Mama Guilt is Not What You Think

I’ve read quite a bit about “Mommy Guilt”, primarily because I’ve Googled it each time I let my daughters play on the floor while I spend hours on the computer creating lesson plans, or when I leave them right at the time they want me to read them a bedtime story to go out with friends or my husband, or even when I zone out for a minute and stare at a spot on the wall just thinking or just not thinking at all.  It plagues me every time I take time from them for something else.  It plagues me when I take time for them and ignore all that “something else”.  I can’t escape it, and apparently, I’m not the only one.

But ever since I read Tina Fey’s beautiful piece, “A Mother’s Prayer for Her Daughter”, I find that when I think about my relationship with my own daughters, I’m often actually thinking about my relationship with my parents.  I tear up nearly every time I read it, and I can’t shake the expertly crafted image she creates when she writes–

And should she choose to be a Mother one day, be my eyes, Lord, that I may see her, lying on a blanket on the floor at 4:50 A.M., all-at-once exhausted, bored, and in love with the little creature whose poop is leaking up its back. “My mother did this for me once,” she will realize as she cleans feces off her baby’s neck. “My mother did this for me.” And the delayed gratitude will wash over her as it does each generation and she will make a Mental Note to call me. And she will forget. But I’ll know, because I peeped it with Your God eyes.

I don’t read that and think about my daughters with their possible future babies–at least not yet, not while they’re still babies.  Instead, I think about my past.  I think about my own helpless little body lying on the puke green shag carpet that covered the floor of the house I grew up in, looking into the eyes of my mom and dad who made silly faces at me and wiped the poop off my leg.  I think about those moments when my toddler reaches out her hand as she walks down steps, and when my infant lays her head against my shoulder because nothing brings on sleep more than the comfy pillow of someone you love.

I think about those moments when, while conducting her experiment in independence, my three-year-old tells me (true story), “No! I don’t like you. You stink!”  And I think about those moments when I get frustrated with my adult parents–when mom won’t respond to my texts or dad wants to argue politics.  Because, I try to remind myself, once upon a time they felt the way I do about my babies, about me.  And I feel guilty that I break their heart a little bit more every time I recognize that we are separate people.  Even at thirty-two years old, I still have a hard time accepting that I don’t belong to them anymore.

When I get a guilty pang after daycare drop off, or during a plea for attention that I just can’t give, or in the midst of an elaborate scheme to eek out just one more bedtime story, I empathize with my future self by empathizing with my parents.  I feel guilty because I know I’m on borrowed time.  I will one day watch my children choose a partner and choose a lifestyle possibly different from the one I wanted for them.  I will watch them raise their own kids and get pissed at me because I try to give them advice.  Or get pissed because I didn’t raise them the way they think kids should be raised.  I will watch them make decisions that I wouldn’t choose for them, and feel the tiny heartbreak that they didn’t ask for my advice.

Ultimately, my mother would tell me, as she has many times before, Guilt is a wasted emotion.  And I know she’s right, but for right now at least, it forces me to understand that I only get this moment.  Because it won’t be long until my daughters are the ones with “Mommy Guilt” when they find themselves feeling guilty about how much they never knew they really loved me.

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