Monday, March 11, 2013

Guilt

Here's the definition of Guilt, according to the internet (which is always right!)

Noun: The fact of having committed a specified or implied offense or crime.
Synonyms: fault, blame, sin, crime, culpability

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I can't even count the number of blog posts I've read which are about Guilt - worse, Mommy Guilt (ugh, that phrase sends chills up my spine!). It seems like such a theme wound throughout conversations among friends who are mothers, in the blog world, the internet, and how many hundreds or thousands of parenting books. There's tips about how to handle your guilt, women bemoaning their guilt, or shamefully admitting that which makes them feel guilty. Or, articles written by mothers who are proudly sharing something which perhaps they "should" feel guilty about (says who, again??) but either don't feel the guilt, or are "embracing the guilt."

Here's my secret, and I hope this post doesn't come across the wrong way:

I don't believe in Mommy Guilt, and refuse to participate in the Guilt Game.

I am nowhere near a perfect mother. Some days I wonder if I provide her with enough stimulation - either through myself or the experiences which I allow her to have. Sometimes I give her Mac & Cheese for lunch and no, it's not organic. I ask her to play a lot by herself while I take care of other things around the house, or while I sit still to regroup for a minute or thirty. My mom laughed at me while we were on the phone the other day and I asked my 22 month old daughter to "back off please." Nope, I'm not perfect, but guess what? I do not feel guilty about that. I don't necessarily feel proud if it either, but I admit it because it is what it is. I have 24 hours in a day, and I have things to do (and sometimes, that involves catching my breath, or putting my feet up for a second so I can continue to be effective). I do do plenty of great things for and with my daughter, and I work hard to provide her with childhood which is on the neutral to happy end of the spectrum, and I know she's a happy little girl, who knows she's adored by me - and at the end of the day, that's what matters to me. What else matters to me is that I do the best I can do, and my standards are entirely my own. I don't need to compare my choices to the choices of someone with an unlimited income, a naturally larger reserve of energy, or a bigger house, or different priorities, etc. I play the game I've been dealt, and you should too!

I will admit that I feel guilt when circumstances call for it. I've shamefully felt like retaliating against my toddler when she's difficult. That's wrong. I've snapped when I shouldn't, and said things and used tones I shouldn't use. I'm not saying guilt has zero place in our stash of emotions - but I am saying it should be properly felt when the circumstances call for it. Like, being mean out of frustration. Saying a white lie because it's easier. Not when we make choices we make out of love, or out of necessity given the circumstances.

I can't tell you the times I've read about or talked to mothers who say they feel guilty because they work, instead of staying home, which they might prefer sometimes. If this is you, ask yourself why? Feel sad if this makes your sad, or frustrated when you feel stretched so thin you can barely breathe. But guilty? For providing for your family when you've made this decision (I assume) based on circumstances which only you know? You worked hard for your career and are proud of where you are and don't want to give it up? There should be no shame in that. Or, your family depends on your income? Then you are doing what needs to be done - and should never feel guilty. I've read about mother's who feel guilty for not meeting their breastfeeding goals, but then proceed to talk about why not. Their supply didn't come in, they needed to take a certain medication which was incompatible, they couldn't pump and had to go back to work. Or mother's who wanted to cloth diaper but their baby had thrush so badly it could only be treated with disposables. Again - I understand disappointment in not meeting a goal, but that shouldn't be confused with guilt for trying hard and having circumstances prevent it.

Motherhood is hard. It's hard to feel pulled in a million directions, or to have so many balls in the air that to address the most pressing means dropping another. Prioritizing stinks sometimes, but when we deprioritize something important, it's because there is something more pressing that needs our attention. It's hard to have to choose between two choices which both suck (do I make my baby cry-it-out, or continue down the path of waking every hour to soothe baby back to sleep? On the one hand, making my baby cry is just god-awful, but on the other, I can't be so sleep deprived that I'm an ineffective person/partner/parent!). I imagine it will be very difficult to have two kids crying, both who need their mama, and I will have to choose which one to tend to first. Making tough choices shouldn't make us feel guilty - it should make us feel like parents who understand our limitations given the circumstances, and who acknowledge that sometimes we are forced to do things we don't want to do.

Confession: I wish I could enroll Ellie is some fun extracurricular kind of activities sometimes. She'd love more physical activity and she's so smart, I know that she'd benefit from additional stimulation outside the house. But that's not in our budget. So the responsible choice is that we pay the bills we have and save what we can, and anticipate future expenses of having a second kid, and that's that. I can't feel guilty for doing what's right for my family. Another confession: I rely on people for help a lot right now. I ask my husband for help all the time, and regularly depend on my mom to watch my daughter. I'd love to be more self-sufficient, but I just am not right now. I'm in the throes of the third trimester of an exhausting pregnancy, and I need help, and I can't let myself feel like I'm committing a sin. These are my limitations right now, and I do the best I can. Another: I am almost entirely physically unable to do anything active with my high energy girl right now. She'd love it if I could take her to the park, or anywhere fun, but I really cannot. Putting my body through that kind of activity is so hard right now, and I pay for it with days of pain. And that makes me entirely ineffective as a mother and wife - not to mention that I won't be a martyr with my body for some park time. I can sit with her and read her books and play with apps on my phone and snuggle her, and that's going to have to be sufficient for this period of time. She knows she's loved. I'm doing my best.

My wish to whoever is reading this is to find something which made you feel guilty today, examine the guilt, and then let it go. Unless you smacked your kid because you elicit joy from seeing your baby cry, I highly doubt what made you feel guilty is cause for true guilt. Give yourself some grace - this journey is tough, and you are doing the best you can, and your children know they are loved.

2 comments:

  1. Thanks for that, Julia. We all need to hear it sometimes.

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  2. Kudos to you for avoiding the "guilt games". And you're right to reframe it, and it should not be confused with frustration, sleep deprivation, self doubt or other emotions. Thank you for your post and giving some much needed perspective on this topic.

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