Guilt. A useless emotion, a devastating feeling, and a mixed bag of dread and propulsion that guides many through life, guilt exists and is universally felt by most I come in contact. Although I don’t feel guilt for much outside of the home, having three children I struggle daily with the feeling that I am never with the right child at the right time. But guilt is an emotion I must learn to incorporate and keep in check or it will simply overwhelm me.
As women we are taught to be in tune to our nurturing instincts. We, naturally, are the caregivers since our bodies produce life. From the time we are born we are sent verbal and taciturn cues about how to behave, act, and live. In the society in which I live, guilt is a huge part of the genetic makeup of being female. From wanting a family to wanting a career, to advocating for oneself to compromising to oblivion, the choices for women are so monumentally huge there is rarely a decision made that doesn’t have a string attached that tugs at our consciousness and hearts that is labeled “guilt”. Some women are more immune than others, but I would hazard to guess that somewhere, somehow women feel guilt during many parts of their life.
I never felt guilty about things others did. When I broke a date to go to prom with one boy to attend with my heart’s desire, I felt no guilt. I certainly felt compassionately toward the boy, but I knew I was following my heart. Before you scoff, I married the boy who was my heart’s desire. I didn’t feel the need for guilt because I knew I was doing what was best for me. When I run into other social situations that render my peers filled with guilt-ridden angst, I simply exercise my right to say “no”. I learned that I am entitled to live a life that is free from certain stresses, “have-to”s, and obligations from those outside of my family.
But, once I started having children, my world got off kilter. One child was certainly not the problem, at first. I was fortunate to choose to stay home to raise my child. Consequently I fell into a situation that many like me do, I built my self-worth and value into his failures and successes. While it is great to be supportive and guide the child, his foray into the world is just that, his. But if he failed, I blamed myself. I didn’t spend enough time, teach him well, or provide the ample opportunities needed for success. By adding a second and eventually a third child into the mix, I was unable to distinguish for myself the difference between doing the best I can at any given moment for my growing family, prioritizing the best way I knew how, and simply always choosing wrong. I was so wrapped up in my children’s lives, comparing the infancy/toddlerhood of my second and third child against the idyllic time of my oldest at the same ages. I was guilty about everything from not spending enough quality time playing and reading to not investing enough patience during the feeding times. My role as a mother had changed but my unrealistic expectations of how I needed to mother had not. Guilt was my go to emotion and I was drowning in the mire.
My husband, my hero, champion, and partner was incensed by his wife beating herself in this way. Loving me as he does, he could hardly stand by and allow me to focus on the negatives of my life and my mothering skills. He fought me for years and I tried to let the words sink in, but guilt is a strong and strangling emotion. I’ve started to get my head out of the clouds and fully realize how my children are separate entities from me. That no matter how well (or not) I do my job as their mother, they will have strengths and weaknesses. They will fail and succeed. They are intrinsically independent creatures who have the right to do these things without it being my fault. This is a very hard lesson for me to learn. And, even though the intellectual side of me completely understands and agrees with this, when a bad grade on a report card comes home or a race is lost, I still feel that all-too familiar twinge of guilt. But I’m tempering that with all that I’m discovering on these pages. My children are freed by my absolving myself of the guilt that helps nobody. They are provided a saner more positive mother when I simply do my job to the best of my ability on any given day. And, when I truly remember that my children gain character and valuable lessons through failed attempts and disappointments, it, too, strengthens my resolve. Although I haven’t been able to evict guilt from my life totally, I certainly have learned to keep it in check better and for that we are a happier family.