To whom should I direct my frustration and ire over the invention of Mom Guilt? Was it the Devil? Because I swear it’s one of the most insidious and unavoidable phenomenons out there (hmmm… maybe it was a just a really good PR firm, then.) In any case, it’s a shame that so many of us are walking around feeling so bad about the decisions we make for ourselves.
Mom Guilt comes in several varieties and they’re all interconnected, which I’m guessing could be the Hot One’s way of insuring that we feel some form of guilt 100% of the time. The most commonly experienced variety is called “Being Away From My Kids Guilt.” Moms have spent every minute with their child for about 10 months before that child is even born. In the case of adoptive or surrogate moms, their hearts and minds have put in the time even though their bodies did not. It should come as no surprise, therefore, when we experience a little separation anxiety. But if you’re spending the majority of your time away from the kids thinking that you are supposed to be with them, then you’re experiencing Mom Guilt.
You’re supposed to be enjoying a peaceful or stimulating adult conversation and connecting with other humans who know how to tie their own shoes and not pee in their pants. That is what you should be doing during this time. Assuming you left the love or loves of your life with a trustworthy, capable, responsible person, then rest assured that your children are, at the very least, safe. They know that you love them, and they will still love you when you get back. There’s no rule in the mommy handbook that states that you must be the sole caregiver. If there is, then you’re reading the wrong book and should burn it immediately.
Very similar but with an important difference is the type of guilt known as “Working Mom Guilt.” To this I say (in a tough love way), seriously? Come on. You’re smarter than that. Whether you’re working because you have to, financially speaking, or because you simply love your job, own it. Either way, you’re doing what’s best for your family and nobody can fault you for that. Anyone who does should be burned immediately.
The opposite of Work Guilt is called “I’m Having Too Much Fun Guilt.” This, too, is obvious bullshit since the path from woman to mom-woman does not pass through a convent. Before mommyhood, you were a vibrant, social being with dinner dates and girls’ nights and romantic weekends away. Electing to bring another human into this world with the implicit promise that you will nurture and care for this human until you die does not mean you have to give up fun. Your little human needs for you to have fun every now and then so that you aren’t a grumpy, bitter, overly-serious caregiver who doesn’t see the value in making a mess with finger paints or playing with your food. So have fun – have lots and lots of fun whenever you can.
Finally, the most recently evolved genre of Mom Guilt; the one spawned of the green/organic living movement that so many of us have eagerly embraced. It’s called “I’m Not Feeding/Teaching/Reading/Showing My Kids The Best There Is Guilt.” This one hits you on just about every home front and causes you to question even the tiniest decisions. Should I have ordered the organic cotton sheets to cover the over-priced organic crib mattress? Is it alright to use non-organic apples in this homemade applesauce? Am I a bad mom for letting my kids watch Sesame Street?
To be sure, there are some super important benefits of this whole campaign but it’s way too easy to take your good intentions to a ridiculous (and harmful) extreme. The compulsion to make healthy and safe decisions for your family is a good thing. Incessantly questioning, scrutinizing and regretting your decisions will cause you harm.
At its core, guilt is nothing more than a nagging feeling that you’re doing something all wrong. I may not know you, but I can still promise you that you’re doing lots of things right. Guilt also has a way of keeping us in the past, which distracts us from our present, which is precisely where our kids live. Be with them here, and start by learning how to make decisions then accept them immediately. Trust your instincts and ignore your maladapted conscience.