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We all feel guilt or remorse at varying levels throughout our lives. If you’re reading this and thinking, “No, not really,” then perhaps your time is better spent looking for your conscience. For most, this is a normal emotion that can be overcome and redirected with a little bit of effort. Unfortunately, for others it can be debilitating and interfere with daily living. If that sounds like you, consider talking to a mental health professional. Trust me, it helps.
I’ve had an interesting relationship with guilt. Over the years, I’ve learned to manage feelings by learning the importance of setting personal boundaries. I’ve missed funerals and weddings, I’ve cancelled plans and ignored phone calls. Let’s just say I’ve been disappointing family and friends for years before it became trendy.
Nothing, however, would prepare me for the type of guilt that can result in chest pains, cause me to sob in the middle of the day, and make me feel undeserving of unconditional love. Mom Guilt. Here is a small sampling of why I might feel the weight of Mom Guilt on any given day.
I don’t want to play
I have no patience
I rage yell
I steal money from his piggy bank
I resent him
I sound like a monster, don’t I? Most times, that’s exactly how I feel. When I’m done beating myself up about it, I take a step back and do some breathing exercises. I think back to the ‘Why?’ Why did I react the way that I did? I don’t mean searching deep into the abyss of my own childhood experience but instead, trying to figure out what feeling was triggered in me that got me to the point where I would act or think in a way I would later feel so badly about?
“Recognizing the reasons why I sometimes don’t react in the most ideal way creates space for self-forgiveness.”
I don’t want to play because I just finished a nine-hour work day, made dinner, washed dishes, forced you into the bath, did a load of laundry, and now all I want to do is enjoy a glass of wine and watch a stand-up special. Besides, it’s bedtime – and you’re getting better than me at most of the stuff you want to play. I’m a sore loser.
I have no patience because I’ve asked you to do the same thing at least five times every single morning and every single night – for about the last 6 years. Why has brushing your teeth not just become naturally habitual at this point? Are you going to be the smelly kid in class?
I rage yell because asking nicely has gotten me nowhere and being ignored now feels like a personal attack.
I curse because for F – – K’s sake, JUST BRUSH YOUR TEETH!
I steal money from your piggy bank because I’ve allowed the tooth fairy charade to go on too long but the guilt of crushing your spirit would be worse. So when you unexpectedly lose two teeth during a global pandemic, I sneak into your room and violate your ceramic pig, taking all the quarters or rolled up dollars I can reach.
I lie when I tell you that you can do anything you put your mind to. Chances are, you will not begin playing professional soccer in Europe by the time you are 14. And I will never get the beach house in The Algarve that you promised to buy me when you do.
I resent you because I thought this would be easier. I didn’t sign up for the emotional rollercoaster that I’m on daily. I feel like I’m reliving the post-partum phase all over again. Who would have thought that I’d be craving alone time during a quarantine? Sometimes I envy my friends who don’t have kids.
Recognizing the reasons why I sometimes don’t react in the most ideal way creates space for self-forgiveness. My other go-to rule is the tried and true ‘Never go to bed mad,’ which is often reserved for romantic relationships, but I think is just as important in any relationship.
Every night as I tuck him in, no matter what kind of day we’ve had, I ask this simple question: “Did you feel loved today?” As long as he continues to answer “yes,” I will allow myself a little compassion.
The current situation has presented many new ways we might experience guilt, especially as parents. While the rule book for how to navigate such a difficult time remains unwritten, do the best you can to write your own story.
Lisa Brecher is the marketing and community engagement manager at the Center for Human Development. She wrote this while pretending to play Minecraft.