The Mother of All Guilt


We’re six weeks into summer break, and since I work from home, I face a whole host of mommy challenges beyond “What am I going to do to entertain these jokers for 3 months?” The flexibility my job affords me during the school year is a trade-off for the summer months, when the expectation of putting in work hours is matched by those of my fun-in-the-sun-hungry children.

My son is in a baseball day camp this week — six hours a day of good old fashioned American fun with his buds. Since he and his younger sister are either the best of friends or the worst of enemies and either situation sounds very much like two cats fighting, I thought this would be a good break for them — and me — to finally get some work done. The girls could hang together and I could make some progress.

I pulled into the baseball complex Monday morning, did a final gear check, and slapped some sunscreen on that boy of mine before heading to the registration table. He was all set, and I was headed home to dive into my work projects.

Then I bumped into a friend, also dropping her son off, but who wasn’t leaving until she was sure he made it to the right dugout. I had to laugh, not AT her, but because I’m sure I did the same with my oldest. As the number of children increased and time passed, I’ve relaxed a little. My oldest will tell you otherwise, but if we’re being honest, my fourth will likely drive herself to cheer camp, and she’s eight. Anyway, I tried to assure my friend her son would be fine, but she was set on staying, so I chatted for a bit and was on my way. I didn’t feel badly that I wasn’t hanging out to see my little guy’s field assignment. After all, he’s older than my friend’s son and was surrounded by people he knows.

Nope, the guilt didn’t start creeping its way in until about one o’clock that afternoon. I had successfully hammered out three hours worth of answered emails, phone calls, and paperwork when another baseball mom friend texted me asking if I was going to watch the game.

Ummm, what game?

Apparently there were games EVERY DAY during the last hour and a half of camp, and she was going to watch. Every day. Are you kidding me???

Here I was thinking I had a couple more hours to complete my work for the day, and was frustrated that I now felt summoned to the fields. Then I immediately felt horrible for resenting the opportunity to watch my child play his sport.

And then I returned to frustration.

The purpose of all of these summer camps we sign our kids up for is to give them exposure to new things, practice old skills, and break up the monotony of punching their siblings on the daily. It is NOT a mommy-and-me session for us to attend together. So why did I feel so badly that I wasn’t racing off to the fields to sit in 100 degree weather to watch my son enjoy himself with his friends?

Two words — Mommy guilt.

If you’re a mom with a conscience, you’ve felt mommy guilt at some point, even if your baby is only a day old. It starts immediately after delivery, and washes, rinses, and repeats daily throughout their lives. I’d like to say it ends when they move away and live on their own, but that would be a lie.

Below is a list (not comprehensive, because that would require writing a book on the matter) of some of my more memorable mommy guilt moments:

  • Not breastfeeding as long as the experts suggested, even though my baby was personally trying to dismember me.
  • Letting the baby “cry it out.” We (meaning me) didn’t really subscribe to this method, but there were times it had to be done. I cried, too.
  • Dropping a child off for her first day of Kindergarten, while she clung to my leg, sobbing. Gut wrenching.
  • Not volunteering equally at the kids’ schools. I really thought I had this one covered. Did you know those little buggers keep score?!
  • Going back to work. This was huge. Don’t even get me started on how awful it felt to WANT to go back to work. That HAD to mean I didn’t want to be with my children. Worst mother ever.
  • Delivering any sort of punishment.
  • Getting childcare of any kind.
  • Not going to camp to watch my kid’s game.
  • Not knowing there was a game to watch.
  • Doing anything just for me. Even showering with the door closed. Anything.
  • Writing for this blog. How dare I spend time writing when I could be further enhancing my precious ones’ lives?

Why must every move I make as a mom be accompanied by second-guessing and feelings of inadequacy? Why do I feel guilty for using time that my children are being entertained by others to fulfill my responsibilities? Has motherhood always been this way?

I was raised in a decade where girls and women were told they could do it all and have it all. Oh, and it would be easy. I remember watching Baby Boom in the late 80s and thinking, “If Diane Keaton can have a successful career of mass producing baby food in a desolate farmhouse covered with snow AND be a perfect parent, so can I.” Well, except for the baby food production part. And being covered in snow. She was just one of the amazing “80s ladies” examples who portrayed working mothers with the superhuman ability of being great at, well, everything.

No one can be great at everything.

I’ve learned this the hard way – saying yes to so many commitments that I can’t be completely successful at any one of them. So tell me, who does this benefit?

I’m learning how to be reasonable in the expectations I put upon myself, because frankly, there’s only so much of me to go around. It’s a daily challenge to fulfill everyone’s needs, let alone mine, so it’s also important I set boundaries with others. This includes my family. It’s okay for me to say no to joining the booster club or the PTO. It’s okay to not be the room mom or teach Sunday school. And it’s okay to not go to camp with my son. We try too hard to be perfect, to be ten places at the same time, to be at every practice, meeting, and game, to meet every volunteer need asked of us. This comes at a great personal cost to meeting our own needs, goals, and responsibilities. This also comes at a great cost to my sanity.

I won’t say mommy guilt is a useless emotion, because it does keep us in check when we just don’t want to leave the house for the fifth time in one day but we know we really should (It’s her championship game, for goodness sake!). But there isn’t a parent out there who hasn’t signed his or her child up for a sport and then prayed for rain when practice/game time came. My rain dance is entertaining (and slightly disturbing), but it almost never works.

I’m trying to be honest and fair when it comes to beating myself up for not doing enough, being enough, spending enough. I know I care, and hug, and love enough. I also know I’m imperfect, and I’m only one person.

I am choosing to let go of the guilt as best I can. I am choosing to believe what guilt remains is a testament to the deep love I have for my children and my desire to want the very best for them. I am choosing to not succumb to mommy wars, whether invited by others or self-inflicted. I am choosing to focus on the things I did accomplish today rather than the piles of laundry and to-do lists that remain. I am choosing to watch my son play in his World Series baseball game on his last day of camp, and not feel badly I didn’t make the others. I am choosing to believe I did my best today.

Enough with the guilt.

Enough with over-committing.

Enough with second-guessing.

Enough with neglecting myself.

Enough with the dancing. My neighbors are starting to wonder.


2 thoughts on “The Mother of All Guilt

  1. Me too. World Series, here I come. Oh wait, I have some stuff to get done before then. Oops. Maybe I’ll see you at pick-up! 😉

    Liked by 1 person

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