It’s easy to feel guilty. Ask any mum. In fact, just ask any woman. There’s always something we think we should be doing better.
I know that if I exercise, go outside, eat vegetables, drink water and read a book, I’ll feel much more energised and healthy, and that my quality of sleep will improve. I want to write a novel and pitch articles to my favourite magazines and websites, and I’m trying to start my own social enterprise. I love to be creative. But you know what? There are only so many hours in the day. And babies take up most of them.
There’s guilt for giving Sylvie the same breakfast again, or for having toast when I planned to have porridge. Guilt for spending all day inside when we have wellies and waterproofs. There’s always television guilt, no matter how many times I have to tell myself it’s fine. There’s guilt for working when she’s awake, guilt for playing with her when I’m on a deadline, guilt for watching YouTube for ten minutes instead of clearing up when she’s finally in bed.
These are just a small selection of the things I beat myself with on an almost daily basis, and I’m fairly sure most people have the same inner monologue. I should be doing this, eating that, going there. It’s too much.
In a world where the pressure is always on, it’s time to give ourselves a break. Time to be gentle to one another, but mostly to ourselves.
The world is burning, we are being told constantly. Millennials are the reason so many industries are failing. Everyone needs a side-hustle. Television rots the brain. If you’re not working, you’re wasting time. Even William the Adulterer is telling us off.
Basically, fuck it.
The ways in which I have chosen to be kind to myself include: subscribing to a bunch of great newsletters that brighten up my day; muting certain words on Twitter; curating my Instagram feed to show mostly pictures of sheep and beaches; reading whatever the hell I want.
The last item is particularly big, and something I started doing in the past couple of years. I’m ashamed to admit (guilt again!) that I rejected books with a pink glittery shoe and bottle of prosecco on the cover. I was busy reading complex Man Booker winners and classics to bother with “chick lit” (that gross, anti-women term).
And then I picked up a book by Jenny Colgan because the cover caught my eye. And I loved it. And then my baby got a vomiting bug and we spent a week lying on the floor of the living room, listening to audio recordings of Colgan’s gentle books.
At the moment, I’m deep into the first draft of a novel about cults and cannibals. It has meant lots of dark, disturbing reading and constant gruesome research. As much as I love writing it, I have been delighted to put it aside each day and reach for The Telephone Box Library. Gentle plot, comfort reading. It’s okay to want to read for escape.
There are things we should feel guilty about: broken friendships, food waste. There are things we should not feel guilty about: 95% of the rest. Being kind to ourselves is having a moment, and I’m not condoning cancelling long-standing plans for the third time, no matter how many people tell themselves it’s “self-care”.
But taking a moment to make sure the things around you are adding value to your life instead of making it harder… that’s worth something. Let’s be gentle to ourselves, too.