I am convinced there is a guilt hormone that no one has discovered yet. Soon after my daughter was born, I noticed this growing sense of guilt, horror and fear. The first time I gave my daughter a bath in the little blue plastic tub for infants, I was petrified. I had to have my husband stand right there in case she needed to be rescued. This tiny fragile being was terrifying to me. She was so vulnerable and it was all so new. After her apparent survival, I started to feel a bit better. I thought maybe they were right — babies really might be tougher than they seem. But then came the vaccinations, the croup, bloody knees, grades, friends and what seemed like a stream of childhood crises.
I never thought parenting would be so hard emotionally. I constantly felt guilty if I wasn’t by my kids’ sides helping them feel better in some way. I wondered why nobody warns you about this sense of guilt and responsibility that permeates everything.
As my children grew, so did my guilt. I seem to not only accept it, but to attract it! Pretty soon, my kids found that button and started pushing it. I was told that no one else in the whole town had to do chores or go to bed “so early.” I felt like a bulletin board peppered with “guilt” sticky notes from my children, school, relatives, friends and neighbors. It made it difficult for me to feel free at any time.
The truth is, there is no real way to articulate what parental “guilt” feels like until you’ve been there. I remember rolling my eyes when my parents told me that I wouldn’t understand the pain or guilt they experience until I had children of my own. As my children grew and we survived sports games, break ups, driver’s education and college acceptance and rejection letters, I realized they were right.
But no matter what causes guilt, maybe what we need to do is look at it from another perspective. I have come to think of mine as a badge of courage or “The Purple Heart of Parenting.” Over the years, I have come to believe that by acknowledging how difficult parenting is and focusing on healthy boundaries by taking care of ourselves, we can start to diminish the effects of guilt.
So this Mother’s Day I’ve decided I’m going to celebrate without guilt. Maybe one day will turn into two, and then hopefully four. I’m going to start with baby steps.
Wishing all the moms out there a Happy Guilt-free Mother’s Day!