A mother’s guilt

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?

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5 Comments

Filed under motherhood, Uncategorized

5 responses to “A mother’s guilt

  1. ctminnesota

    You are not alone…and you are correct that the guilt simply follows you whether you are spending full time with your children or working full time away from home, and therefore feeling like you never have enough time with them. Then the pressure is to make every single minute wonderful. Make every second you have together a learning opportunity. Make sure there are no arguments or temper tantrums, because you get so little time with them you want all of their “together” memories to be good ones.

    It isn’t possible, though. So we have to accept that in the end, being a truly happy WOMAN will help our children have the happiest childhood experience. The answer to the question of what makes us happy is of course different for every single one of us. For some, the purest joy is in raising children full-time. For others, it may be a split of work outside of the home and inside of the home. It doesn’t matter – – whatever form the joy takes, just go find the joy! Your family will thank you for it later.

    • Hello, it’s reassuring that other people might feel like I do. I probably need to find a better balance for myself. That’s something I’ve been missing lately for various reasons. I think guilt is just part and parcel of motherhood. No matter what we do, we always question whether we are doing the best for our children. I know I need a break, but the only that is guaranteed to give me this at the moment is television. I feel guilty, though, every time I put it on for longer than I think I should.

  2. yep…pretty much! 😉

  3. Do not feel guilty about getting a job and going back to work. I know this for a fact. Some people are content with tending to the children and the home all the time. It’s exactly what they’re meant for. There are others of us who are not. I don’t think you’re a bad mom for feeling like you need to get away. There is nothing wrong with spending part of your day in just the presence of adults. It gives you balance in your life. If you’re happy, then your children will be happy.

    • You’re right – I think they will be happy as long as we are happy. It’s finding the right balance which is tricky. I’d rather work part time, but I don’t see any part-time jobs advertised. It will be hard to go back to five days, but I do feel like I need to be doing something else. Everyone tells me to freelance, but I don’t know if I have the energy and the resilience to look for contract work. You need to have a pretty thick skin for this kind of thing. We’ll see. > Date: Sun, 12 Aug 2012 23:45:40 +0000 > To: parkscarla@hotmail.com >

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