Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Guilt Game

The currency in which mommies trade at play dates is easy to see: guilt. I knew this before this week, but I am convinced now that it is one of the few things moms have in common despite how we raise our kids, where we live, or what age our kids are. Guilt seems to be an emotion than can cross all lines, sort of like love is supposed to. I sometimes wonder if guilt has been more successful and what that means about the message we’re sending our kids.

At a play date this week with a sweet mom I recently met, we started discussing what we do with stay-at-home kids when something else in the house absolutely has to be done for the inhabitants of the household to survive. This mom is great: she and her son are out and about by nine every morning regardless of heat or cold; she is always asking me about new play date ideas I didn’t even know were out there. Her son is precious and secure in the love she gives him. So I was surprised at the shame that crept into her voice when she said, “I have to let my son watch TV while I cook. I use it to keep him still while I make dinner. That’s awful, right?”

Another new mom with a nine-week-old started spilling her guts in the doctor’s waiting room this week. She vowed this would be her only child, didn’t understand how this person could ruin her entire sleep life, and complained that absolutely not one person had warned her that this would be harder than her full-time job, a job she said she is now counting the days to get back to. Then she assured us that she loved the kid, hung her head in shame and said, “I’m a bad mom, I know I am, right?” I told her she was just a very tired person and would be for at least the next year or so. Very tired people aren’t the same as bad moms, they just feel like bad moms.

Apparently neither of these ladies got the message about my 18-month-old attempting to brush his teeth with my shaving razor last week. Could they have also missed the screams leaping from my house when my daughter learned push and pull were not the same thing and almost broke her nose with her dresser drawer? I was the one who asked her to close the drawer because she was closer to it, and I didn’t notice it was hanging on the edge just waiting to be touched.

Another friend and I frequently talk about how parenting more than one child leaves you constantly worried you’re shorting someone attention they need. Even though we still never do much during the day that isn’t dedicated to the care or entertainment of someone else, we still manage to spend the end of the day before we sleep running a list through our heads of how we could have done better.

This is play date banter: moms trade tales of everything we’re doing wrong, ways our kids are going to be irreparably damaged, and then try to make each other feel better. We know this isn’t productive; we know from the fact that none of our kids have experienced major head injuries after seeing if they can bounce each other off the couch that they’re not as fragile as they look. Still, it’s always there.

I honestly think some of the allure of guilt is its never ending ability to attach itself to pride and confuse the two in our brains. I mean, if I don’t feel guilty about everything, then obviously I don’t care about my kids. If I don’t care about my kids, I’m a bad parent. But if I feel guilty all the time it’s just because I care so much, and everyone knows the good parents care the most, therefore they are the guiltiest feeling of them all. See how that math works?

None of the moms I talk to who are feeling guilty have a reason to. Your kid watches 30 minutes of TV so you can prepare food for him? I don’t think this is the end of the world. In a sleep-deprived-new-mom fog you proclaim parenting as the hardest job ever? Yeah, you’re going to feel that way when the fog wears off. It’s an awesome job, and it also takes everything you have 100% of the time.  You have two kids so someone has to wait for their homemade lunch to be prepared while the other one feeds off your body? Everybody will get fed, and if we’re talking about my kids, they probably just ate 10 minutes ago anyway.

Even knowing this I realize it’s going to take a huge effort on my part to turn around the guilt=pride=if-I’m-such-a-great-parent-why-the-heck-does-feeling-guilty-all-the-time-not- make-me-feel-like-a-better-one emotion. I know it’s not God’s plan for me to feel this way all the time; I know He doesn’t want that for these other moms either. But how do you practice being reflective and making sure what you do is in the best interest of your kids while not being obsessive to the point of constant shame? I don’t know. I’m going to pray and try to recognize when these feelings creep up so I can stop them before they take over my brain. I’m going to focus on all the awesome things I try to do for the kids daily, even if Sammy is sporting a wicked cut from wielding a razor and Wren has a purple nose. I’m going to encourage other mothers to do the same.

I’m also going to try to keep my kids from reading this blog post when they’re older. Wren would be upset if she knew she had ever had to wait for food, and that would make me feel guilty. ;)

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