A memo for moms re: guilt


Dear moms,

Please take a mo­ment and look at your chil­dren right now. Are they safe? Is there a hint of a smile on their faces? Did you feed them to­day? Are they rea­son­ably clean? Have they got cloth­ing — whether they choose to wear it or not?

If your an­swer is yes, than congratulations.! You are not a bad mom.

Did you de­liver nat­u­rally? With drugs? Cae­sarean sec­tion? Did you breast­feed ex­clu­sively? Sup­ple­ment? For­mula-feed? Are you home-school­ing or are they in pub­lic or pri­vate school? Do you let them watch vi­o­lent TV and play video games for two hours a day? Do they eat junk food for sup­per some­times?

Your an­swer doesn’t mat­ter. It truly doesn’t.

There is no one-size-fits-all par­ent­ing so­lu­tion that you must fol­low. Well, yes there is: give them what they need to stay alive and love them.

Af­ter that it’s all a mat­ter of in­di­vid­ual pref­er­ence.

I’m a breast­feed­ing, at­tach­ment par­ent­ing, healthy-eat­ing ad­vo­cate who is try­ing to raise my chil­dren in a non-vi­o­lent house­hold. I say try­ing. The other day I told my daugh­ter I’d kill her if she got into an­other gi­gan­tic mess again. That’s not non-vi­o­lent. That’s day-to-day life. I felt hor­ri­ble. I felt like the worst mom in the world. I had spent the day yelling at the kids — most of it de­served, but still.

I burned sup­per. I didn’t fin­ish the laun­dry. I didn’t read the kids a bed­time story. And at the end of the day all I could think was that I was just not cut out to be a par­ent.

I felt guilty. Mommy-guilt got me. I had ru­ined my chil­dren’s lives just by be­ing im­pa­tient and hav­ing a bad day. This wasn’t peace­ful, at­tach­ment par­ent­ing; this was a cir­cus. And I was the evil ring­mas­ter.

The par­ent­ing ideals I set for my­self are hard enough for me to fol­low. I don’t ex­pect you to fol­low them too. When I write about breast­feed­ing, or rais­ing en­viro-con- scious kids, or try­ing to be a bet­ter role model in the ways I think im­por­tant I do so be­cause this is an opin­ion col­umn and those are my opin­ions.

But just be­cause our opin­ions dif­fer doesn’t mean I’m judg­ing you. Sure, if I see you smok­ing while preg­nant or pub­licly be­rat­ing your kids I just might tell my­self that you’re a bad par­ent. But that doesn’t re­ally mat­ter to you, does it? Re­ally, what do you care what I think? The fact is, five min­utes later I’ll prob­a­bly chas­tise my­self for be­ing so damn judg­men­tal.

It’s nat­u­ral to com­pare our­selves to oth­ers. It’s what we do. It’s part of how we de­velop our own iden­tity. But that doesn’t mean that one is good and one is bad. It just means dif­fer­ent.

So if —in gen­eral — no one’s good and no one’s bad then can we please drop the mommy-guilt? And can we stop ac­cus­ing each other of try­ing to make each other feel guilty? When other moth­ers talk about their choices, or when they talk about cur­rent re­search in par­ent­ing top­ics, it’s not about you. It’s not about how you’ve failed to make those same choices or fol­low that re­search. It’s about them and what they think is im­por­tant. That’s all. That’s it.

Can we all get off our high horses and pull our­selves out of the holes we’ve dug and just ad­mit that we’re mostly good par­ents who oc­ca­sion­ally have bad days or make a wrong choice?

At the end of the day none of it mat­ters. It doesn’t mat­ter what I think of you. It doesn’ t e ven re­ally mat­ter what you think of your­self. At the end of the day all that mat­ters is what your chil­dren think. As El­iz­a­beth Locke, a mom of two boys says on her blog Mom­matwo, “there are all kinds of things I could do bet­ter, and some days are bet­ter than oth­ers — but I do my best, and for them that’s enough. They’re happy. They love me back. They don’t think I’m a fail­ure.”

So if your chil­dren are there right now, give them a hug. Are they hug­ging you back? There you go. You are a good mother. You’re guilty of noth­ing. You’re not a fail­ure. And no one, es­pe­cially not your chil­dren, thinks you are.

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