Tag Archives: guilt

They’ll all land on the therapist’s couch at some point. (Wednesday’s Wisdom)

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I’ll bet you didn’t know this, but I’m an award winning mom. Spend any length of time with me, and you’d figure that out pretty easily. At one time, I had collected so many awards, I needed multiple shelves to hold them. I’d love to think I’m unique, but I’m guessing you’ve got at least a few awards yourself. Let me tell you how I amassed my collection… before I starting throwing it away.

When C was a tiny babe of 4 months old, she got a sunburn. I’m not talking “a little pink”; she rivaled a lobster on its way to drawn butter. Her daycare provider had two small boys in swim lessons and while watching her boys master the frog kick, she failed to get C out of the sun before her tender skin was screaming. Yes, I was mad. Words can’t possibly express the anger I felt, at least not words I chose to use on this blog. My blood boiled. However, the anger I felt was easily dwarfed by the  guilt that consumed me as I cooled her skin through the night with white vinegar compresses. Guilt found me alone in the dark with my thoughts.  My doubts, really. And my crying baby. And my breaking heart.

What if I hadn’t gone back to work? What if I hadn’t placed her in daycare? Was I just selfish? Was I more concerned with my needs, my career, the money, than my daughter? Was I….a bad mama? My daughter’s burning skin confirmed what my breaking heart already knew. Yes, I was.

I’ll never forget that day. Though it wasn’t the first time I was sure I had blown it, it was the first time I gave myself an official “BAD MAMA AWARD” and placed it upon the imaginary shelf in my mind. It was the one that started my shelf of shame.

At 18 months old, she fell, face first, into my office chair and ended up with a black eye. The pediatrician said she would be sure to put a note about what happened into our file– just in case we were visited by Child Protective Services! We weren’t, but another award went up on my shelf.

When C was around 2, she had a simple cold, which evolved into croup, which became pneumonia. After her pneumonia cleared, she was diagnosed with asthma. Those 4 months left me very familiar with the sound of gunky lungs, nebulizers, and inhalers. Add a few more awards to my shelf.

At the age of 3, she choked on a piece of ice when I wasn’t watching her reach into my cup. I was deep in conversation with my neighbor and though I acted fast, it was my ice that caused her to choke. One more award on my shelf.

I could go on– trust me I could! I haven’t even started on life after A and all the awards I’ve earned as her mama, or my failings at giving equal love to both girls, etc. But, I’m sure you get the picture. You may even be thinking about some awards of your own.

My award shelves came tumbling down about 10 years later when C was diagnosed with pneumonia three times in 18 months.  The poor baby had barely recovered from one bout before she was struck down again. Each time, I got her into the pediatrician quickly. I knew the sounds. I recognized the dark circles under her eyes and listless steps down the hall. I grabbed my stethoscope and carefully listened to the crackles as she took a deep breath. By the third round, I told the receptionist she needed to be seen for pneumonia–not suspected pneumonia. At some point during that appointment I muttered, “I feel so bad. This is her third go-around.”  The pediatrician casually replied, “Don’t feel guilty. These things just happen. It doesn’t make you a bad mama.”

I looked up with surprise. Had she seen my shelf? Read my thoughts? Sneaked a peek in my journal? Yet suddenly, from somewhere deep inside came the words, “There’s no more room on my “Bad Mama Award” shelf. I’ve stopped collecting.” She nodded without looking up and told me she was sending us to Children’s Hospital for a x-ray; even though she concurred with my diagnosis, insurance would insist. “Pneumonia be damned,” I thought as we drove to Children’s, “I was on my way to healing my chronic mama-guilt.”

A few days ago, I sat with a new mom. Her son is 4 months old. Such a good age. Such fertile land for mama-guilt. Her little man had a small, very insignificant scratch on his face. My friend fretted. She didn’t know how he got it. Did she scratch him with her earring? Did he do it himself? Were his nails too long? Mama guilt seeped from every pore. I could smell it long before she announced, “I’m a bad mama.” There it was. Up went the award on her shelf.

Far more important than any teething or diaper rash advice I could give her, I needed to tell her about the downfalls of collecting “Bad Mama Awards” and the weight they carry. They suck the fun out of mothering. They suck the joy out of a marriage. And, they suck the life out of a mother. “It’s a tiny scratch. It doesn’t matter where it came from. Just do the best you can and trust me, he’ll be fine. Even when you make a mistake. We all make mistakes. Let it go,” I pleaded. “Besides,” I assured her,  “I’ve learned there is only one guarantee in parenting; that we will all do something that’ll land our kids on a therapist’s couch at some point.” I prayed she heard me, so maybe by the time her son is 13, she, too, will take down her award shelves.

Guilt, I’ve tried to teach my kids, can be useful if you use it to course-correct. Mama-guilt, however, is rarely used so productively. We compare ourselves to other women whose children are without black eyes. We use it to flog ourselves when we slap a PB&J down for dinner because a client wants a summary report in the morning. But, most often, we use it to penalize ourselves for being human.

And humans we are, doing the best we can to love and parent our young’ins, in between visits to the therapist. 🙂

Please share how you’ve handled mama-guilt when it rears its ugly head?

Sugar cube pyramids and other maternal failings. (Wednesday’s Wisdom)

If you’ve read any of my prior posts, you already know this is my last year homeschooling my oldest, C. We just finished the first quarter.  Another milestone down. Another step closer to the finish line. Only 3 more quarters before she becomes an official high school graduate. This is an incredibly bitter-sweet year. It is an exciting year. It is a scary year. It is the final chapter of the 12 year homeschooling journey we have made together. Next year, college begins. She will no longer be my student. We will no longer have “next year to do that.” Which is why this year, I am pulling out all the stops to make it memorable. Sort of.

A favorite class is and always has been history for both of my girls. With the exception of a few years, (where the age differences and academic requirements differed too greatly) the girls have studied history together. It is a class that has generated great conversations and some special bonding times for the girls and I together.  I read the text aloud. We review source literature. We discuss and debate. And, over the years, there have been numerous “hands-on” projects to bring the lesson to life. We have made butter from scratch, crafted “authentic” Greek costumes, made our own paper, played “old-fashioned” games, decoded hieroglyphics, and painted our names in Chinese lettering. To further my list, I could dig through the file drawers which store the girls’ school work (dating back to the Pre-K years), but I think you get the picture. History is one of the classes I felt I had done particularly well.

After 2 years apart, the girls are studying World History together this year. It is their  “swan-song” shared class. In our first nine weeks of school, we have covered 4 chapters: The First Humans, Pre-History to 3500 B.C., Western Asia and Egypt, 3500-500 B.C., India and China, 3000 B.C.-A.D. 500, and Ancient Greece, 1900-133 B.C. As always, there have been many opportunities for critical thinking and conversation. Little did I anticipate, the conversation the “First Quarter Project Assignment” would generate. Not to mention the guilt learning opportunity.

The assignment: Choose a topic related to any of the time periods/civilizations we have covered thus far and 1) Research and write a 2-3 page paper about and 2) Craft a piece of art or project representative of that time period.

“Can we do the craft part together, if we write separate papers?” Not surprisingly, both were more excited about the crafting than the writing. “Sure, I suppose” I answered. They huddled together and immediately began brainstorming. We could do __________, or we could _____________, or we could______________. Truthfully, I don’t even know what ideas filled those blanks. I was deafened by the sound of my self-awarded “Great History Teacher Award” crashing to the floor when C came up with the winning idea.

It was said with a small child’s enthusiasm; “We could build a sugar cube pyramid! I never got to build a sugar cube anything like regular school kids. We’ll build a pyramid out of sugar cubes!”

A added, “And a Sphinx out of clay!”

What?! Did we really never build anything out of sugar cubes? Toothpicks? Yes. Popsicle sticks? Check. Clay? Uh-huh. Sugar cubes? Oh, for the love of all things homeschooling! How did we miss sugar cubes?

Together, their enthusiasm filled a room. They discussed the lay-out and the time period. A pulled out paper and sketched a design. C rejoiced over sugar cubes. I was transported back in time. Memories of my two little girls making butter together and playing old-fashioned games warmed my heart. A simple bottle of glue and box of sugar cubes were needed to add one more memory to the collection.

I scrambled like an fighter-jet pilot. I couldn’t have my first-born graduate high school without the experience of constructing a sugar cube masterpiece, could I? If a sugar cube pyramid would put this icing on this homeschool cake, than sugar cubes I shall buy!

Or try to. But truthfully, not very hard. My husband and I went to Walmart. No sugar cubes. We went to Costco. No sugar cubes. We went home. I had missed the season of sugar cubes. There would be no pyramid. I should have tried harder to find sugar cubes. I had failed my daughters. 12 years of homeschooling wasted. Guilt had taken root.

“Sorry, girls. I can’t find sugar cubes anywhere. Choose different projects.”  I hung my head in “Mama-shame.”

If they were disappointed, it was fleeting. They quickly returned to brainstorming ideas–ideas that didn’t involve sugar cubes. They had moved on while I continued to nurture my guilt. I wasn’t done fretting over missed opportunities. Never once had C said, “I can’t graduate without building a sugar cube pyramid!” It didn’t matter. I had already opened 17 years of would have/should have/could have guilt messages. We mama’s are good at those, aren’t we? My list was extensive, and ridiculous. (Had we really only taken the girls to the circus once? Oh, the crime! It didn’t matter that C hates clowns. I added it to the list.)

My close friends tease that I carry a wagon-load of guilt. It’s an area I’ve been working on. I hate disappointing clients. I hate disappointing friends. I really hate disappointing my family. Usually, what I view as “monumental” is but blip on the radar. This was clearly one of those, but I made it something bigger.

Then, I remembered something my mom had once said, “Make choices for yourself you would want your girls to make for themselves.”  Would I want my girls to be flogging themselves over sugar cubes?  No, of course not.  “Since I started it,” I decided, “I can turn it off.”  And, I did. It was that easy.

It may be C’s last year of homeschooling, but I’m a student, too.  We are both learning. She is preparing for college, and I for the empty nest years by letting go of my “mama-guilt” over things we didn’t do. Who knows? If I work really hard, I might just graduate this year, too.

What are you holding on to? More importantly, are you ready to let it go?