I once forgot to go to my son’s middle school award ceremony. I somehow messed up the time and showed up two hours late, picking up a sad boy with a certificate in his hand that I did not see him go up on stage to get. My boy is 18 now and still loves to joke that the tears from my guilt made the chocolate chip cookies I made him to apologize taste that much better. While we can all laugh about the incident now, I still can’t help but feel a bit of remorse about it and all the other mother misadventures I have had along the way.
I have spent a good portion of my life feeling guilty. My husband teases me saying that it is genetic – I’m Jewish. While he is trying to be funny, there may be some truth in that. There have been way too many sleepless nights, where I laid awake thinking I am not doing “THIS” right – this mothering, this wife, this writing … the list goes on and on. I know in my head that THIS type of thinking is unreasonable, unproductive, unhealthy, and yet, I can’t stop. Which makes me feel even more guilt. It’s like being trapped on a giant-person-sized hamster wheel of guilt. Great, now I will lay awake feeling guilty about putting THIS unnerving image into your head … see what I mean?
And it seems I am not the only one feeling guilty either. According to a survey by a babycare product company called NUK, 87% of mothers feel guilty at some point, with 21% feeling this way most or all the time. I even did my own unscientific Facebook poll to see if this was truly the way others are feeling and, basically, same results. And just like the survey, when I asked some of the moms what it was they felt guilty about, most of the answers could be sorted under the heading “Simply Not Being Good Enough.”
Guilt in and of itself can be a good thing. It can motivate us to be more involved, to accept our own and our children’s imperfections, and even help when baking chocolate chip cookies. But if guilt becomes our go-to emotion, it can impact our parenting immensely. I think rather than trying to stop feeling guilty, it might be healthier to figure out where all the guilt is stemming from.
After much introspection and a few of those yummy guilt cookies, I have figured out that my mama guilt happens the most when I am trying to convince myself I am a GOOD parent. The problem with this is that there is only one person who can accurately measure my performance as a mom. And no, it’s not my kids, it’s ME! Comparing myself to others only makes me feel better or worse depending on who I am comparing myself to.
I have also concluded, like it or not, I am going to feel guilty sometimes. That is okay because it shows I care. If I didn’t care, I would have nothing to feel guilty about! (How’s that for logic?)
I have decided that I will embrace my guilt. However, I will try to do a better job of not letting my guilt drive my decisions. For example, I feel guilty about how I have let myself go. I also feel guilty about joining a gym because that means spending money and devoting time to something other than my family. If I am going to feel guilty anyway, what is the best decision for me? I might as well join the gym and do something good for myself. Besides, after a good workout, I can enjoy a few of those guilt-teared chocolate chip cookies I am bound to end up making.