I completely understand that what I am about to write about is a 1st world problem. It is more than that, it is a 1st world middle class problem in a lot of ways. You see, I have choices in my life that other mommy's don't. My parenting choices are made by carefully balancing my needs and wants with the needs and wants of my children, while I also balance the reality that there is a mortgage to pay and food to purchase. There is a lot of balancing, but there are choices.
As I do most of the time I come up with a blog idea - usually based on something that I have observed in my own life, or a topic I am interested in - I do some research. What are other people saying about this topic, is there something more I should know before I write my thoughts down, has someone said it better. More often than not something I read changes my perspective and makes me look at my idea in a completely new way. This is of course called learning and it is one of my favorite hobbies.
So, as I was about to lament about the time I have been spending away from home recently for work and for classes I came across more articles than I thought I would on Mommy Guilt.
First and foremost I had no idea there was an entire book about Mommy Guilt. I guess I should find solace that there are enough people in the world who have mommy guilt that they wrote a book about it. Perhaps when I have a moment to breathe I may even read it (of course by the time I have a moment to breathe I will be having grandmommy guilt).
Then I found the Working Moms Against Guilt blog. Which I perused for awhile. There were some good helpful hints and some funny posts, but I just wasn't feeling the connection. And then I found this post and I connected (I especially like the woman who would like to leave it all behind so she can hang out on a farm with her kids and raise chickens; and the woman with the list of 9 worries that can flit through her mind in a minute) and I grinned. I see it on the playground on those rare occasions I get the chance to pick up my son from school. We check each other out and you can almost see it in our eyes .... why can't I be as put together as she is or why isn't my kid as well behaved as hers, what would I have to add to their conversation?
I should say this now. When I raised the first child on my own I was working just hard as I am working now. I had the support of my parents but I was doing it on my own - working full time during the week, working part time weekends, and going to graduate school. And I don't remember having this much guilt. Maybe it is because he is on his own now trying to find his own way and I don't see him nearly as much as I would like to that this time around I have the feeling that I need to do it differently, that I need to do it better. Who knows. I am in graduate school again (because I have no idea what it is I want to be when I grow up) and I am taking a class on Life Span Development. We were talking in class about the "good enough" parent. That really we are going overboard with the idea of perfect parenting and that sometime it is ok to just be good enough. But I digress as I usually do.
So I continued my quest on information about Mommy Guilt and I found this blog entry: Jesus Canceled Your Mommy Guilt Trip. And I remembered my blog last Friday about being a "proud failure" and I thought, maybe this is what I am missing. Again, I admire people who have this kind of faith and I am not entirely sure that a little more faith in my life wouldn't be a bad thing. But I don't know if I can look at my day and not have pride in my child if it was a good day - or be angry with myself if it was a bad day. I just think trying to live my life in this way would make me more guilty because I would just fail miserably at it. And so I moved on.
I came across two articles in Parenting Magazine that caught my attention - one was Kissing Mommy Guilt Goodbye, which basically said we know you feel this way, cut yourself some slack, get over it and move on (great .... inability to move on, one more thing to feel guilty about .... check). But the other one I found more interesting - Mom's Dirty Secret. It talked about the things that mom's don't admit - sometimes we like one kid better than the other, or we aren't really happy with the person our teenager became, or my favorite, parenting older children is actually harder than parenting toddlers. I didn't see any of these really as secrets. Moms I know talk about stuff like this all the time. In the end we always end with the reality that we really do love our kids even if we don't like them all the time and really that is all that matters. And so I moved on.
I went to the Huffington Post - and I was amazed at the search results I got: 1 1/2 pages of links to stories about mommy guilt, and I started reading. This one caught my attention, Why do you have to work mama? I was really with her - wondering how do you explain to your child that work is more than just a pay check; that it is rewarding and fulfilling, without making him feel that you would rather be at work than with him .... until she started talking about the perks of her job that included free airline miles and points that got her family free vacations. That just made me angry because those free points and miles are one of the reasons airline tickets are so expensive and I can't go on family vacations and so I moved on. But post after post that I read were from really high-powered career women talking about problems that I just didn't understand, nannies and traveling and breast feeding in public. I would start reading and think ... ok, yup I am with you and then it would all fall apart because their mommy worlds are so far from mine. And so I moved on.
I went back to Google and started from scratch and that is when I came across this short piece that brought it all back into perspective for me: The Real Mommy Wars. And this led to my first paragraph and the reality that mommy guilt is a 1st world, middle class problem. I work because I have to, I am back in graduate school to fulfill my sense of self-worth, my career grants me opportunities that lower socio-economic moms don't have. It may not be free airline miles or nannies, but it is a flexible schedule when I need it, healthcare and a home.
So what brought me to this quest to overcome mommy guilt? Looking back it is silly really .... it was a field trip to go apple picking. When I sent in the permission slip for my son to go on the trip, I checked my calendar and had the day free from meetings and work responsibilities, so I happily checked the box that said I would chaperone. I thought notices were being sent home to confirm who was picked to chaperone and I had not gotten one. So I went about my business, scheduled several meetings for that morning and went about my week. When the day of the field trip came my son informed me that he forgot to tell me that I was chaperoning. I went into immediate panic. Why hadn't I confirmed whether or not I was chaperoning myself? Could I reschedule my meetings? And if I couldn't what irreparable harm was I doing to his psyche? So I logged into my e-mail, rescheduled what I could, cancelled what I couldn't and showed up at the apple orchard. It began as a great trip and he seemed genuinely happy to see me there. Until he stopped listening. Which of course frustrated me because I had scrambled to get on this trip, the least he could do is not require me to repeat the same thing over and over while he completely ignored my plea for him to behave. I knew he was excited and I didn't cut him any slack - which in retrospect had more to do with me than him (he really wasn't behaving that badly, just not listening). So the day ended with him sitting on a bench, not playing with his friends because he was angry with me. So instead of hugs and kisses when he was heading back to the bus I got "I wish you didn't chaperone." Ouch .... knife right to the heart and tears all the way to work.
He of course got over this more quickly than I did. This morning I got hugs and kisses because I sold enough candles for him to get the prize he wanted from the PTO fundraiser. And on Friday nights he gets to pick where he falls asleep; tonight he wanted to fall asleep in my room watching his favorite show Too Cute - and tonight I got hugs and kisses. I don't think I completed my quest to define, alleviate or conquer mommy guilt. I don't know if any women in our culture can. But we do the best we can with what we have and realize tomorrow is another day. A day in which the whole family is apple picking and there will be apple donuts, apple cider and laughter for all.