Friday, November 15, 2013

Enough with the Mommy Guilt

I've been reminded lately that I need to chill out a little bit. It's easy for me to jump to conclusions (somehow they are always bad ones) and assume the worst about a situation. The problem is that in parenting this leads to unnecessary mommy guilt. I walk around with a huge burden, feeling like I'm failing my children. But they didn't put that burden there, I did. I offer you two exhibits as evidence:

Exhibit A:

These notes
greeted me on my dresser one night when I came home from an activity. The kids were already in bed at this point, and my husband told me that around this child's bed were increasingly adamant notes about the tooth fairy needing to make an appearance. "TOOTH HERE!" "TOOTH UNDER PILLOW!" "Tooth fairy, PLEASE COME!" Somehow the tooth fairy has a very hard time making it to our house. Actually, the pizza man does too, because GPS's misdirect them, so maybe the tooth fairy has the same GPS. Whatever the reason, it often takes several weeks for the tooth fairy to pay up. Yes, I feel guilty about this, and I vow to do better, but somehow it's hard for me to remember.

So of course when I saw this note I jumped to the conclusion that this child had lost a tooth weeks previously and had been waiting for us to notice, all the while becoming emotionally scarred because we failed to see the gap in her smile. I was imagining that every night at dinner she'd sit silently hoping that maybe someone would take note of this significant event in her life, and no one ever did. I was absolutely riddled with guilt. I was ready to give this child $20 for her tooth (our usual rate is $1, or $2 if we are really slow at paying, or $3 for a pulled tooth). My husband urged me not to try to buy her off, so we gave her $2, but I still felt terrible. We typed up a very lengthy note from the tooth fairy explaining that she had noticed the lost tooth, and I think we said she had been short of cash.

Now three weeks before this event, this same child had lost a tooth, and not having any dollar bills I had paid in quarters with a little note of explanation. Apparently I had disguised my handwriting well, because I heard the girls discussing the note and agreeing that it wasn't from me.
So on this night, just before I put the $2 and the typed note under the child's pillow, I wondered aloud, "you don't think this is the same tooth that I already paid for in quarters, do you? This child isn't trying to get paid twice for the same tooth, is she? Surely not."

Well, as you can probably guess, it was in fact the same tooth. The child in question had thought that the quarters were put under her pillow by an older sister, and were in fact her own quarters from her piggy bank, so she had tried again. My extreme mommy guilt was uncalled for.

Exhibit B:

Do you see this picture of our family, drawn by my first-grade son? All of us are lined up in age order, and then Dad is above us in a hot air balloon. The psychologists among you are probably thinking what I thought: Why is Dad in a hot air balloon? Does this child think he is absent? Above the rest of us? (probably that one is true). And why does the hot air balloon look like a prison? Does the child think he is imprisoned by work? Surely this picture means something profound.

I had learned my lesson from the tooth fairy extortion of 2013. I would not jump to conclusions, I would ask the child. So I asked him why Dad was in a hot air balloon. My son smiled and said, "I ran out of room." Ah, crisis averted. And putting him in a hot air balloon was actually a pretty clever way for it to make sense that he wasn't standing with the rest of us.

I laughed about both of these events, but they made me think. I wish I could stop over-analyzing every situation and assuming the worst. I wonder how many times I have imposed thoughts and feelings on my children that were not even there. I wonder how many times my mommy guilt has been a good thing that leads me to be a better mom, and how many times it has led to unnecessary worry, stress, and anxiety. My guess is that it has only been justified and useful about twenty percent of the time.

I wonder why I always blame myself for every struggle my children have. If they react badly to something or are overwhelmed, it's my fault for not preparing them for it. If they are struggling with a friend, I wasn't the first person they came to for help because I'm a bad mom. If they are struggling in school, it's my DNA that makes that skill hard for them. If they seem down or discouraged, it's my fault for not helping them be happy.

I've had enough. I am ready to own the twenty percent of the mommy guilt that is mine and do something about it, and ignore the other eighty percent. I don't know exactly how to do that, but I hope remembering these two incidents will help. Maybe a good first step is asking my kids what they think of me, like the kids in this video. My guess is that they think I'm doing a better job of this whole mom thing than I think I'm doing. And probably they don't blame me for most of their struggles because they are too busy blaming themselves. Hmmm. Maybe getting rid of unnecessary guilt would help all of us!

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