London - A mother's guilt is a terrible and indiscriminate thing. It gets us all.
Many years ago, a magazine editor I worked for told me how horribly guilty and jealous she felt when she arrived home from work (at 7pm at the earliest, after a stressful day) and stood in the hall, listening to her only child giggling with the nanny.
Only 24 at the time, with no children of my own yet, I ventured to suggest she would surely feel worse if her daughter was crying because she missed her mother. Tearfully, my editor nodded.
If it wasn’t guilt about something I wasn’t doing, it was remorse because of something I had done, or anxiety that, along the way, I’d done a lot wrong, or not done enough that was "right".
WHY AM I BORED AND LONELY?
You’ve been hijacked by this strange little creature who is now in your life for ever (I should stress here that none of these comments have anything to do with post-natal depression, which is a separate, very serious issue.)
A low day for me came in 1975 when I’d arranged to take a phone call from the editor of The Sunday Times, the famous Harry Evans.
This was such a big deal for a young freelancer: to know that the great man rated me and wanted to discuss a potentially important feature. I’d put my baby, Daniel, then 13 months, in the next room with a mountain of toys, as well as a soothing cassette tape — and began the conversation.
Within minutes, Daniel yelled and crawled to get my attention, then screamed while I desperately, fruitlessly, tried to pretend that he wasn’t there. Soon, the kindly editor cut our call with a brisk: "I think you’d better go, love."
Frustrated - because, at that moment, I desperately wanted to be a hot-shot journalist, not a mother at home - I really resented my poor little child.
I FEEL SO JEALOUS OF THE NANNY
Working women will tear themselves into pieces trying to be perfect mothers who make good packed lunches and costumes for school plays, keep up with numeracy and literacy key stages, arrange play dates - and remain good at their jobs. The strain can be terrible.
Frazzled women, once determined to keep food healthy, find themselves guiltily shoving chicken nuggets into their seven-year-olds because it makes life easier.
Then you find yourself longing for bedtime. Believe me, the phrase ‘wine o’clock’ is understood by mothers for very good reason. You feel guilty for hurrying the bedtime story (just a little) because you long for that restoring glass, then equally guilty when the glass becomes two or three.
THEIR BAD BEHAVIOUR IS ALL MY FAULT
If you worry when they’re young that you haven’t got down and played enough, your child’s teenage years can impel poor mum to become too playful -embarrassingly so.
Most parents know the pain of realising that children don’t need you any more (not in the same way) and want their own space.
They think there’s nothing worse than a parent getting down with the kids - but you can’t resist.
DID I NOT LOVE THEM ENOUGH?
Someone I know - a working mother - admitted ruefully that, by the time her children reached the stage of leaving home, she’d be following them around, almost begging for their company.
She said: "In those early years, motherhood feels interminable and you feel guilty for not spending more time in the garden looking for wildlife and teaching them important things - but then, suddenly, they’re in their late-teens and they don’t want to know and it all seems to be slipping through your fingers."
For me, the problem wasn’t my children actually leaving home because I never wanted to hang on and was relaxed about "empty-nest syndrome." But I did want them to come back - to still see home as central to their lives.
WHY CAN’T I KEEP MY MOUTH SHUT?
If your adult children row with you and say things that hurt your feelings, you know that, in the end, you have to be the one to make things right. Because it’s you who is still the grown-up in this relationship. Whatever happens.
As a grandmother now, I feel this as powerfully as ever. You have to learn to keep your mouth closed and if, by accident, you let an opinion slip (‘Darling, isn’t it time he had a haircut?’), you must be ready to cope with the irritation (to put it mildly) you have known since that dear little child first scowled: ‘No, Mummy, go away!’ - and pierced your heart.