Guilt: My Constant Companion
Guilt has been my constant companion in my parenting journey. It holds my hand, and caresses it gently to remind me of its gnawing presence every single day.
It moved in soon after I first found out I was pregnant. After the initial excitement, I was overcome with guilt over the two glasses of wine and the plate of sushi that I had consumed in the previous week. How would I ever be able to live with myself if the baby’s development was hampered because of my irresponsible meal?
That was the guilt that I felt nine months before becoming a mother. Ever since, Guilt and I have been joined at the hip.
I felt guilty when I bottle-fed my children. I felt guilty when I let my infant son cry it out. I felt guilty when I let my children co-sleep. I felt guilty when I left them alone in their cribs.
I felt guilty when I let them stay up past their bedtime. I felt guilty when I didn’t wake up bright and early with them on weekends. I felt guilty about using the television or electronic device as a proxy babysitter. I felt guilty when I worked.
I felt guilty when I stayed home.
If I spent time alone with one child, I felt guilty about not being with the other two. If I spent time with all of them, together, I felt guilty about not giving each individual attention.
If I helped with homework, I worried that I was spoon-feeding them. If I didn’t help, I felt that I was not staying involved.
The bottom line is that, as a mother, you are never guilt-free. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week — you’re feeling guilty about something. And if you’re not, you’re feeling guilty about not feeling guilty. It’s a no-win situation.
I asked my mother how she had dealt with the omnipresent maternal guilt. She gave me a blank look in return.
“What guilt?” she asked. “Our generation didn’t overthink everything as yours does. We did what we could. We made do with what we had. And that was it; there was no guilt.”
I envied the simplicity with which she approached parenting three children with far fewer resources than I have at my disposal.
But she was right. We do overanalyze. We question ourselves. We set the bar high and, on the occasions when we meet it, we reset it even higher. That’s what our constant companion makes us do. It keeps whispering the phrase not good enough in our ears.
We are also a generation of mothers that seeks external validation of our efforts. The wide-eyed excitement and joy our children show at a lopsided, homemade birthday cake is not enough for us. So we put ourselves up for judgment in the court of social media. We post our pictures and tell our stories — then we wait patiently (while refreshing the screen repeatedly) for comments from our friends. We crave their approval of us as good mothers.
But social media can be a cruel place. It lures you in with reassurance and then, just when your defenses are down, it hits you with more insecurity. A few inches below the picture of your homemade chocolate cake, which seems to have drawn inspiration from the Leaning Tower of Pisa, sits a picture of another birthday cake. This one also claims to be homemade with perfectly frosted flowers and sugar figurines adorning it. The mother who has made it wonders if it is good enough for her child’s birthday celebration. Her picture has more than 500 Likes. Yours has four.
Not good enough. Just not good enough, whispers that all-too-familiar voice in your ear.
As you scroll down, the insecurity doubles, triples and quadruples. There is someone who is chaperoning more school field trips, someone who is baking more treats, someone who is driving to more soccer camps, someone who has a more organized home, and someone who has much better hair.
Told you. You’re just not good enough.
And you begin to doubt yourself even more. And all your insecurity and doubt come rushing to the fore.
We stress over being the perfect mother to our children, when all they need is their own relaxed mother, with all her flaws and imperfections.
But where’s the fun in that? The toothless smiles and appreciation for our lopsided culinary attempts would not be enough. We feel a desperate need to put ourselves through the wringer, time and time again. If we truly wanted, we could evict Guilt from our homes. But we also know that its presence is the very reason that we try harder every single day. So that one day, hopefully, there will be a little voice that says …
You are good enough.