‘That’s not fair’: With my large family, mum-guilt is the biggest chore of all

I’ve been a parent for 18 years and my battle with mum-guilt is raging as fiercely as ever

Familiarity breeds contempt, it’s alleged, though if you were to apply that logic to my children, you might easily mistake them for active chores doers, with their vociferous and dramatic objections to being asked to put their used cereal bowls in the kitchen, viewed akin to being the straw that broke the camel’s back.

On this particular occasion, it was probably the only job the three-year-old was asked to do – because he’s three and that’s really as much as is expected of him.

Plus he broke the vacuum cleaner the last time he tried to vacuum the stairs.

Those were the days he liked to “help” mammy and copy what she did, just a few weeks ago, before “that’s not fair’ became the soundtrack to his summer.


The fear of missing out on the obvious craic of objecting loudly, to even the most simple of requests, proved too much and he has now wandered over to the dark side – the serial chore-objectors. However, the force is strong in me, as is my insistence that everyone pull their weight. We are a family and everyone must muck in. So, helping out a little at home is a non-negotiable for all – even if “no one else is expected to”, as I’m regularly assured.

Yet, for all my conviction when it comes to matters such as these, for all my self-perceived rational thinking that these are life skills I’m teaching my children, for all my sense of certainty that this is the way things should be because there’s millions of them and only one of me, I cannot seem to apply the same sense of logic to other walks of parenting life.

Echoes of “that’s not fair” appear to infiltrate my waking thoughts and moments when applied to almost any situation that is susceptible to mum-guilt. Which in my case can mean practically everything.

Including my inability to be available on tap to my children over the summer holidays.

Eighteen years I’ve been a parent – and the battle with mum-guilt is still as fierce as ever. It started after my daughter was born as I tried desperately to read the newborn cues. Sometimes I got them right and sometimes I doubted she could possibly be hungry again, having fed just 40 minutes earlier. The realisation she could, and that I hadn’t picked up on this immediately, was enough to open the floodgates as I questioned my fitness to be a mother at all.

Little comfort

It continued as she cried being left with her childminder at an early hour, while I began the long commute to work. That I went part-time from the moment of her birth in an attempt to reduce the hours she would have to spend there, still gave me little comfort – because mum-guilt means you never cut yourself any slack.

When my third child was frequently in hospital during the early years of his life, I felt huge guilt for my toddler son at home who was missing his mammy and couldn’t understand what was going on. And when more new babies arrived and I saw the delighted looks of pure love on the children’s faces, I felt guilty as the previous youngest watched me nurse the new baby, now occupying the position on my lap that had been theirs.

Once again this summer I’m struggling. “Are we doing anything today?” is the question I’m asked each morning by eagerly anticipating children, who don’t have expensive, unrealistic expectations but who don’t quite grasp that, school holidays or not, mum still has to work. Immediately the guilt kicks in.

And yet I’ve noticed, as has been the case throughout his parenting journey, dad-guilt is not an issue for my husband. Then again, he’s never had to listen to their objections about him working.

I’ve often wondered whether mum-guilt is intrinsic to the female DNA. Or whether it’s because the struggle to juggle just affects us more?

As he looks forward to his upcoming annual leave and time with the family, I spend my days fretting and feeling guilty – will I have made enough memories?

Am I the only mother who spends much of her life chasing her tail, winging it and hoping all will be okay in the end?

Will they think of their childhood as idyllic as I pictured it being? And as they grow up more quickly than I anticipated, have I enough time left to make it so?

One thing would definitely help – if they cleaned their rooms the first time of asking rather than arguing over whose dirty socks they actually are. The time we might save . . .