Most supermom black-or-white type A personalities probably thought (pre-children) that guilt was always a result of…well, being guilty. If you’d done something wrong or hadn’t done something right then you were guilty. Then we became parents and realized, no matter how much we do, we almost always feel guilty.
Since I hate feeling anything but content I started to unpack this guilt-esque feeling and came to a realize a thing or two.
As parenting is one of the most important jobs in the world we put enormous pressure on ourselves to produce beautiful/handsome well-mannered geniuses. We want to afford them every opportunity to learn and succeed. How do we know if we make the grade? Unfortunately, by comparing ourselves (at our worst) to others (at their best) we feel burdened with the task of parenthood instead of energized by it.
We think we can’t compare to Mrs. Jones across the street with her Kitchen Aid mixer and perfect meringue or Mrs. Smith at church whose children learned the alphabet and books of the bible by the age of 2. They are probably jealous of a few things about us too, but does that make us feel better? No. We feel guilty because there is something somewhere out there that we could be doing to guarantee prodigies if only we knew about it. Guilty because our children deserve the best and our best is not always perfect.
Guilt is directly related to our expectations of ourselves. If I expect the house to be spotless, vacuumed and swept everyday with not a single dirty dish or anything out of place before bedtime then I set myself up to feel guilty if I am too busy to accomplish it. For a few weeks (when I had a one year old and one month old) I went to bed feeing guilty and anxious every night. Why? Because I hadn’t had time to sew that day. Because I didn’t have the energy to stain that bedside table in the garage that evening. Because I napped when they napped instead of working. Because I had a “to-do” stack of papers on the desk I had yet to go through. My baby was one.month.old and I was expecting life to be just as it had been before. When I finally realised it was okay for the house to be 90% clean as long as my children were fed and clothed then the guilt and anxiety lessened almost immediately. I told myself that things will be back to normal and I can obsess over the house and dishes again in a few months when things settle.
It is irrational to think that everything will go perfectly all the time. My one year old fell off the bed today and scared herself. Was it my fault? Technically it was gravity’s fault, but yes I was responsible. Was I being negligent? No, I was trying to keep my 3 month old from rolling off the bed. Here’s the problem with guilt…we can always find a way to build a case against ourselves and indict ourselves without a fair trial.
Sure accidents happen but I could have stopped her. Okay, I can’t stop her from rubbing off her sunscreen and getting sunburned, but I shouldn’t have taken her outside in the first place. Maybe he won’t get sick from germs since I didn’t give him a bath today but I should have made time. No one would blame me that I haven’t shaved in a week, but what if an emergency occurs that requires a skirt? Yeah right, I wish there was a skirt emergency. And on and on and on. For every justification of a slight imperfection there are reasons why we could have done better. And so guilt is given the guest room. At least its bed wasn’t made.
I haven’t figured out how to get rid of guilt completely but there are a few things that help.
1) Manage your expectations and give yourself realistic goals.
2) Take some time for yourself (even 30 minutes a day) to do something you love. It’ll energise you and make you feel like there is more to you than changing diapers and pureed vegetables.
3) Pray and find your strength from somewhere outside yourself so the anxieties and fears of parenthood aren’t crippling.
4) Mind your own business. If Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram make you feel inadequate then regulate your use or let get them go.
5) Get informed. The more you know the less room a vague sense of guilt has to occupy your mind.
Have fun. Having active fun with your kids displaces many a bad feeling. The name of the game: one day at a time.
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