What is it about Mommies and guilt? What is it about that sweet, open, tabula rasa of a face that opens the gates to the guilt hounds and releases them, yelping and baying, around my brain?
I am not a perfect Mom — I don’t even have any aspirations for perfection. I have a laissez-faire approach to germ control. I let my kid put things in his mouth that probably make you squirm (shoes, grass, and, until I discover it and fish it out, actual clods of dirt). I’m ok with that. I even have a half-baked, somewhat supported by scientific evidence PHILOSOPHY about over-sanitization and why that’s a bad thing. I take my baby out of the house in onsies that are sometimes less than clean and (shock, horror!) show his diaper. And you know what? I’m pretty ok with that, too.
If I stop and think about it objectively, I am a great Mom. I provide a constant stream of love and affection. I feed my child, first from my breasts and now that he is getting older, from all of the freshest, most delicious things I can think to offer him. I engage him. I read to him (at least as long as I can before he grabs the book to gum it, or takes off on a mission entirely his own). I teach him animal sounds. I lavish him with praise when he repeats them back to me (in our house saying whuf-whuf after hearing doggy noises = uncontestable baby genius). I try in all ways, in every second of the day to do what is best for him…and, still. The Guilt.
I have to believe that I am not alone in this. For every baby milestone or misstep there is a women chuckling, “So typical.” One of the most humbling things to discover as a new Mom is how totally universal the experience is. Every struggle, every personal little qualm you have about your precious one is one that’s been had before, by about a million different moms and a million different kids. So I can’t be the only one, stewing away in my own private stockpot of guilt. There have to be more like me, up at night paralyzed by the weight and depth of there own shortcomings.
Guilt about what you ask me? Guilt about EVERYTHING. When I was a working Mom, forget about it — guilt about depriving my muffin of a single moment of Mom’s undivided attention. Now that I’m a stay at home Mom, the guilt is still there — an ever-present tiger quick to leap up and claw me at every turn. Let the boo play by himself for 10 minutes while Mommy watches daytime TV? Up jumps the tiger! Engage him in healthy bonding patty cake time and “slash” you are an overbearing, control freak Mom who can’t just let her child “be,” subsequently dooming him to a lifetime of insecurity. Every decision is passed through the grinder of this omnipresent guilt. Every choice is the wrong one and (this is the kicker) it doesn’t matter what that choice may be.
I even find myself (and I recognize how silly this is) feeling guilty about the guilt. How can these overwhelming feelings of inadequacy fail to pass to my son? How am I not setting him up for a lifetime of guilt himself? In the dirty trenches of my mind, late at night, my son peacefully dosing (“Why am I awake, I should be sleeping right now, how will I be able to fully and lovingly parent him on 6 hours of sleep?“) The Guilt tigers multiply and growl until I fall asleep (and even then I’m not safe. I dream of losing my baby out to sea, and then wonder would a good Mom have that dream? What does it mean? Do I need to be more vigilant with my baby in the pool?)
I wonder about this Mommy guilt. I wonder if we as self described “offbeat moms” aren’t more susceptible to it that than our on-beat counterparts. Sure, you make your own baby food and breastfed your baby to 18 months, but you haven’t bought, hook, line, and sinker the cultural ‘party line’ of what it is to be parent. That comes with a whole lot of second-guessing and doubt.
How do I deal with it? I think back to a comment made to me by an old friend. We were talking about motherhood and I was saying how uncomfortable it made me when people comment about how I must be a good Mom because my son is such a good kid, and how I felt I could take little credit for it. She said, “Well yeah, the specifics don’t really matter but the mad, mad love — that does. That baby gets mad love.”
And he does — crazy mad love. Mad love not just from me, but from his Daddy, his Nona, and his Poppy. From his Grandma, from whole host of doting, adoring aunts and uncles. My little man doesn’t deserve my guilt. He deserves a Mommy with her head held high.
This is my call to all Moms (most especially myself) — lay down your guilt, you are doing just fine.