Friday, July 6, 2012

On Mommy/Daddy Guilt

If you're a parent, and care a lick about how your kid turns out, chances are you are aware of the myriad schools of thought on raising children properly.  It goes way beyond spanking versus not spanking.

My firstborn as a 3 month old in a rare moment of not completely losing it

After I had my first child, I was introduced to the exciting world of mommy guilt.  This is a phenomenon born of the fact that no matter what you do for your child, it will never, ever, ever be enough.  They will always deserve better than your best because they are your child.  There is no task in the world more important than creating the next generation of people.  My guilt was perhaps enhanced because of the near-constant crying and 45 minute stretches between nursing sessions around the clock, demonstrating just how very inept I was at this whole motherhood thing, but I think every mother feels it.  And moms blame themselves for not being perfect.  You spent all day playing with your kid, teaching him his ABCs, attending to his every need, wish and whim... but you didn't make an all-organic, raw, Paleo dinner because you were So. Effing. Exhausted.  Shit.

I don't know about you guys, but I feel like I'm constantly being pulled in two directions (at least), as well.  All the moms on my Facebook page (excellent mothers, all) post stuff about completely doing away with all forms of punishment, or how not having a completely natural birth can cause learning impairments later in life or how feeding kids conventionally grown foods can cause them to grow a second head that will try to take over the world.  On the other hand, I have friends and family (and, to one extent or another, my own maternal instincts, since the following is how I myself was raised) telling me that sparing the rod spoils the child, that being too soft on them may inhibit the process of learning to deal with consequences.  My natural instinct is to get defensive.  Why?  Because my style of parenting falls squarely between the two branches I just mentioned and because I feel guilty.  Now don't get me wrong.  When I judge myself as a mother objectively, I think I'm doing pretty darn well.  The kids are alive, clean, fed, living in a house that isn't filthy, and they're usually pretty happy and well behaved.  But when I judge myself by their standards I'm crap, either way.

Recently I was watching my kids play and I realized that all this back and forth, all this "advice" offered with nothing but the best intentions (and much of it not even aimed specifically at me but just posted generally to everyone) had convinced me by turns that either I was doing something horribly wrong, or my kids weren't normal, terribly behaved or otherwise harder to handle than others, or perhaps both.  Probably both.

An example of either a mommy fail or a 3 year old win

And then I had an epiphany.  There are all kinds of mothers all over the world.  All kinds of parenting philosophies.  I've seen attachment parents tout French parenting practices (which are decidedly parent-centered, which is kind of the opposite of attachment parenting), parents who spank speak out aggressivly in favor of child-led weaning and read about mothers in the African bush let toddlers wander within inches of open flames.  And for the most part, humans are doing alright.  Most people grow up to function as members of their respective societies.  Good people come from bad families, bad people come from good families.  There are reams and reams of essays, papers, studies and evidence supporting every claim made about every parenting style.  Humans are complex beings, and I don't think we'll ever finish learning what makes us tick.  And while we're figuring that out, just love your kids.  Let them know that you love them.  Don't abuse them.  Do your best to meet their needs, teach them what they need to know, and let the guilt die a horrible death.  Because there is no way to guarantee a perfect product when it comes to raising kids. 

One more parenting lesson, which ties in to the general theme here: kids are the original masters of photobomb, learn to love those jacked up snapshots.

And that, if you listen to me (as everyone should) is the end of the Mommy Wars.  Because without guilt there isn't anything to defend vehemently, to judge others for or to get angry about.


  1. Haha! "Feeding kids conventionally grown foods can cause them to grow a second head that will try to take over the world" :) I do love the humor in your writing. It's true, far too often we mommies feel like we're just flat out doing it wrong. I think a lot of that stems from sugar-coated stories that some mommies (evil, lying mommies) tell to sound like they're not doing it wrong. I have found that I feel much better about how I raise my Doodle when I just accept the fact that I could never be the mommy he deserves, but I'm probably the best I'd want for him. We're all doing it wrong, some of us are just more honest about it. :)

    1. And I think the reason those lying mommies tell those tall tales is because they feel insecure in their parenting methods. It's just a vicious cycle.

  2. Fantastic entry... you really articulated this well. Even though I'm not a mother, I feel that what you are saying is right on. Issues surrounding parenting are on my mind a lot and I'm always thinking, "What will I do if..." What is your opinion on home-schooling btw? I'm sure its like you said: if you just do your best and cover the basics, the rest just falls into place. I'm just curious about this.

    1. Homeschooling is one of those things that I also fall right in the middle on. I think it's fantastic if parents care enough and are vigilant enough to make sure their child learns everything they need to know. It offers more flexible education. Kids often don't have the ability to explore their interests fully in public school. It can be done poorly, though. And public school has advantages too. In a society where parents often have little or no support, it offers a chance to reduce child care costs while parents work or go to college, the opportunity to develop social skills is not available to the same degree in a home school setting. I lean toward public school for my kids for two reasons. The first is that I feel ill-equipped to handle the full education of my kids. I'm not trained in how kids learn, and I teach best by example. I have a hard time relaying knowledge to children. I DO have some training in teaching adults, but that is totally different, you know? The other is because I DO want to go back to school myself or start a midwifery apprenticeship, and I don't have the opportunity to do that with both kids at home full time. Max leans toward home school because of the freedom it offers and because he rightfully believes that no one cares as much as we do about their education. But he is the provider, and so he kind of defers to me. It's not the end of the world to him, so he's okay with public school. At least until there are problems.