For some reason this guilt eases slightly between the hours of 4 and 6pm. As a child I can remember quite a nice time of day, when, home from school, my mum would bring me a peanut butter and jam sandwich and a glass of milk and let me watch Blue Peter or Krackerjack. Wholesome. So somehow it seems permissable to plonk a child in front of the TV whilst you prepare a nutritious supper for your family. Or grill some fish fingers. But the non stop reel of Messrs Maker and Tumble from 7am to 7pm just feels all wrong. And leaves the question hanging in the air - how DID they get anything done prior to the launch of all day children's programming?! I can almost picture the pretty mothers in gingham aprons with spick and span houses, their shiny faced little ones playing contentedly on their freshly scrubbed floors with the few wooden toys they could afford. Imagine their horror if they turned up now and witnessed the fish finger eating naked child currently in a trance on the sofa, and then cast their glance over my glitter glue smeared and marginally unhygenic kitchen.
Of course the CBeebies Guilt is just a drop in the whole guilt infested parenting ocean. Food is another great one. Fish fingers sum it up. They're easy, quick, make hardly any washing up, kids love 'em. You would think it was a no brainer that they should be dished up to children on a nightly basis. But no. They are wrong. Morally, ethically, nutritionally, whichever way you look at it. Wrong. To be a truly good mother you must buy responsibly sourced fish from Waitrose, crumb it yourself 'a la Karmel', and pan fry in organic butter. Serve in an arrangement on the plate designed to look like a scene from the Little Mermaid (the book, not the film of course), with green bean seaweed, carrot fish and a broccoli octopus. Your child will eat the lot and thank you afterwards before asking to get down. Any other mealtime scenario, for example chicken dippers, ketchup and Zingzillas, and you can consider yourself a Failure.
And don't even think about trying to tell me you know about Parenting Guilt until you have had your second child. Those idyllic couple of years with the first one, when you were at your Julie Andrews parenting best, is long gone, and you know it, when you find yourself yelling 'Because I SAID SOOOOO' at your toddler (who is standing on the kitchen table, eating a fish finger, naked). Your first child was held, caressed, read to, talked to and generally bathed in the warm glow of your love, until the second one came along, and now your standards have dropped in all departments: the telly is on, the chicken dippers are in the grill, there is sick in your hair and poo up your fingernails, the dog is afraid of you, and the new baby chews mindlessly on an empty crisp packet in her bouncer. Soon she will graduate to CBeebies and you will celebrate the exquisite relief of that moment by actually finishing a cup of tea. Whilst feeling horribly guilty.
And it gets worse. The guilt deepens like Larkin's coastal shelf once you begin to notice the massive psychological impact that your parenting is having. It only takes a basic knowledge of child development and a bog standard level of self awareness to realise that the cheery Hull librarian knew what he was talking about, and his words have a nasty tendency to echo in your sleep deprived head as you yell your way through your day. 'They fuck you up, your mum and dad'. They certainly may not mean to, but they absolutely do, as sure as Hello Moon follows Goodbye Sun.
In fact there's nothing like having children for holding a most unflattering mirror up to your personality as a whole, particularly once they start talking. Gradually you begin to see and hear all your own grotty little defects being replayed back to you in a helium voiced mini version of your own good self. My toddler takes off her clothes at bedtime and thoughtlessly chucks them on the bathroom floor. Just like me. She is mind bendingly stubborn. Check. Opinionated. Check. Argumentative. Check. She whinges and has horrible stroppy little tantrums when she's hungry. Ah, there I am again.
I apologise now, my dear little blank canvases, you came to me like tiny enlightened Buddhas, and I am slowly turning you into...people. Telly watching, junk food eating, emotional, imperfect, alarmingly real, disarmingly beautiful...people.