At Watergate Bay


In my mind

I am standing on the shore

At Watergate Bay

The Beach feels so large

And I so small.

Ahead I can see for miles

There is nothing

Except the sun setting into the sea

It’s light drenching me

In pinks and golds

It sets too slowly to see

But soon I know it will be gone

Taking me with it

Extinguishing the warmth and light I am bathing in

I anticipate the loss

But in that moment feel so alive and content

The children are throwing their frisbee

The sunlight glistens in their hair

I am so aware of them

But they are not aware of me

This is how I will remember them

Not shouting at them to put their shoes on

Nor frustrated at the vegetables left on the plate

But playing happily.

My husband is watching me watching them and he is sad

He knows what I am thinking

The light is about to go out

And I will not be there at the sunrise

Just the three of them

And I wonder if I will have given them enough warmth

Enough light to last them through?

That is the musing of a dying mother.

The Guilt Mindset

I have a strong memory from 7 years old. I am sitting in the entrance hall of my primary school- patiently waiting in line to see the Priest for Confession. I’m trying to recall something I have recently done wrong. The brief from the teacher is that this meeting between the two of us is an opportunity to confess my sins, but I can’t think of any. I call upon the help of the girl sitting next to me to see what she plans to divulge. Content that staying along similar lines of my friend’s rudeness to her Mum, I happily go into the room (the headmasters office, acting as the temporary confessional) to ask for forgiveness. I don’t remember the exact conversation, but I do remember that after school that day I tell my mum that I must say three Hail Marys and help with the washing-up as penance. I duly do this on the basis that God will know if I don’t, and will pass this information on – I imagine some sort of holy bat phone.

This is my earliest memory of Catholic Guilt. I am sure the intention by the school, church and my mother was not to make me feel guilty, but the outcome of having the notions of sin and forgiveness drummed into you at such a young age – by such high authority- left an imprint of guilt for ever more. I hadn’t actually done anything wrong that day – I can rationalise that now- however the assumption of the process I was in was that I must have.

I continued having these ‘Confessions’ with the priest until my early teens with growing scepticism. Sometimes my ‘sins’ were a bit made up, played up or played down, but I still felt like God would be pleased that I had made the effort. Eventually I became too synical about God really giving a toss about my minor crimes against humanity – or more usually against my younger sister- and decided I would take my chances on being diverted to hell in a handcart for not regularly wiping my slate clean with Forgiveness.

All was well, and I spent about a decade in relative selfishness, doing what I wanted, without too much care or responsibility.

Then I had children, and a familiar feeling started to creep in. This time it was Mother’s Guilt. The institutions of the school, the church and my parents were replaced by two small people – far more formidable. When they were babies I didn’t leave them that often or for that long, so I didn’t feel it so much then. However when I returned to work and started doing the drop off at nursery, this change seemed to be totally unacceptable for the smalls. The mammoth feat in the morning of getting them out of the door left me feeling terrible for forcing my routine on them, and getting cross when we were running late. The nursery drop off consisted of hysterics and dramatics as the nursery assistant peeled my children off me. I would then receive a call about 15 mins later on the way to work to tell me they were absolutely fine and had stopped crying the moment I had left, but I still questioned if I should be leaving them in this manner.

The fact that they were happy at nursery after I left each morning did eventually give me perspective. My children actually had lots of fun with staff that were very caring. They did more things at nursery than would have been possible at home with me – socialising, body painting, eating as a group, singing and endless story telling, feeding the animals, generally making a huge mess. But of course I still questioned my decision to work, and I felt immense guilt – the irony is that they don’t remember any of this time is not lost on me. Recently we drove past their nursery and I pointed at it asking if they remembered going there. It was a resounding no! I can only imagine that the positive experiences they had 0-5 are banked, and lie in a sub-concious that tells them all was well during that time.

As they have got older – 9 and 7 –I feel they remember more, and their emotional needs can be so great. It’s not about missing the first word or step, but perhaps missing the bedtime when they’ve had a bad day, been picked on, or achieved something really amazing that they want to share. Parenting has been described as the gradual process of letting go, and I feel this keenly at times. More guilt! Will I regret not spending more time? Will I wake up one day to find their beds suddenly empty and cry into their pillows? Should I have heeded the warnings of the grandparents I would meet while out pushing the children in the buggy that time goes so fast? I asked that question once of a female colleague with older children, and she said she just tries not to think of the What If’s too much, it’s the decision she made and she can’t change it now. I liked the sound of what she said, admiring her certainty, and wonder if it really can be a simple as that to make peace with it in your mind.

I don’t know how I will feel with the benefit of hindsight. All I do know is that I wasn’t completely happy about being a stay at home mum, and for me it’s important – no imperative – to have balance. It’s true that wherever I am, I feel I should be somewhere else, and there are days where I feel I have done nothing ‘properly’. There are also days when I am so busy with work that I don’t think about the children very much at all. When I do think about them on the way home I feel guilty that I should have thought about them more.

I am aware of the danger I am in around the permanence of a Guilt Mindset.

I wonder who else lives with a guilty feeling for more of the time than is healthy. It may not be because of children: elderly parents; not taking opportunities in life; not getting a degree; getting divorced; losing a friendship; drinking too much; eating too much; not keeping on top of the housework.

Ditching the Catholic Guilt (OK it’s still there a bit) was relatively easy as I look back, as I had the ability to disconnect from the process of going to confession and going to church. You can’t disconnect from day-to-day life and memories in the same way, however I do feel that not addressing a Guilt Mindset at all has the potential to affect your mental health.

I consciously try and put my faith in doing my best and having balance in my own life. In turn I hope this will encourage the same for my children, and they will remember the time we did have together rather than the time we didn’t. Talking to others in a similar situation reminds me that I am not alone.

What do you feel guilty about that you could let go of?

woman carrying baby at beach during sunset
Photo by Pixabay on

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