Guilt Trip

A little while ago, Craig got into a "discussion" online in which he stated a fact and was then accused of being unhelpful, making someone feel bad, and not considering other's feelings. The funny thing is, he said one thing, was told he was wrong, then put up a link illustrating that he wasn't - that's all. He didn't tell anyone what to do or not do, he didn't say anything "judgmental" or even say anything about anyone. In fact, he didn't even use very many of his own words at all. And there was no reason to believe that anyone was "made" to feel bad. So why the big reaction?

We talked about it and basically came to the same conclusion and it all has to do with mothers and guilt. This is by no means the only example of that and funnily enough, because I'm trying to stay "on topic" and not get back into the specifics of that situation, it is actually ending up a non-example so I'll give another, less personal one.

We see the guilt thing come up all the time has to do with the "mommy wars" and the comments on this post illustrate that. The anonymous 19-year-old who wrote it was participating in a series that is supposed to reflect the various writers' personal stories - their experiences and theirs alone. She writes about how her mom used to stay at home and now works outside the home and how she thinks it has negatively impacted their family. She ends by encouraging stay-at-home mothers. And unlike most women in the whole mommy wars debate, she doesn't really have "a dog in the fight.*" She isn't trying to justify her working outside the home or justify her staying at home. She's just telling her story, that's the whole point of the series. But many of the comments accused her of being selfish, whiny and judgmental. My guess it is because they felt she was trying to make them feel guilty for their decisions.

A few more examples:

  • It's mean to say breastmilk is nutritionally superior to formula because some mothers can't breastfeed and that could make them feel guilty.
  • It's hurtful to say that babies and toddlers do better when cared for by their parents and not daycare workers because some mothers can't afford to stay at home and that could make them feel guilty.
  • It's judgemental to say that c-sections are more risky than vaginal births because some mothers can't deliver naturally and that could make them feel guilty.

  • It's not just the "bigger" issues either. I've heard women complain about how they are made to feel guilty by home decor magazines (because her house isn't as clean and tidy as those - although it might be if she knew magazine photographers were about to come over :-) blogs that talk about fun things to do with your kids (because not everyone has time to finger paint everyday) and cooking blogs (I don't have the time/energy/money to cook healthy homemade food). I've even read a children's book review that didn't like a book about a dad coming home, greeting his son then eating dinner and reading him a bedtime story because in her family, her husband wasn't able to do that every night and it made her feel...wait for it...GUILTY!

    Basically, we're told over and over again that we aren't supposed to say anything that might possibly make a mother feel guilty. There are two major problems with that concept.

    The first is that I can't make anyone feel guilty. Eleanor Roosevelt said "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent." I would say the same concept applies to guilt. In fact, I can't make anyone feel anything, at least not without their letting me. You are responsible for your emotions, including guilt. I think that concept is so critical for everyone to understand, but especially women since we tend to be more emotionally driven, and it is one I will be working hard to instill in Lucy.

    I'm not saying we should go around being cruel to one another. Heck, I wrote a whole post about how I don't like confrontation. Perhaps that is why this guilt thing gets under my skin so much. I don't want to be mean but if you look at the those first three statements, none of those things were harsh judgments, they weren't even judgments, they were just facts.

    The second issue? Why should mothers be exempt from guilt? Guilt doesn't have to be a bad thing. It can be and often is (and I'll be getting to that soon) but sometimes, people should feel guilty and sometimes, those people are mothers. I think guilt is a normal, healthy part of life if people are willing to deal with it. If you are feeling guilty over a situation, stop and ask yourself - is it legitimate guilt?

    If so, make a change! Feeling guilty because now you're spending too much time on the internet while your house needs cleaning or your baby is sitting in bouncy seat or your toddler is watching another hour of Caillou? Get offline! Do you feel guilty for snapping at your toddler? (Not that this has ever happened to me of course :-) Walk away, count to 10, pray for patience, go back and start again. Don't just sit there feeling guilty, do something about it. And yes, I most definitely count praying as "doing something."

    Guilt is also a normal part of grieving. I know I've felt guilt occasionally when dealing with the sickness and death of my mother. It is legitimate? No - and yes. No, in the sense that I obviously didn't do anything to cause my mother's cancer and I don't really have any regrets when I look back on our relationship, no issues left unresolved, nothing left unsaid. But it is also legitimate in the sense that I think guilt is a normal, healthy feeling that comes with grief. I didn't push it away or try to hide from it, I faced it, thought about it, prayed about it and eventually (not overnight) was able to move on. Will I never face any more guilt issues when I think about my mom? I don't know, but I'll keep addressing them if I do.

    And I would guess that almost any mom that has experienced a miscarriage has at one point or another, felt at least a twinge of guilt. Did I lift a heavy box, was it because I fell down the stairs, should I have done this, should I not have done that, etc. I know I did. Do I blame myself? No. And I shouldn't. But did I have to admit that I felt those guilty feelings to move past it? Yes. That's normal. And I think the same type of "grief guilt" applies not only to grieving the loss of people but the loss of experiences, opportunities and choices as well, especially when those come up unexpectedly. Wondering "what if" isn't necessarily wrong, but it can easily get out of control if not addressed. You shouldn't let yourself keep feeling guilty over a choice you didn't have.

    Sometimes women feel guilty because they lack purposefulness. The way to counteract that is to be intentional. Do what you do for a reason. If you know why you are making the decisions you're making and you're confident in them, then you aren't going to feel guilty because of a blog post or a Facebook comment or what a lady in the grocery store says or what your mother's third cousin twice removed thinks because as soon as that guilt even tries to enter you're mind, you can stop it. It's easy to tell yourself "Who cares" when you really are sure that you don't.

    In all three of those situations, the problem with guilt comes if we aren't willing to process it. Ironically, for all the heming and hawing I hear about guilt and how mothers should shake off the shackles of guilt, I still think there is an underlying "love" of guilt. Mothers don't really want to give up their guilt. It reminds me of school. It isn't "cool" to be too smart. And it isn't "cool" to be a guilt-free mom. Sit around enough mommy groups and after a while you begin to get the feeling that everyone else is secretly glad they harbor some guilty. Good moms feel guilty. It's a sign they care. Except it isn't. It's a sign they care enough to feel something but not enough to do something about it.

    You may doubt me but what if I make a confession? I rarely feel guilty about mom stuff, at least not for long.

    Be truthful, was your first reaction, that's great, we need more moms to be unafraid to be guilt free or did you just think that I'm obnoxious and arrogant while muttering something to yourself about how I must think I'm a perfect parent. I'm not a perfect mom and I'm not a perfect person. But I don't feel guilty over either of those facts. I'm doing the best I can while being grateful to have a God that loves me anyway and is walking this parenting journey with me.

    We've just come out of a particularly rough few months because of my morning sickness. Lucy watched more videos and ate less homemade food that I would have liked. Was I frustrated by this? Yes, I like cooking nutritious food for my family and playing with my child. Do I feel guilty? No, I did what I had to do to get through. Cold cereal is hardly my idea of an ideal breakfast food but a couple months of Cheerios didn't kill any of us.

    Last year I was torn between being at home or being with my mom. I hated being away from Craig and I hated taking Lucy away from him even more, but I knew my time with my mom was limited, although it was a guessing game as to how limited. Do I feel guilty over our decisions? No, we did the best we could in a lose-lose situation.

    We definitely took the road less travel when we had Lucy at home. And several friends/family members actually tried to talk me out of it. I took their concerns as a sign that they cared about me and "Nigel,"  but told them that we were confident in our decision and that was that.  I didn't get offended, I didn't get my feelings hurt, and I certainly didn't feel guilty over my decision.

    Please tell me I'm wrong and I'm not the one mom out there who refuses to allow guilt a comfy spot on my couch. It can rest a second on my front porch but then it's got to go. I want to be wrong, I really do. Maybe there are a lot of us but it really is like school and we are just afraid to admit it. Any other moms out there like me?

    *Do people know this expression? My mom used to use it but I don't think I've ever heard any else do so.


    1. Very well said! You are so right about the way moms wear guilt like a badge of honor. But I'm with you; I may regret certain decisions but I can't say I feel guilty about the things I do/don't do with A. I never really considered why, but I think you got it right when you said it's because my choices are purposeful and rooted in what I believe to be right for us. I also don't take it too seriously. What I mean is, I think moms get so caught up in the the everyday dramas of parenting (especially with their first) but I've managed to keep a pretty "big picture" focus, if that makes sense.

      As I was writing this, my coworker comes in and says she has a cough and might go to the doctor. The next words out of her mouth? "[Her daughter] has had a cough for a week. I feel so guilty."

    2. The first thing that popped into my mind was, "Well, she shouldn't feel guilty cause she works darn hard at her job!"
      I'm always tucking away ideas you give for when Ezra's where Lucy is developmentally.
      Also, I must say, as someone who doesn't generally have to worry about guilt, I was shocked at how easily it came and how persistent I have to be in denying it "head space" now that I'm a mom.
      My concern with Craig's comment was actually not at all related to guilt, but to fear. Of course, I have no guilt related to either of my births (even though my birthson was induced and I had an epidural), but I had Ezra at home mainly because I was so afraid of a c-section. I know Craig doesn't mean to use scare tactics to encourage people to have natural births, but I think some people do end up really scaring women who are in a vulnerable place with their bodies and their unborn children. I'm sure not everyone feels this way, but I'm really, genuinely scared of surgery. I do want my friends to be educated about birth and to not have unnecessary surgery. But I don't want my friends to approach birth terrified of having a surgery that is certainly not as dangerous as others, you know?

    3. Tina - Haha. My type A personality can make it really hard to keep the big picture in mind and not stress about little things but I agree, you really have to if you want to survive motherhood. And your co-worked = perfect example!

      Michelle - I think fear can be a big factor for most parents because my goodness, you love that little person so incredible much and never want anything bad to happen to them.

      And I think both "sides" can easily be accused of fear mongering, not just on the issue of birth but from everything from ultrasounds to vaccines to schooling choices and raw milk. But one thing our good friend Neva told me several times in regards to feelings, especially fear, is that you have to look at the source. Is this is a truth based fear or a lie-based fear?

      I would say that our decision to have a homebirth with Lucy was partly due to fears as well, not necessarily of a c-section, but of unnecessary and unwanted interventions both during the birth and afterwards and I don't think that is a bad thing, statistically I had/have a reason to be. I didn't realize it so much back then but not that I am getting ready for my second homebirth, I can see the difference as this time I am much more focused on the positives that I think can really only be achieved at home more than avoiding the negatives that can (notice I said can, I know they don't always) come with a hospital - although that is partly because I don't have to worry about them.

      To use a neutral example (you know, because I don't want anyone to feel guilt :-), I don't want Lucy to be afraid of everyone and everything around her. But I do want her to be afraid of some things. The fact that she won't cross a certain line on our driveway because it means she is too close to the street or how she yells "Lucy no touch, hurt hurt" every time she sees a pair of scissors or a knife, makes me happy*. Those fears are good and hopefully, will keep her safe.

      *Okay, that last one sometimes drives me nuts because most of the time, I'm holding the knife and it is no where near her so I don't really need such a loud reminder of its dangerous potential.

    4. *Dude, I've TOTALLY heard that expression before. It's a common colloquialism.