Guilt and mothering: like peanut butter and jelly

So Mother’s Day in the United States has just passed, a day in which millions of women received handmade cards with paint-stamped body parts in shapes of hearts and various forms of breakfast, either in bed or at the table. It was a day in which mothers smiled and were gracious about the efforts of their young progeny, same as pretty much every other day of the year.

It was also a day that induced or amplified all kinds of emotions in women of all ages and stages of life, ones who have children and those who do not. So let me address one of those emotions that tends to rise to the surface yet again for some mothers on the second Sunday in May: guilt.

Yep, one of my obligatory Mother's Day photos, in which at least one kid is making a funny face.
Yep, one of my obligatory Mother’s Day photos, in which at least one kid is making a funny face.

Here’s one scenario of feelings that can play out that Sunday, particularly if one attends church, where people stand at the pulpit and talk about their angel mothers: I am not good enough. As a mother, I do not sound at all like the description often made of those amazing moms whose stories go down in the history books of being completely self-sacrificing, completely loving and giving, completely kind and always up for listening to a child’s ramblings, no matter how constant or stream-of-consciousness they may be. These women never seem to snap, never seem to request a break just for some peace and quiet, never ask for “me” time, never tell a kid to come back later.

If, for some reason, a woman doesn’t hear those kinds of talks or they just don’t bother her, then there’s still the rest of the day to barrel through, which invariably also means her husband and children are eager to make her happy. If you’re like me, someone who can get overloaded and overstimulated seemingly far too easily, and you just made a T-shirt quilt for the high school band director so her senior daughter and fellow seniors could have a personalized gift to give him before graduation, and you hosted a before-prom dinner for 16 students at her house the night before Mother’s Day (just as two examples), you probably just want to be left alone for an afternoon and evening to sleep and collect your thoughts again (and gear up for more events and to-do-list items begging for your attention). But your children and husband know it is their DUTY to MAKE YOU HAPPY that day. To them, just leaving you alone and letting you sleep, etc., translates into profound failure on their part, because MAKING YOU HAPPY means being with you every moment, attending to your every supposed need and loving on you.

So as a mother, you’re stuck. Either you take the needed time to just be alone and manage to rest up enough so you can forge on with your selfless mothering duties for the rest of the week, month, year, and lifetime, for all those other days for which you are supposedly celebrated and venerated on the one Sunday, OR you suck it up and spend time with the kiddos doing things they enjoy because they think it’s stuff you enjoy and that will make them happy.

Let’s just say that mothering guilt will inevitably occur. No matter what, you’re back at that familiar rock and hard place.

Let’s just posit this idea: women generally are and want to be selfless when it comes to their families, except for those women who truly are just bad mothers (they do exist, you know). They do make sacrifices, some seemingly bigger or more story-worthy than others, at different levels that are unique and personal and necessary for each (some even sacrifice too much, honestly, more than is good for their own mental and emotional health). So the reality is that there’s going to be at least some level of guilt on the day they’re celebrated, at some moment or hour during that day. There’s going to be guilt because there’s guilt 365 days a year; there are just a few new twists on it on Mother’s Day, in addition to the regular ol’ garden-variety guilt.

How about we just declare the day “Mom, don’t feel guilty” day? How about we ban guilt for one day? It’s a bold and wacky idea, but maybe we can give it a try. It might be very liberating.

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lifeandlims View All →

I'm a book reviewer, editor, and writer with four daughters and tons of projects always keeping me hopping. I blog at Life and Lims and run the book review site Rated Reads.

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