A friend of mine got her dream job. It’s part-time and work-from-home — basically, the envy of anyone who ever wanted to work in the history of ever. Obviously, she was over the moon. Except for one thing: She’d always vowed to homeschool. She was even enrolled in a homeschool association. The job meant she had to stick her 4-year-old in preschool. Despite finally landing her dream gig, she felt horrible. Terrible.
“He loves school,” she said to me.
“Then why do you feel bad?” I asked. Clearly, she was doing what was right for her son. She has the right to do something other than mother, and a happy mom makes a happy kid. And he is a happy kid — he loved preschool. She planned to pull him next year to homeschool anyway.
“Mommy guilt,” she said.
The ugly dragon of mommy guilt — our constant companion, the devil on our shoulders. Mommy guilt tells us everything we do is wrong and bad. It tells us we’re raising demon children, children who will grow up to tantrum like The Donald. It makes us second-guess, triple-guess, quadruple-guess — and then compare ourselves to someone on Pinterest and cry. This is what it means to be a mother in the 21st century: to feel bad about everything, like…
When we feed them peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
This a perfectly nutritious meal, and was once considered by our parents as an adequate dinner (with Kool-Aid on the side, oh yeah!).
Now, if we feed our kids sandwiches, we feel a nagging sense of desperate inequality.
What if they aren’t getting all their vitamins? What if we’re using (gasp) white bread instead of wheat? What if we didn’t cut it into a happy octopus shape?
Clearly, we are failures for serving a mostly balanced meal.
When we don’t notice their clothes have minor imperfections.
You put your son in his best Led Zeppelin T-shirt. Three hours later in the middle of Target, you notice that it’s fraying in the back. Horrors! Doom and damnation! Clearly, someone will call social services on you. You want to hide under a rock, so you actually purchase another shirt for him, rather than realizing the fray gives it character. It is a Led Zeppelin shirt, after all.
When we do sports teams or don’t do sports teams.
If you do teams, there’s a race to get dinner in between school and practice, and often resort to the devil of them all — fast food. Everyone’s beholden to the team schedule, and younger siblings get drug along to practices and games.
If you don’t do teams, your kid is clearly missing out on some important life lesson without which he will grow up to be a lonely loser who can’t even pull together a D&D game. You’re a monster.
When we calculate what time to put them to sleep.
Everyone says your kid has to get 12 hours of sleep or he’ll die, so you better put him down at 7 p.m. sharp.
Or he has so much homework and is on so many teams that you have to let him stay up until 10 p.m., or else he’ll be in trouble with his teachers.
There is no solution. There is only self-flagellation.
When we work outside the home.
You’re doing the daily grind so your kids can freaking eat, not to mention all those expensive-ass sports teams, and you still feel bad you’re not home waiting with cookies and milk at the end of their school day. You don’t have a choice to stay home, but you still feel like you should — like some magic genie should pop out and pay your mortgage so you can spend your days picking pasta out of a toddler’s hair and feeling guilty about PB&Js.
When we’re tired of wiping butts all day.
Moms spend all their time up the wrist in feces, urine, and occasionally blood. People scream at us all day. They cry at us all day. They demand at us all day — often bizarre things, like a different color sippy cup or where their red dinosaur is. “No, not the green one. The red one!”
But you still feel like you’re abandoning your children to the wolves when you get time to yourself, and you clearly don’t love them. You are an unfit mother.
Go wipe another ass as penance.
When we buy Christmas presents.
We can buy our kids too many toys, in which case they’ll turn into a demanding, monstrous little Violet Beauregarde. They won’t value anything they get because there’s so much of it, and so they’ll never learn to care for their possessions.
Or we can get them the “something you want, something you need, something to wear and something to read” thing. That’s only four presents. You are Scrooge.
When we turn on the TV.
At all. Anytime. Ever. Because when we turn on the TV, we do it so we can ignore our children. And everyone knows the TV will turn kids into ADHD-fueled monsters who will grow up to sit on their asses and watch America’s Next Top Apprentice Woodworker in Alaska.
Even if we’re dying from the flu while we need to cook lunch and the baby’s crying, we still feel bad about turning on the TV. It’s part of being a mom.
Everyone feels guilty about some part of momming. Every mom generally spends some part of her days wanting to crawl into a hole and die of shame.
Who entrusted her with these tiny beings, these small people who demand food and sustenance and love and moral guidance?
We need to breathe. We need to trust the universe.
But we’d feel guilty we spared the time.