"Don't feel guilty" - a statement often uttered by those trying to reassure/comfort someone feeling bad about something. Like much language it's often tossed about frequently online, particularly parenting forums, "mommy blogs" - anywhere a collection of women (who typically feel guilt far more frequently than men) group around an emotive subject.
But it hit me recently that "don't feel guilty", can actually provoke feelings of guilt. It can in itself imply a person is or should be feeling guilty.
I was chatting to my mum whilst driving, I can't even remember what about and it's not relevant anyway; what I do remember is I was expressing upset/sadness over a situation and my mother's reply - "well don't feel guilty". Up until that point I hadn't felt at all guilty, it was a situation completely beyond my control, but the fact my mum had said what she said, obviously implied she thought I could be feeling guilty. Otherwise why mention it?
Here's how it often goes online:
"I'm feeling really down today as I had to give little x a bottle today, we're just really struggling with the breastfeeding and he hasn't gained enough weight. I'm in agony so will be sad to stop breastfeeding but think it's time to throw in the towel."
The reply often goes along the lines of:
"X don't feel guilty, you have done your best, happy mum = happy baby etc etc etc".
The mum didn't express guilt, she expressed upset, sadness but not guilt. Telling her not to feel guilty isn't going to help or empower her to become less sad/upset is it?
Furthermore even if the mum was feeling guilt - since when did saying "don't feel <insert whatever emotion here<" ever stop anyone feeling it? Oh well yes now you've said that, all is dandy!
Still not convinced?
If you ever find yourself in a position of trying to breastfeed and your midwife/health visitor/breastfeeding counsellor is sat with you - yet it STILL hurts, or baby isn't gaining or settled or whatever; and then they say something along the lines of "well it appears OK", without giving you any practical help you resolve your problem or give you answers as to why you're struggling. Reverse the situation and say "it's OK don't feel guilty you can't help me". What reaction would you expect?
Oh and don't forget to add "please refer me to someone who can" ;)