"In the case of Good Parents Everywhere versus Dana, how do you plead?" "Guilty as charged your honor." A study recently confirmed that mom guilt is more prevalent than mom jeans, stating that 94 percent of moms feel guilt. I was shocked! Who are these six percent of moms that DON'T feel guilt?! I feel guilty about everything and I'm pretty sure that's the way God and the media intended it.
Let's assume that of that six percent, two percent are the crack head mothers of the world, the complete incompetents. That still leaves four percent of mothers who claim to never feel guilty. Who are these women and how do they do it? Don't they read the same articles I do? Don't they have friends and family pointing out their many flaws and short-comings? Don't they ever catch themselves yelling at their child(ren) and think they should have handled the situation differently?
I'm not Catholic but if I were, I'd need a priest dedicated solely to hearing my daily mothering confessionals. Forgive me Father, for I have sinned. Today I used the TV as a babysitter so I could shower in peace. I also forgot to replace the water in the dog's bowl. Twice I was inconsistent in my disciplining methods, threatening a time-out for bad behavior, yet never administering the punishments. Four times I yelled at my children for various offenses, rather than remaining calm and speaking in a low voice. Three times I served them non-organic, unhealthy processed meals, which they loved. I could go on but you get the idea. The guilt starts the second you find out you're pregnant. Oh, you're drinking caffeine and you're pregnant? Guilty. Is that a bit of sushi I see on your plate? Guilty. Don't have a birth plan yet? Guilty. Haven't decorated the child's room, established a college savings plan, selected a pediatrician, fully researched the best receptacle for your child's soiled diapers? Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty.
Last week a study was released talking about how moms with young kids tend to eat poorly and exercise less than their childless counterparts. While this was generally a big duh, I of course, felt guilty and knew the researchers had been secretly taping me. Rather than prepare two sets of lunches (and often dinners), I find myself eating a whole lot of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese along with the kids. My children generally treat healthy food with the disdain most people reserve for murderers and Wall Street bankers, so I often just make them what I know they'll eat, rather than what I'd like them to eat. (My little peanuts are smallish and I worry about them not eating enough and rationalize that empty calories are better than no calories and hey, maybe their pants will stop falling off of them at least...)
I thought about the study and tried to think of workarounds to this unhealthy diet I was consuming. But, for every workaround I devised, I found yet another reason to feel guilty. I could park them in front of the TV , grant them a little extra screen time, allowing me to cook in relative peace, without fear of dumping hot liquids on their heads as they cling to my legs throughout the entire ordeal. The verdict: Too Much TV-Time Guilt. I could let them run amok, have unstructured playtime while I cook them healthy food. The verdict: Free-Range Parenting Guilt. They would surely use the opportunity to jump from the couch onto the glass console table, crashing through it and severing major arteries, necessitating a trip the ER. Then, all of that healthy, organic food would go to waste.
So often I find mothering to be a damned if you do, damned if you don't proposition. If you tend toward the "helicopter" style of parenting, you're smothering and don't allow your kids the ability to experience life and learn things on their own. Unless you have the dedication of the Tiger Mom, this also means they're not getting into Harvard because, as some Harvard professors will tell you, what kids need to succeed is more unstructured playtime. (Or, if they do get in, you'll have to go with them because they won't know how to function without you). Alternatively though, if you're "free-range," you're going to get a lot of dirty looks from other moms and, inevitably someone will get hurt/in trouble and everyone will ask "Where was this child's mother?! Why wasn't anyone watching them?!"
Sometimes it feels like parents (and, let's face it, that's mainly the moms) get called to task for everything they do or don't do. Everything from the number of enriching Mommy & Me classes you take with your child (you're either not providing them with enough learning opportunities or you're over-scheduling them - either way, you're guilty) to the food you serve them is up for grabs.
Just as I was about to give up hope and go curl in the fetal position somewhere, I came across a book review of Bryan Caplan's, "Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids" and started to feel the guilt slip away. The review promises me that the book will show me how I can kick back and let the kids raise themselves as research has shown that nothing I say or do will really matter very much in their overall success in life. For some, this may be a depressing thought but for this guilt-ridden mother, it's a breath of angst-free air.