Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Mommy Guilt

What is it about mothers and guilt?
Why do we so often fall victim to the ease of comparison and competition?

I have been pondering these thoughts lately, especially after considering Kat's post yesterday regarding birthday parties. I have HUGE motherly guilt associated with the celebration of my kiddos' big days. But why? They feel loved; they feel appreciated; they feel special on their birthdays. So why the need to own up to some standard, some far-off achievement of the biggest bash on the planet with every themed ornamentation, showcase of creativity, and birthday menagerie?

Why as a young mother did I feel like my children had to keep pace with every milestone others' children achieved? I knew full well that all children develop at their own pace and end up reaching the same developmental outcome by age five. Yet I continued to do it. Mommy guilt.

I admit to being rather competitive, but is this issue pervasive among less-competitive mothers? And does it wane with the addition of each child and the understanding by a mother that she really can't do it all? Or just that she can't meet the unreasonable expectations put in place by irrational thinking and planning?

I spoke with a new mother yesterday, who shared of her experiences in the first two months of motherhood. She commented on having to limit time on the phone with a really organized friend (also a new mother) due to the feelings of inadequacy that would result from their conversations. I hastened to discourage her immediate sense of guilt and comparison. "Don't do it, " I said, "Whatever you do, don't allow yourself to fall into the trap of mother guilt. It's always there. It's always working against us."

Mother guilt is sinful and we, mothers, need to pray for greater enlightenment; for strength to endure particular seasons of motherly guilt so that we can truly fulfill our vocations to the best of our ability. No more. No less.

I will pray for all mothers today. I will pray for you.


Kat said...

Amen, B-mama! Great reminder for us all...Isn't it refreshing to meet a mother with a beautiful family, who is very open about the fact that she and her family have their own struggles?!

Mary Alice said...

Unfortunately, I think that Mother competition can be caused by the low self esteem that some mothers may have -- many working moms feel conflicted about that choice, or judged for it, but many stay at home moms feel just the same way. Therefore, the fact that (because we work) we can pay for a fancy party or (because we stay home) we can bake a better cake becomes something to hold on to, and unfortunately, often becomes an unintentional weapon against other moms.

Katherine said...

I think for some moms it comes down to image. They don't want to be seen as inadequate or having children regarded as slow, stupid or behind.

For me, personally, it is about fear. I am afraid of screwing up. period. Not doing the right thing at the right time or saying the right thing. Not teaching them well, or rearing them well. Missing an opportunity. And since none of my children came with individualized instruction books or guides, it is tempting to compare with others in a vain attempt to reassure myself that I am doing everything right but, of course, all it makes me do is feel inadequate and guilty and like more of a failure.

I think the cure for me is simply doing my best and trusting God to the rest. Just wish I was better at both parts of that.

B-Mama said...

Katherine, I think you've tapped into a lot of the source of my own mother guilt. Never before have I taken on such a task like motherhood without a set of "how to's" explicitly stated for each child!! It can all become overwhelming... Oh for the grace to take each day as its own and to offer up all of the joys and sorrows! Lord, have mercy on us, mothers.

Right Said Red said...

Argh! I just typed up a long comment and it was deleted! Oh well.

Well stated B-mama. I totally agree with your sentiments about mommy guilt. I too have experienced this unhealthy mommy guilt. When Gianna was first born, I didn't know many others with children, and so I was sheltered a bit from mommy guilt. In addition, both Gianna and Charlie were advanced in their early motor skills, so I wasn't tempted to feel that other kids were more "advanced."

Now that we regularly interact with elementary age kids, and attend many birthday parties, I'm slowly starting to get immersed in the competitive culture of motherhood! There are certain things in which my children are developing later than others, and I am keenly aware of their weaknesses--and the strengths of other children. So many parents like to slip in how "advanced" their children are in certain areas, brag about how their kid is reading at age 1 (j/k), let you know that their child is really making lifelong friends at the age of 4 or 5,because they are just so social, etc. I really have to just take these statements with a grain of salt, realize that all children develop at different ages, and take into consideration that many statements are made with the intent to make the mother feel better about the choices she has made for her child.

I think I also need to realize that certain mothers make me feel worse than others, and then I need to make an effort to 1) pray for that mom and her family and 2) avoid chatting with that mom when I'm going through a guilt or inadequate phase. B-mama, I think it was so wise of your friend to recognize that talking with another mom who was competitive was very unhealthy for her.

But back to birthday parties and mommy guilt...

For many, birthday parties turn into a full-week event, a friends party, then a family party, then another family party, etc. It is exhausting for the parents and can spoil the kids. It is hard to avoid as everyone wants to celebrate birthdays...but I think there is really something to be said for a less-is-more approach.

In addition, my mother pointed out a helpful "rule" for friends birthday parties--don't invite more children than the age your child is turning. How I wish I had followed this advice for Gianna's 4th birthday party. We wound up with 8 children because I was worried about offending some--and I was also worried about not having enough children at the party. Next year I will try harder to limit her guest list. It would definitely make for a less stressed out mom.

Rachel said...

It's nice to hear that other mothers share these constant feelings of guilt! I'll read someone's blog or talk to another mother and feel convinced that I'm not doing enough for my child. So and so's baby knows the signs for 30 different words, somebody else's knows how to make all of the animal sounds. I always come away feeling like "WHAT???" Should I be doing flashcards or some sort of intentional play with my 10 month-old instead of just having fun like we are right now?

It's funny that you posted this today. Just before I sat down and started reading, I was putting Tanner's clothes away and chiding myself for not making it to get any 9-month portraits made. "What a failure you are! It's too late now -- he's already 10 months!"

Now that I take time to reflect, all of that just seems so silly. What matters most is that I'm doing the best I know how and that my baby is happy and healthy and loved.

Personally, the guilt I struggle with most is actually STAYING AT HOME and not being a contributor to the family income. I feel like this guilt is constant -- even though my husband assures me that he wouldn't have it any other way. I LOVE every aspect about being a homemaker except for this one. I hope that someday I will be able to make peace with these feelings, as I plan to stay home for many years!

Bethany said...

I feel that Mary Alice hit the nail on the head. I find many moms who will intentional brag about their child's accomplishments in order to overcome their own insecurities as a parent. It's to show off what they have done for their child so that what they think their lacking as a parent is not the center of attention.

I am very proud of my children's accomplishments and I will tell anyone who will listen. But I am also aware of my own shortcomings as a parent. Ultimately, my children could care less about what they aren't exposed to. When my 3 year old, given the choice between cheese quesadilla or grilled cheese sandwich for "Fend for yourself" dinner one night, comes running to me, jumps in my arms and laughingly squeals "Grilled Cheese, please", I know that he is thrilled that his mommy is making him something he loves to eat.

And no I may not have made a vegetable that night with his dinner. He probably had a grilled cheese, wheat thins, and applesauce. I probably snapped at him when he was hanging on my arm for the umpteenth time. And I'm sure I yelled out of frustration when he "pooped" in his underwear for the fourth time that day, but refused to sit on the potty. But when he went to bed that night, after grilled cheese, several bed time stories, a board game, and the Thomas song, he knew he was loved. Just like every other day and every other night, no matter what the "mom down the street" might be accomplishing.

Time to go play "the fishing game" with said 3 year old.

Mary Alice said...

Rachel, I have been down that road of guilt when money is short, or especially when there are oppurtunities that we feel like we cannot afford to give the children. One thing that helps is to calculate what you would really make if you worked outside the home. Unlike most of the other builders, I don't have an advanced degree, so I have now realized that the costs of childcare, private school, commute, dry cleaning and taxes would make my salary pretty small at the end of the day. Also, I do my best to economize here and there to make up for the fact that we only have one income coming in.

There is one thing that I do regret, it is how much my husband has to work, but I imagine that he would still be working those kind of hours even if I did work. If we could both work 9-5 it would be a totally different matter.

Mary Alice said...

Bethany, I am right there with you, tonight we had mac and cheese for dinner, and last night french toast. We are in survival mode at the moment, but I am trying to put the highest priority on loving them, and so the house is a mess and we are eating crap right now but I take what little time and energy I have and devote it to play time, stories and snuggles.

B-Mama said...

Bethany, I just had to crack up at your thoughts:
"I probably snapped at him when he was hanging on my arm for the umpteenth time. And I'm sure I yelled out of frustration when he "pooped" in his underwear for the fourth time that day, but refused to sit on the potty."

Hysterical! I blew up at my 20-mos-old today for pouring water inadvertantly out of the tub onto the newly-washed bath rug. He's done this before and "why can't he just remember how upset it makes me!" I am ridiculous!! Mommy guilt bigtime.

What I'm realizing, though, is that in my guilt, I can apologize to my children for being irrational and fiery. I did so after the bathmat incident and felt much better. The sooner both they and I realize I am not perfect, the better.