There are a lot of aspects of motherhood that are not voiced. In fact, that was one of the many reasons that I wanted to start this blog. I wanted to hold myself accountable to be honest and real about the struggles, the joys, and the completely unforeseen obstacles that motherhood has presented to me on a sticky, crumb filled platter.
Of all the things that I feel are not talked about openly, I feel that this is one of the biggest.
Nobody talks about the guilt.
Or maybe they do, and first time mothers like me just overlook it, reasoning that guilt is only felt when you do something wrong. If you’re a bad mom. Not if you’re a good mom. Not if you’re a mom who knows she’s doing everything she can. If you’re doing a good job, you’ll know, and therefore will feel good about yourself. No guilt here if you’re a mom who fills her cupboards with organic everything. If you make homemade baby food. If you use cloth diapers. If you use name brand diapers. If the house is always clean. If you play Mozart while they play. If you sing and read every day like they say. If you make at least two Pinterest inspired meals a week. If you make all of your child’s clothes. If there are no stains on their clothes. (I think you get the gist here, this contradictory little list could go on FOREVER.)
A guilty conscience is for those who are cruel or just lazy.
If you’re a good mom, what is there to feel guilty about?
Well, I have come to find out, EVERYTHING.
Guilt sets in pretty much the moment that you discover you’re pregnant. You give yourself a headache trying to calculate the exact day you conceived in order to be sure that you didn’t enjoy a few glasses of wine during such a vulnerable time in your baby’s development. Will this affect my child’s brain? Have I set them back from Harvard to a junior college just because I wanted to enjoy a cheese plate and a glass of wine?
Did I take my prenatal today? Should I take another because my morning sickness forced it back up as soon as it went down?
Should I be singing more to my little bulge? Did my raised voice at my spouse create a hostile environment for my little one to grow in?
Am I allowed to eat this?
Yes, it’s that ridiculous.
And while my self doubt would love to have me believe that I’m the only terrible mother who goes through these insecurities, I don’t think that I am. We are bombarded with lists from the moments we learn that we’re expecting until (I assume) the moment our children become adults–maybe even after– of what NOT to do. Nevermind that all of these lists are contradictory. Nevermind that no one person or even two people could ever pull it all off perfectly. You must kill yourself trying– or so we are told– because every action you take or even every action you don’t take can directly influence your child.
Despite what I previously believed, the guilt we all feel is not dependent on whether we buy organic or not, whether we choose to co-sleep with our babies or keep them exclusively in their own beds. It is not dependent on whether we fit the current (and time limited) criteria of what today says is a “good mom”. Instead, it seems no matter what we do, guilt will manifest itself into our lives and cast a deep shadow over the confidence we had in our once held sunshine-y beliefs. Because, sadly, there will always be an opposing viewpoint to what you do and how you do it.
Which leads me to believe that along with our little human, our big guilt is simultaneously and inseparably conceived.
I am a stay at home mom. I get to bask in all of my little one’s big moments. When she first smiled. When she first rolled over. Her first word. Her first giggle. All of it. I am here day in and day out. I eat, sleep, and breathe in everything baby. Yes, I love it. Yes, I chose it. Yes, sometimes despite all of these things, I feel guilty about it.
Should I be socializing her more? Should I be giving her a better example of what a “strong woman” is? Should I hand her over to a daycare who might be better at stimulating her brain than I am? Should I be contributing more financially to my household? Would she be gaining more from what I could give her financially than what she is getting through my time and energy? And of course, the big question that all other questions stem from: Could someone else do a better job than I am?
You see what I’m doing there? I am self sabotaging. And when I type it all out it’s really easy to see and to ignore, but when it’s racing through my mind while I’m trying to fall asleep or when I’m saying my “job title” out loud to someone I don’t know and who could disapprove, it’s a lot harder to rationalize.
I have had good intentions. I have tried to do “good mom” things. I have failed.
I tried to make all of her baby food from scratch. I quit after about 2 months. I thought about putting her in cloth diapers, because despite my laziness, I do care about the Earth. Well, turns out I don’t care that much. I read and tried a lot of different methods to get my baby to sleep through the night. She still ends up spread eagle in my bed more often than not. I banned any phones or iPads from my daughter, because you’re not supposed to have ANY screen time before age 2. Elmo sings to her about the letter of the day and she squeals with delight… and (gasp) I let her watch and dance.
At what point do we have to do what we believe to be right or even sometimes just what is attainable, and let that be enough?
I wish I could turn off this internal doubting mechanism that seems to create and dispense hurtful, snide comments that make me almost certain that what I’m doing is ALL WRONG– that it is somehow insufficient because it is not what is called for when applied to the generic baby. You know, the baby that upholds all standards and all methods. The baby that says the thing you do with your baby that works and makes you both happy is actually wrong.
It’s these broad blanket statements that we all hear daily from someone in the grocery store or someone who wrote an article online, that make me believe that despite the fact that I carefully and painstakingly tested and decided what methods work for me and for my baby, I am actually wrong.
And whether it’s these things or completely different struggles, I know you do it, too.
The question is, why?
Why do we have such a hard time allowing ourselves just a little bit of grace and acknowledgment that we might actually know what we’re talking about when it comes to the little human that we are with more than anyone else. The one we grew in our bodies. The one whose little coos and grunts we have memorized. Why do we think that someone who has never met them should make us feel guilty that we aren’t doing things their way?
Well, I think the answer is simple even though it is scary. Because there is no way to know.
There is no way to know if there is a direct correlation between a spotless house and a well adjusted child. There is no way to know if co-sleeping with a sensitive baby will coddle them too much or provide the reinforcement of love and nurturing they need. There is no way to know if the banners and decor you slaved over for their first birthday party is going to set unrealistic expectations and create a child that believes that they are the center of the world or if those pre-made grocery store banners will make them feel unloved and neglected.
There is simply no way to know. Although, I strongly suspect that birthday party banners have VERY little to do with any sort of unexpected outcome.
On top of this, we are part of a generation where EVERYTHING we do is compared and paraded on social media. Instagram. Facebook. Twitter. Pinterest. (BLOGS!) and the like. And while it’s lovely and fun it’s also breeding discontentment and unrealistic expectations. We all know this. I am not bursting anyone’s bubble, and yet it continues. The judging. The one-upping (mostly subconsciously). And in response to all of this, THE GUILT.
We have become so accustomed to these pretty Pinterest photos that we are beginning to feel the need to make everyday life look like a perfect picture. Crop the laundry out. Get the lighting just right. Oops, bad angle, try again. Oh, wait, dinner isn’t complete until I’ve garnished my child’s pureed squash with a perfect sprig of mint. The house isn’t really clean until I can use the panorama setting on my camera without cropping anything that’s out of place.
The guilt takes these photos and status updates and manipulates them into little green-eyed monsters that launch themselves directly at us, because even if we have a rare moment where we think we might be doing a pretty good job, finally getting this stuff down, is it as good a job as what this person is doing?
Guilt tells us that we should have stayed home more, we should have gone out on date night more, we should have gone back to work, we should have stayed up until dawn if we had to in order to make that organic baby food… on and on and on.
Despite the fact that I wish I didn’t have to, I will just come out and say it.
The guilt is real. The guilt is here. Yes, it will come and go, but it is never far.
Even though I am not naive enough to think that we will ever be able to stop that mean little monster from puncturing holes in our confidence, I hope that there are days that we can at least repair those holes with grace and kindness, whether for ourselves or for others, so that by the end of this journey we are not all completely deflated.
So, while I know that you will be hard on yourself again, and I will too, at least in this moment and on rare occasions to come, step back and and really see it all. Not the long list of to-dos, but the long list of things you have done. Maybe even (for a few moments) look at yourself through that slightly off kilter lens of Facebook or Instagram. While we all know it isn’t quite true, that those photos may have been cropped to hide the cluttered counter or put in black and white to make it look more appealing, just take a moment to acknowledge the important things in them. The kisses. The laughs. The chubby little hands clapping at something you sang, danced, or said.
Now, take a deep breath. Close your eyes. Wait– find some chocolate THEN close your eyes. Sit down for a moment, and enjoy.