I’ll let you into a little secret: I feel guilty a lot. I don’t think I can entirely blame my Roman Catholic upbringing, although I would like to. It would be more accurate to blame motherhood.
It started in pregnancy. Before my baby even drew her first birth, I’d already suffered many pangs of guilt. Don’t drink wine, don’t eat unpasteurized cheese, don’t eat soft-boiled eggs, don’t eat raw fish, don’t eat seafood; don’t drink too much caffeine. Pregnancy is really just one long period of abstinence.
I did all the things I shouldn’t. I occasionally drank a glass of wine with dinner; I drank coffee every day; I ate sushi from our favorite Japanese restaurant; I had oysters; I couldn’t bring myself to give up runny eggs; and I also ate soft, unpasteurized cheese at a wedding.
But each time I did these things I felt guilty. What if I am damaging my unborn child? What if I’m to blame for future developmental problems? What if my child was destined to be born a genius but instead ends up average? I had all these thoughts over and over again, and yet I didn’t want to give up all these things I loved. I thought the odds of something going wrong were extremely slim. I gambled.
Maybe I got lucky – both of my children are healthy. My guilt, though, drags on. Now I feel guilty about other things. One of the biggest is this: I don’t want to spend every waking hour with my children. Some days I’d rather not spend much time with them at all. Don’t get me wrong, I love them ferociously, but I don’t feel totally fulfilled by my role as a mother. I feel bad about this. At my most morose, I feel like it’s unnatural to have these thoughts at all.
Now that I am staring down the barrel of a very long summer, I am getting anxious that I’ll spend my days working to negotiate a truce between two sparring children. I have vast amounts of experience in this now, enough to possibly negotiate a truce between Israel and Palestine.
I look at other mothers in the playground, cooing at their small children while they push them on the swings. I watch mothers closely in public, to determine whether they might feel like I do. But how can you tell how someone feels in private? We all lead lives which people will never know anything about.
I hate myself when I snap at my children after a fraught morning or another stressful dinner. I don’t like raising my voice or hissing at them in public, hoping they won’t have a major meltdown and embarrass me in front of strangers. I despise myself when I squeeze their arm just a little too tightly. ‘Why am I doing this?’ I ask myself. Why do I feel like I’m failing at this?
I believe I would be better off at work. This is what I have determined. Perhaps I wasn’t cut out to be a full-time mother. No book can prepare you for how difficult it is. No one tells you how very lonely it can be, how alienating. I sometimes feel like this entire world is going by and yet my world has shrunk so irrevocably. Would anyone want to hire me now, after so much time thinking about diapers and schools, swimming lessons and ballet classes? My self-esteem suffers.
Motherhood, of course, has the last ironic laugh. If I did find a job – and I’m actively looking – I feel like there would be guilt every day as I head to the office to be among other adults. I am leaving my children to be reared by someone else. Perhaps this would eat away at me and leave me equally unfulfilled.
Here’s the final rub: even writing this makes me feel guilty, like it’s some sort of betrayal.
This is my secret. Do any mothers feel the same?