We had a lesson in church one Sunday where the teacher asked, “What do you feel guilty about as a mother?” I scoffed and said rather too loudly, “Everything.” The teacher turned to me because I was sitting in the front, and responded, “Everything. OK.” The lesson moved on with various other women sharing their feelings on motherhood, and many agreeing that they feel mom guilt all the time. About everything.
As I was sitting there listening to the lesson, I realized a couple of things. First, that I’ve realized as my motherhood has evolved that it is not good or healthy to feel mom guilt. Yet, I do all the time. And, second, I don’t really feel guilt about everything. Not anymore.
As a first time Mom, I totally did. Every time my child cried, and I “let her” cry, it was a failure on my part. The time I cut her finger in the tiniest way possible, cutting her insanely small fingernails, it was a failure. The time I let her watch Law and Order with me (because I didn’t really think she was watching), and she was staring at the screen when an act of violence happened, it was a failure. The time she fell down the stairs when I was standing right there, it was a failure. In fact, if my first-time mommy self would judge, she would say that probably everything I did was a failure back then.
Fast forward to now and add two more kids to the bunch, and I see things differently. Thank goodness. My boys, and the fact that my husband and I are outnumbered now, have made me realize that mistakes will happen. And, sure, we are to blame ultimately because it is our job to take care of our kids, but at the same time, we are learning as we go, and I think that is all part of the master plan. To become better people ourselves while we raise other people.
I laugh a little now at my first-time mommy self. In fact, she was even more neurotic than me. If you can believe it. She never took time for herself and obsessed over every aspect of that first year of her daughter’s life. Sure, she is so happy she was there for everything, but sometimes, I think she could have let go a little more. Especially of the guilt.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not guilt free now that I have three kids. In fact, my guilt may have just tripled. I wouldn’t have blurted out “everything” in that lesson before really giving it some thought if I truly was guilt free. But, now that I can give it some thought, I realize that I don’t feel guilt about a lot of my current parenting tactics. Here are a few off the top of my head that I feel no guilt about whatsoever.
Letting them watch TV during lunch. My first-time mommy self would have never DREAMED of letting her child watch more than an hour of TV a day, let alone watch TV during a meal! The horror! But now, I do not care. It entertains them while I literally wait on them hand and foot while simultaneously unloading and loading the dishwasher, making my own lunch to be eaten later while they are asleep, and straightening up the entire house. So, yeah, I don’t feel guilt about that. Besides, they are zoned out and eating way better than if all they had to look at was their food.
Going out for “me time”. My first-time mommy self never did this. Like ever. I just couldn’t let go. I couldn’t trust my husband to do anything. Let alone a babysitter. Now, I will trust anyone with a pulse. Kidding, but close.
Saying that motherhood is hard. My first-time mommy self had post-partum depression. She was in the house all day with a newborn and no car, and no family, and she was depressed. She did everything for the baby and nothing for herself. She cried a lot, and then felt guilt that she was sad. She didn’t talk to anyone about it and felt very alone. Now, I complain all the time! No seriously, there is something liberating in reaching out to others and sharing your heartaches. Some might see it as ungrateful, but trust in your heart that you are a good mom even if you say out loud that it is hard. I no longer feel guilt for admitting this gig is thankless, and sucks sometimes.
Feeding them Junk Food. My first-time mommy self would never have fed hot dogs to her child, or anything that resembled junk food or sugar. Now, my motto is, whatever you can feed yourself, go for it. Sure, I still want my kids to eat healthy, but as I blogged yesterday, having kids with food allergies doesn’t always give you that luxury. Sorry to all you whole food mommies, but my kids are doing great even though sometimes they eat mac and cheese and chicken nuggets. In fact, I excitedly sent my husband a text today when our youngest ate 2 1/2 chicken nuggets at lunch. Why? Because his diet is limited, and he NEEDS protein like nobody’s business. Besides, it says “all natural” chicken nuggets on the container. Ahem.
Doing things My Way despite what the experts say. My first-time mommy self spent LOTS of time pouring over parenting books. I wanted to know the right way to do everything. And, every little sound in the night made me leap out of bed and hang over her trying to decide if she was dying. I was a mess. So, I read books because they comforted me. Yet, the confusing thing was that some books said to let them cry it out, others said to let them sleep with you all the time. Some said to make your own baby food, and others said it didn’t matter. WAIT. Which one is right? Now, I don’t read books. Instead, I think for myself, occasionally ask a mommy friend her opinion, and then do what is right for me and my family without looking back.
I could go on. Really, there are lots of things that I don’t feel guilt about when I sit down and think about it. I mean, when you have three kids, a lot of things just have to be let go of. Like, a lot. I don’t want to live my life worrying about everything. Instead, I’ll just worry about some things. Because, if I didn’t worry at all, then there might very well be something very wrong with me.
But, you have to decide what it is that is eating you up with mom guilt, and think about letting it go. Focus on the big things that really matter, not whether they eat too much red dye #40.
For me, I worry about the relationships I’m forming with my children instead of the number of minutes I might be on FB ruining their childhood and missing out on every little twirl. Nope, I don’t feel guilt about that. After all, I’m a person too. Aren’t I entitled to a little socialization from time to time? I don’t feel guilt that I may hover a little too much, or may not parent the way some parent in other countries.
Sure, I may not let them climb trees at 3 and use sharp objects at 4, but do I feel guilty about that fact? Nope. Instead, I worry about whether or not they are kind. If my lessons on being a nice person, no matter what, are sinking in. I feel guilt if they don’t feel loved because I lose my temper. I feel guilt about the things that matter.
There is so much to feel guilt about if you are at all in tune with social media. It’s everywhere. The guilt trips, the inadequacies, the “you’ve been doing it wrong all this time”, the debates, the mommy wars. But I’ve learned in the almost 7 years I’ve been a parent (and I know that’s not very long compared to some of you), that the guilt just makes us feel like less than who we are. We are the exact right person for the job, doing the best we can with what we’ve been given. So, guilt?
You can stop knocking on my door for every little thing. I’ll decide what I want to feel guilt about, thank you very much. So, it’s impossible to be a guiltless mama, but I definitely am working toward being a less guilt mama. And, trust me, letting go just a little bit of that guilt, and not feeling guilt about everything, will set you free to be the parent you are meant to be.