Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Mother Guilt

Guilt is a popular topic in mom-world. (First Google "mother guilt". Now Google "father guilt". Notice a difference?**) It comes up in mom surveys and mom blogs and mom books and mom anything.

Perhaps I'm just too early a parent to know better or I'm in denial. But I don't get it. And I'm tired of hearing about it.

A classmate and I were reflecting on how whenever we express some dissatisfaction with our lives, our mothers' first response is "Oh no, I've ruined you. It's all my fault." Err, no. We're doing just fine, thanks. Maybe the guilt is inescapable. Ultimately, I will succumb. But I have my doubts. Here's why.

I am actually well acquainted with guilt. I feel bad when I snap at my mom, forget to call my dad for months, choose yet again studying over an afternoon with my husband, buy too many plastic bottles, fly in a jet (all those emissions!), decide not to contribute to NPR this year, or email birthday greetings rather than send a proper gift. But I don't say that I have "daughter-guilt" or "eco-guilt" or "cheapskate-guilt". (Well, maybe eco-guilt.) These moments do not take on an all-encompassing identity around which I feel obliged to rearrange my life activities. I feel bad. I try to do better. And I call it a day.

I feel distress when Baby Y wails at my departures or absences. But he wails just as much when he's not in the mood for bedtime some nights or has his heart set on consuming nothing but raisins and chocolate milk and watching Sesame Street for six hours some days. Since when did good parenting become oriented solely on preventing all instances of wailing?

But my bigger quibble is that guilt is completely useless. Only action matters. Mother guilt is self-indulgent and ineffectual - an emotional release without real purpose, moored in a bygone notion of proper womanhood. Parents should feel guilty for abuse and neglect. But far more important is that they rectify abuse and neglect, not just feel guilt. No abuse or neglect? Then no problem. Stop annoying the public and your children with the lip service. And stop spreading the myth that this is inevitable part of motherhood. The cure can be found in a little logic.

Surely I cannot be the only one to observe that stay at home mom <> bliss for child or mother. Or that maternal self-sacrifice too often results in a creeping resentment that leaves everyone worse off. Baby Y is better off than probably 99% of the world's population. He's better off than I was as a child. He's never known nutritional want in his life; spends his days playing in the park, reading books and indulging his Elmo obsession; has two happily married parents; will attend the best educational institutions in the world; and receives a daily stream of affection and love. Who in her right mind would feel guilty about providing this life? But this is the life that most women penning about parental guilt are providing for their children.

And so I remain happily guilt-free. I highly recommend it.

**Under "father guilt" we get incest, infanticide and alcoholism. Undoubtedly bad parenting! Under "mother guilt" we get not creating the perfect life for your child, taking time to care for oneself, family fun party ideas and Gwyneth Paltrow. Errr, I missed it. There was a problem?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

i didn't know such thing as mom guilt exists with others but i feel it everyday.. im currently preparing for gmat ..and suffering a lot mentally because of the fact that i ignore my daughter while studying at home..she goes to preschool 3 times a week though..thanks for the blog .i'll remember the last paragraph as motivation