All women these days feel guilty. It comes with being female. And I’m not just talking about those pangs of remorse when we blow the diet by polishing off the last couple of chocolate biscuits in the packet. No, I mean the deep-seated, stomach-churning, hand-wringing emotional guilt that comes with being a mum, daughter, sister, friend and lover. The kind of guilt that comes with realising that you can’t be all things to all people all of the time, no matter how hard we try.
Last week I felt guilty when:
I told my mother I couldn’t see her for lunch because I had to work;
I couldn’t watch Beth dancing because I’d already agreed to see my son, Josh, play football;
An old friend rang to check I was still alive because she hadn’t heard from me in months;
I didn’t have time to read with Josh;
I cancelled an arrangement with my sister because I had to attend a school meeting;
I turned down a rare opportunity to spend time with Lillie because I had to visit my mother.
And so it goes on. I am forever trying to fulfil my obligations to the people I love. I do this on a regular basis of course, by cooking their meals, washing their clothes, providing taxi service etc but this is not what counts. I want to spend time with those I love doing things that we enjoy but it isn’t always possible. So, I settle for some lunatic juggling arrangement that means I can just about cover the basics like work, medical appointments and regular phone bulletins to my mum (and woe betide me if I default on this one!).
To expand on that last point, to be fair, my mum is in her 80s. I am aware that I might regret not making the most of every minute spent in her company but no matter how much time I devote to her, it will never be enough. The truth is that I do see her on a regular basis but that doesn’t compensate for her being lonely and I know that she would like to see more of Lillie, Beth and Josh but then so would I. The girls, in particular, are growing up fast and would rather be with their friends than spend time with their mum or nan.
My life is imperfect, disordered, chaotic and a constant race against time. Like all women, I have to make difficult choices and do the best I can. I cope with most things, but the guilt stays with me all the time.
Now, it must be about time for a chocolate biscuit…