As a daughter, I tried to avoid the mom guilt at all costs. I was the goody-two-shoes kind of kid who deflated every time my actions instigated that look from my mom. It was a direct cause-and-effect situation though, so as long as I controlled my own actions, I could steer clear from those penetrating, disappointed eyes.
You know the look. That withering stare that began with the locking of the jaw before moving to the slow purse of the lips, and finished with piercing eyes zeroing in on their target. Before your first and middle names were even uttered, you knew you were moments away from getting mom-ed and braced for the all-too-familiar feeling of guilt to wash over you.
As a mother, I face a different kind of mom guilt. This version is a much different force to be reckoned with and is something I was not prepared to control. As a result, it deflated me in ways I never could have imagined as a teenager.
I Am Not a Patient Person
I never knew I had such a level of impatience hidden deep inside me until I had a baby. Sure, I heard the wisdom that explained you don’t realize how impatient you really are until you have children. But, that was meant for people who were already impatient, like the guy who tailgates me on the four-lane highway.
Oh, the naivety. Impatience does not discriminate. It just rears its ugly head at different times for different people. And it only took one week of having a helpless baby in my living space before I found myself telling my husband he needed to grow a pair of breasts because I couldn’t do this feeding thing anymore.
He laughed then, and I’m laughing now, but I was deliriously serious at the time. I was exhausted and hungry because my baby’s schedule kept me from answering either of those basic necessities. I was further drained of mental stamina because while all my baby wanted to do was nurse; my body could not produce enough. Cue the constant, anxiety-driven question: Is he getting enough?
All of these factors culminated one afternoon as I held my screaming baby to an empty breast. A moment of desperate impatience manifested itself in an uncharacteristic outburst of yelling nonsensical sounds at the wall. I will never forget my immediate mortification as I watched my darling son’s face actually transform. It was the first time I understood how babies could have different cries and in this instance, I knew I had just made my son cry out of fear for the first time. And guilt flooded my heart.
My battle with breastfeeding became a root issue that increased my guilt. I hated that I had to spend money on something that my body was created to produce. And, in a frenzy to make my freezer stash look Pinterest-worthy, I found myself in a desperate spiral of comparison that never failed to show that I was coming up short as a new mom.
I Am Good Enough
Shortly after bringing my son home from the hospital, I decided to leave my fulltime job. While I couldn’t simultaneously manage a newborn and devote time to my job, I felt a loss of identity when it came to my new role. I had never judged any mother or father who decided to be a stay-at-home parent, and absolutely considered that as their job. But every time I met someone new, I couldn’t bring myself to answer their question with, “Yes, I do work. I’m a stay-at-home mom.” I would smile away my discomfort, shrug, and offer, “No I don’t have a job, I just get to be home with my baby.” As if every moment of that daily life is a privileged walk in the land of rainbows and unicorns.
Keeping a human alive is a job, no matter how tiny the human. With so many dear friends of mine being nurses, I speak with the highest admiration when I say those angel souls are deserving of every bit of pay they get. (And more, am I right?) So why don’t I consider myself deserving of a job title? Not in a way that would diminish the overwhelming amount of tasks a nurse has, but a mother shares the same, basic task of keeping a human alive. And moms don’t even have the advantage of a sterile environment and access to drugs. (We do have the access to wine though, sorry nurse friends.)
The guilt that came from not being a good enough, not being patient enough, and not providing enough for the household was stifling my self-confidence and deflating my worth.
Guilt provoked me to pursue mom perfection. But those two words together are a straight oxymoron. And rightfully so, because no perfect human — mom, dad, brother, daughter — exists. In fact, the cracks from our imperfections let the light in and show our kids how to be human.
I realized it’s OK to feel guilt because battling that basic human emotion is draining enough. Instead, I had to learn to simply feel it while moving on. Now I refuse to let the guilt drive me to action. I am an adoring Marine spouse, a loyal friend, and a great mother — guilt and all.
Photo Credit: Renee Dolan Photography