The Guilt is Alright
I am one of those weird people who enjoyed school and learning, but during my senior year, I became one of those people who fell asleep in class and puked in the trash cans in the halls. I was pregnant. Sixteen and pregnant. Before it was popular on MTV.
I will never forget the day I found out, my boyfriend and I crammed into his grandmother’s teeny, mauve, mobile home bathroom that smelled a mixture of glade air freshener and faint old lady poo. We stared at each other in the bathroom mirror and started giggling like insane people. Because we were. We were happy and clueless and scared as shit and insane. We decided we were going to keep her.
Looking back, I am so grateful those first moments of learning about my daughter were filled with laughter and joy and naivety. Yes, being naïve was a bonus. Who knew it could be such a sweet blessing when you grew up knowing far too much about other matters much too soon?
Abuse was the dirt hidden under the front room rug when I was a kid. And there was a lot of sweeping. Growing up I only saw how it affected me. As an adult, I now see how it shaped my mother and the way she treated me. I won’t speak badly of my mom but I will say it was HARD. She was enraged. She was broken. She had to fend for herself. When you become a mother within these conditions, it is hard to mother. It is hard to give when we have not healed.
And then I became a mother. I was also enraged, and broken, and had lived a life of fending for myself. But I knew I wanted to do better. I wanted to be different. I wanted freedom from those things. It took years of counseling, a crap ton of hard conversations, an endless amount of cuss words, and a much-needed outpouring of love, but it happened.
And honestly, it still happens. Every day is a choice to be angry or be free.
In the meantime, I had two more kids.
My kids are my greatest testimony. And by testimony I don’t mean what they do for a living, or their economic status, or any external appearance of how their life is going. I mean, by how I loved them. Mothering is already hard. Mothering when you have nothing to compare it to is scary as fuck. I have told my kids on more than one occasion, “We’ll see how well I mothered when we know how much therapy you need.” I’m not even joking a little bit.
I did not have an example to draw experience from. Time after time, I was presented with a situation I had no idea how to handle or what the correct response should be.
Is seven too young to walk home from school three blocks? Is it weird I don’t know how to make chicken soup when they are sick? How young is too young to wear makeup? And who’s going to teach her how to put it on? Me? When should I let her shave her legs? Go to the mall with her friends without me trailing ten feet behind? Date? Am I going to burn in hell for letting her watch Paranormal Activity? Or too much SVU? Should I worry she goes to bed at 7:30 and she’s fifteen? Can I let him drink soy? Should I make him play sports? Does he have too many toy swords and he’s sixteen? Should I get him condoms? Oh! I found some in his room. S H I T. Now what??? Worry more? Or less?
Here’s what I did have – a bible and guilt and love. At first these sound like the beginnings of a weird religious movie (Mommy Dearest anyone?) but it’s not. Pinky promise! My bible taught me about grace and love and forgiveness and the power of an apology. (Yes – I believe firmly in apologizing to your kids when you mess up) Guilt let me know when I had messed up.
Like that one time I crushed the innocence of my eleven (twelve?) year old daughter when I ripped her Justin Timberlake poster off her bedroom wall for an offense I can’t even remember now. (A mother overreaction anyone? I apologized.) Or when I lost my shit when my girls got lice for the millionth time and I was surrounded by fifty loads of laundry and a teeny tiny comb I wanted to set on fire. If your kids have ever had lice more than twice, you know EXACTLY how I felt. Broke, insane, and itchy. (We ALL cried. I apologized a thousand times for this one) Or when they wanted to go outside and play tag or hide and go seek, but I was too tired so I put on a Disney movie, passed out fruit snacks, and fell asleep instead. (Sorry again, Mom’s zero fun today)
Here’s what I know about mothering – we feel a lot of guilt. Here’s what I know about mothers – we let it consume us and we think it’s bad.
Hey Mama. It’s SO not bad.
But if we are not careful, guilt can turn to shame and we will think of ourselves as bad mothers rather than a mother who made a bad choice.
Whereas Guilt will say, “hey – you shouldn’t have torn the poster. That was a bad response and you hurt her. ” Or, “Maybe you should meal plan a little better, McDonalds three times in the same week does not make a healthy family.”Or, “Get your tired butt outside and play.”
Shame will say, “Hey, you are a really shitty mother. Nothing you do is right or good enough. You are screwing up these kids because you are screwed up. It’s hopeless. You’ll never get it right.” Guilt motivates a change. Shame invites a downward spiral into conflicted hell. See the difference?
I know. This blog is weird. We carry a lot of “guilt” and tell our other mother friends, “Don’t feel guilty. You are doing your best!”
Maybe what we should say is, “Feel all the guilt! It makes you a better mom!” But then we also need to follow up with, “Don’t get caught in that shame spiral, girl. You’re not a bad mom. You did a bad thing.”
And we can ALL relate to this can’t we? GOOD mamas. Bad things. Tomorrow comes. Carry on.
XO Shannon Wasser
I’m just going to say it: I’m pro-guilt. Guilt is good. Guilt helps us stay on track because it’s about our behavior. It occurs when we compare something we’ve done – or failed to do – with our personal values. ~ Brené Brown