Posts Tagged ‘guilt’

Privilege and Guilt and Tomatoes

Friday, May 11th, 2012

I’m writing this while willfully ignoring my children, who are running in circles throwing raisins at each other and vying for the title of “Loudest Noise Ever Made By Someone Who Weighs Less Than 35 Pounds”.  I am torn between feeling extremely guilty for not being a more active parent at this moment and knowing my sanity cannot take another minute of being used as a human jungle gym.

Evan and Caroline are going through a phase in their relationship – God, I HOPE it’s only a phase – where they are constantly trying to kill each other. Evan sits on Caroline’s head, Caroline shoves Evan off the couch, they both attempt to stand up on the ride-on fire truck. And when I shout at them to KNOCK IT OFF ALREADY they hug and make up…although the hug turns into a squeeze and then into a pushing match and then they’re rolling on the floor squealing again. I don’t think any of it is meant with malice, but damn is it exhausting. I need to record myself saying “Use your words” and “Hands are for hugs and high fives” and “Be gentle” and “Make wise choices!” so I can just play it on an endless loop.

It’s been one of those weeks where being a stay-at-home-mom doesn’t really feel like a privilege anymore. It feels like an endless, hopeless, pointless chore that is destined to drive me over the edge long before these kids become fully self-sufficient. We had an incredibly fun playdate on Monday with one of my very favorite mom friends and we started talking about preschools. We got a little giddy thinking about how next year we could both be child-free a few hours a week if we sent our youngest to under-2 programs, but then she said “I kind of feel bad though. I mean, this is why I stayed home – to be home with them.” And that is SO TRUE – although slightly less true for me (who quit working in a real estate office) than her (who had a really fancy job working to cure cancer). But I am home because I want to spend these years with the kids. Evan is more than half way to kindergarten. Kindergarten is full time school! He will take a bus! I will have hours and hours five days a week without him! And Caroline is only 20 months behind him. I’ll have 13 years of free time during the day to go to Target or unload the dishwasher or weed the garden or eat bonbons and read blogs.

But it’s hard to see beyond the next day of full time momming when my kids are hungry and cranky and sunburned and screaming and my husband calls to say he won’t be home before 9 pm. And it’s hard to stay positive when it rains for four days straight and I go to bed and wake up with a headache. And it’s hard to remember how lucky I am when Caroline smashes me in the face so hard with her head I see stars. And it’s really really hard not to beat myself up when I use my shouty voice practically every time I open my mouth even though I KNOW I’m using my shouty voice and I hate my shouty voice. I bet good moms who really appreciate how privileged they are to be home with their kids don’t even HAVE a shouty voice. I feel even though I recognized I was struggling and did what I was supposed to do and got help and I take my pill like a good 1950’s housewife I still fail, daily, to be the mother my kids deserve.

I know I am not the only mom who feels like this. Probably. I just have to remember that one bad afternoon (or day or week) doesn’t mean tomorrow can’t be better. Or hell, today can be better. After nap time we braved the crazy New England weather – rain! sunshine! wind! heat! cold! all at once! – and worked in the garden. Evan thought planting seeds was the most amazing thing ever and he can’t wait until we have a bean stalk that goes all the way up to the sky. Caroline carried her little pink watering can around like a baby. We talked about how our tomatoes need sun and water and food so they can grow and I forced the metaphor down my own throat so hard I practically choked. But I needed that moment in the dirt to remind me WHY I am so lucky to be here, even if Caroline did just throw a plastic cell phone at her brother’s head while he tried to ride the cat.

Advice is for suckers

Thursday, March 31st, 2011

I’m going to give you the most important piece of parenting advice you’re ever going to get:

Don’t listen to parenting advice.

At best, what you’re getting is someone’s own personal experience with a very limited number of children in a closed set of circumstances that you cannot possibly replicate exactly. At worst, they’re suggesting your dip your kid’s binky in Jack Daniels to deal with teething pain. True story.

Of course, no mother ever in the history of the world has managed to have a baby without getting some advice, whether she asked for it or not. For the most part, it’s all really well-meaning and kindly and just a way moms connect to other moms. It’s practically an automatic response, just like saying “Fine” when someone asks “How are you?” Someone holding a baby says “Jeeze, these diapers I’m using keep leaking” and BAM! I’m spewing word vomit about brands and sizes and cloth diapers versus disposables all over their face. I am totally guilty of the unwanted advice attack, even as I tell myself to stop.

The trouble is, it’s so damn easy to mistake advice for guidelines and guidelines for rules and as soon as something starts feeling like a rule the mommy guilt kicks in when you break them. When you’re exhausted and bleary-eyed and someone at playgroup says “You should put the baby to sleep in the crib so he gets used to it right away. That’s why my kids are such great sleepers!” suddenly everything you’ve been doing is wrong and those naps the baby’s been taking in your lap have doomed you to never sleeping through the night again. You’re a terrible mother!

Or when you mention in passing that you’re not really sure what you’re supposed to be doing with your infant all day long. I mean…she just lies there. Sometimes she smiles, but since she can’t even get her own hand in her mouth yet it seems a little early for baby signs or story time at the library. “Swim lessons!” says one mom. “Kindermusik!” says another. “Read her War and Peace!” says another mom, “Even though she can’t understand it it’s never to early to start the classics!” And then there you are, suddenly doubting the happy cooing and peek-a-boo games you’ve been playing aren’t doing enough to enrich your baby’s teeny tiny mind and she’s somehow falling behind the other babies before she can even hold her head up. Terrible mother!

Even really benign comments, like “I always put on make-up in the morning, no matter how busy my day is. It’s important to me to make the effort” can sound like “Look at you, you slob! I am judging your unwashed hair and pony tail and yoga pants! Obviously you’re just too lazy to make an effort!” especially to a new mom. Hell, you don’t even have to be a new mom, since every single stage of motherhood is challenging, every single time. A sleepless toddler thanks to his new big-boy bed is just as exhausting as a colicky newborn. An infant having trouble nursing is just as stressful as a 2 year old who won’t eat anything besides Goldfish. We’re all scared of making mistakes, all unsure about some of our choices, all blaming ourselves for every cough and sneeze and bump and bruise, so we turn to those around us, desperate for that one mommy secret everyone but you must know. But when well-meaning advice makes us feel even worse it is no longer helpful. You are the parent, you get to make the decisions, even if it is the total opposite of what your best mommy friend told you worked for her.

Of course, some advice is good. I want to kiss the person who suggested stickers as toddler entertainment right on their mouth. I’ve gotten great advice when it comes to breastfeeding from my (now defunct) nursing moms support group. And the internet has helped me in countless ways when I needed to connect and get a new perspective on what’s going on with my crazy toddler.

But in the end, don’t let anyone’s advice get in the way of your happiness.