Mommy Guilt Has No Place On Mother's Day (Or Any Other Day)

It's Mother's Day and my wife is being stupid.

I know… It's Mother's Day, which could potentially mean moving on when my kids' mother says something I completely disagree with… Something that goes against everything I believe in — something that is basically a direct blow to reality. But Mother's Day or not, she said a stupid thing, and she deserves to be called out.

See, we had one of those days. We woke up too early, and got ready to go to Chuck E. Cheese for a 10am birthday party. My kids quickly finished breakfast and went upstairs to get dressed. While I was doing a terrible job at wrapping the present, my daughter told my wife that her foot hurt. My wife called me upstairs, showed me how my girl was limping, and where her foot was swollen. One phone call to the doctor later, and we decided to split: I was going to Chuck E. Cheese with the boy, and my wife was going to the hospital to get x-rays for the girl.

We were done with Chuck E. Cheese just as my wife got the x-ray results (It was nothing. My daughter stopped limping as soon as she got the $250 Motrin), and we all met at a Park & Ride outside Baltimore for a trip to another birthday party in DC. When that party was over, we drove up to Silver Spring for some friends' housewarming party.

And I'm saying all that because maybe my wife was just too exhausted by the time we drove home at 9:30 pm to realize that what she was saying was really, really stupid.

"Hey," I said, "At least tomorrow is Mother's Day, and you get some presents!"

"I don't deserve presents," she said. "I'm hardly doing my part as a mom anyway."

My wife travels a lot. I'm talking recognized-by-flight-attendants a lot. She doesn't travel to escape her family and her role as a mom, but because being a mother means having to make sacrifices. Being a modern mom means being stuck between sharing parenting responsibilities with a smile and working to pay the bills. My wife is married to a stay-at-home-dad who gets to spend all day with the kids. She gets off the plane in Seattle, and sees a picture of her son pushing his happy little sister on a swing. She turns her phone on after a flight to Canada, and sees her husband's Facebook update: The kids did this really funny thing… Then she finally comes back home, and her 3-year-old daughter asks her if she's going to sleep in our house tonight.

And all this time–guilt. All this time of traveling from one side of the country to another and back, endless hours on airplanes, alone with her thoughts, giving everything she has for her family, she is also consumed by the thought that she's not being a real mother.

Which is really stupid, isn't it? How can a woman whose life right now is nothing but sacrifice for her family think she's not being a good mother? She's the mother of adoring kids who learn more from her in one minute than they do with their always-tired dad in a month, and she thinks she doesn't deserve presents? I wish I could give her Mother's Day presents every day. Instead, all I can give her is a daily 10-minute Facetime call with her kids.

We think of ourselves as what we think others think of us. I learned that confusing idea in a psychology class in high school. If that's true, then let's say we take the best mother in the world, and let's say that this mother, because of society's expectations of motherhood telling her that bringing home the (veggie) bacon could never be enough, that she must also tuck her kids in every night, and read them a story every night, and teach them to swim and skate and dance and kick and sing and eat good food and be good people–let's say this mother thinks that society thinks she's a terrible mother, because she doesn't contribute to the family in accordance with outdated ideas about parenting. That means she now thinks she's a terrible mother, or worse: that she doesn't even deserve to be called a mother.

My poor wife, who goes back to Seattle in two days after spending less than a week at home, thinks she doesn't deserve presents. On behalf of the family, let me just say there's no one who deserves anything as much as you deserve our gratitude today. Your kids are the luckiest kids in the world for having you as a mother, and I'm the luckiest guy in the world, for having the opportunity to spend my days with these great kids you made. Happy Mother's Day to the most deserving mother in the world.

And let me just add a few words to the other mothers out there: To the mothers who travel for work and think they fail their children, and the mothers who stay home and think they fail their gender, to the mothers who wash and cook and clean, and to those who wish they could stay home and do that every once in a while, to the mothers who feel they must pretend their lives are perfect, and to the mothers who have given up on their unacheivable parenting ideals, to all the mothers who are one judgmental stare away from falling under the weight of constant guilt, and to my own mother, an ocean away, you all deserve this.

Happy Mother's Day!

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