A few years ago I had the most amazing opportunity to go on a yoga and meditation retreat in India.
I had wanted to visit India for the longest time but babies and work had pushed this way out. When I found myself in the position to be able to go, well, it didn’t take long for me to jump at it. I’ve been practicing yoga for a long time and this was my chance to practice at the source. And to also take some time out for myself. To reflect, to catch my breath.
Me and my youngest had finished breastfeeding the year before and although she was just two when this chance came, I felt it might never come again. I had had my last two girls very close together and to say the previous two years had been a blur is a completed understatement. Also, please don’t ever buy a house when you are heavily pregnant. I really have only vague recollections of signing and viewing. My sciatica was a lot more on my mind then than buying a home.
I arrived in Goa to a very beautiful retreat centre on a gorgeous early morning in February. I would be there for 10 days with a couple of days in Abu Dhabi on the way home. My first jet-lagged yoga class in the yoga shala was absolutely gorgeous, birds singing outdoors, warm waves of heat blowing through as I lay down in savasana. And my first night was great.
But on day 2 the tears started to come. And with them came the guilt.
I shouldn’t be here, I’m such a selfish mother, how are my kids going to cope without me? My kids were actually happy out. In fact, the kids were having a much better time with fun Nanny around than Eat your dinner Mum. No, it wasn’t them. It was me. The mothers’ guilt was overwhelming. I cried in class. Strangers hugged me, supported me. One other mother looked on and couldn’t understand what was going on with me. I can’t blame her, I couldn’t either.
And then on Day 4, I noticed I had 5 missed calls from the girls’ school. My panic sent the sweats rolling off me. Who had fallen in the playground? Whose lunch had been forgotten to be packed? And how could I fix it all so far away? No one had in fact been maimed in the playground; the secretary was just looking for a PPS number. I think it was after that call with the school that something finally switched in my head and I thought, you know what, I haven’t come all this way to cry over my family and worry about how the house was being managed. Control freak, anyone? Time to call time on this BS.
I rationalised that I couldn’t be angry with the school for phoning me 5 times (on the 5th attempt they did finally try the girls’ father) as historically I was always the one who dealt with the school stuff. And Yes, historically I was usually the one who cuddled them if they fell or listened to their tales of woes and playground injustices. So, my learning from that school call was that I really needed to get over myself and out of my own way. I had wanted to make this trip for years and now I was here I was letting guilt and self-doubt overshadow my experience. Guilt, I might add, about maybes. Maybe they’re missing me. Maybe they’re not managing without me.
For the remainder of my trip, I had a ball. I practised yoga twice a day and meditated every morning. I ate amazing food, swam in the beautiful Arabian Sea. I mastered my headstand and drank Old Monk rum. And I realised that I need a lot more of this letting go stuff. I am not omnipotent, the world will not collapse without me at the helm. And though I didn’t ask too many questions when I got back though I really wanted to ( like how much tv did you watch? How much Nutella did you eat?), I thanked the lucky stars that I had been able to go. That I had the physical, emotional and financial supports right then at that point in time to enable me to make my trip.
So, mother’s guilt. It’s real and sometimes we trip ourselves up trying to do everything and feel guilty when we can’t. But you know what? The world does not revolve around us and the kids are usually ok. Mine adore their Granny and she adores them so really, any problems are in my head. They might get a few more treats, stay up a bit later, watch too much tv, but hey, those are the breaks. And take them when you can. I’m not saying you have to go to India to suffer your first major mother’s guilt breakdown. It happens every time I have to work and miss a school performance or don’t have the time to make the best and most elaborate cakes for the cake sale. Or when I want to give the synopsised version of the story at bedtime because I just want some downtime myself. There will always be the guilt. But we have to learn to manage it, to let it go and to take the breaks and the support when we can. And to let go of the crazy pressures we put on ourselves to be Wonder Women.