At approximately 5:56 this morning, James woke me up to declare that he would enjoy a warm bowl of macaroni and cheese for breakfast. Absurdly, I felt a little guilty when I informed him that no, we would be sticking with cheerios and milk. Which got me thinking about mother’s guilt. Lately, I’ve been noticing lately that I feel guilty a lot of the time. Some the guilty feelings are probably well earned. Like when I snap at James because I am feeling rushed to get out the door in the morning. Or when I forget to feed the cats for the second day in a row (this has only happened once, I promise). Or when I realize that I should have changed Kasia an hour earlier because she has now peed through her diaper (this has happened more than once, unfortunately).
But I also tend to spend a lot of time feeling guilty for no good reason. A lot of it has to do the object of my attention. I feel guilty when I’m paying attention to James because I’m not giving Kasia any attention. Guilty when I’m playing attention to Kasia because James has to entertain himself. Guilty when I’ve got Kasia on my lap while I’m reading to James because then they are each only getting half of my attention. Guilty when I’m cleaning the house because then neither of them is getting any attention from me at all (I’m pretty sure that only a mother can feel guilty while cleaning). Guilty when I am folding laundry and watching TV at night after bedtime because I’m not paying attention to my husband (aka Andy). Guilty when the house is clean, the laundry is done, the kids are sleeping and I’m hanging out with Andy because the cats didn’t get enough attention (er, make that ANY attention) during the day. Guilty at work because I feel like I should be with my children. Guilty at home because I feel like I should be working.
Tuesday mornings are usually the closest I get to guilt-free. James is happy at 4K, Andy is busy working, Kasia usually naps, and I am able to catch up on household chores and stay in touch with work via e-mail and voicemail. Every once in a while I even sit down with a cup of coffee and enjoy a guilt free half an hour with the ladies at The View. But then I realize I’m enjoying myself without my children and husband and feel—you guessed it—a wee bit guilty. Seriously, what is with the guilt?!?
I know I’m not alone in feeling this way, because when I googled “mother’s guilt,” I got 5,430,000 results. That’s a lot of guilt. Where does it come from? My “research” tells me that women often feel responsible for everyone and all of their feelings. Hmmm, sounds vaguely familiar. Another source informs me that some mothers are perfectionists who believe that they should be able to do everything for everyone all the time, perfectly. That we feel that if we only we could get it right, there would be no tears, no feeling of boredom, no arguments, no worry. No guilt. Oh boy, I think I just figured out that I sometimes interpret my guilty feelings as proof that I am doing something wrong, which only serves to make me feel… guilty. If that’s not a vicious cycle, I don’t know what is.
I’m smart enough to know that most of these guilty feelings aren’t productive. They distract me from paying attention to what is right in front of me. If I’m feeling guilty, I’m not having fun. If I’m not having fun, I’m tolerating the moment, not enjoying it. And I don’t want to tolerate my life, I want to *live* my life. So perhaps the way to assuage some of this guilt is to do just that: live each moment for what it is. No judgment. No worrying about what else I should be doing. When I’m hanging out with James, I need to concentrate on being with him, to enjoy his silliness and his beautiful 4 year old perspective on the world (that would be the perspective from which it’s still perfectly acceptable to wake up at 5:56 and ask for macaroni and cheese). When I’m with Kasia, I need to soak up her baby smell, revel in the sight of her sweet little hands, take in the softness of her delicate baby skin and let myself sink into the feeling that the whole world is made up of such things.
Tackling the guilt also reaches beyond those moments that are easy to enjoy without guilt. It extends into those less than perfect moments, the ones when I am sure I am doing it all wrong and will somehow damage my children in the process. During those times , the “perfect mom” reel in my head goes a little something like this: A good mom would hold her baby all the time, would never have a 4 year old who still throws tantrums, would never make her crying baby wait while finishing up supper, would have a magically clean house while still managing to have perfectly entertained children, would never wish her children would go to sleep so she could watch Grey’s Anatomy, would always know just what to do in each moment, would never disagree with her husband about how to parent, would never having feelings of boredom, anger, regret… the list goes on. Guilt has a sneaky way of intruding when I’m not meeting any one of these expectations. Sheesh, no wonder I feel guilty so often! Letting go of this type of guilt requires a tolerance of imperfection, an acknowledgement that it will never be just the way I think it should be, a step back from my need to make sure everyone is okay and everything is under control at all times. It still involves sinking into the moment, but this time it requires an acceptance of the moment just how it is, not how I think it should be.
I’m not making the argument that we shouldn’t be reflective parents, of course. There are times when we all need to step back and think about how we parent and how we could improve. Well-earned feelings of guilt spark us to be better parents. But that doesn’t mean that guilt needs to encroach upon our every day experiences. Such pervasive guilt only serves to detract from effective parenting. I, for one, am a much better parent when I am coming from a place of relaxed confidence, not a place of worried guilt.
Resolving to aim for guilt-free mothering is probably a lot like trying to achieve worry-free mothering: a nice, tidy idea in theory but darn near impossible in reality. And yet I’m compelled to give it a whirl anyway. Anyone want to join me?
- ▼ 2010 (30)