 8:25 am