Summertime: I am a young girl, with no agenda. I hold dear distant memories of waking up to the hum of the lawn mower, birds chirping, and a warm breeze pushing past my open window to graze my face. I ride my bike, grab ice-cream with my parents and siblings, and binge watch all the Jaws movies. My mother didn’t have us create summer bucket lists. We didn’t go on extravagant trips; I don’t remember summer toys bought to entertain me, nor do I remember spectacular home cooked meals. It was simple, safe, loving and fun.
We now live in a culture that is fast paced. Accomplishing more in a day is viewed as a great success, regardless of the fact that this crafts a life for some of us in which nothing is accomplished very well. A culture that buzzes with the conscious or unconscious comparisons of ourselves as mothers to the mothers we coexist with; either in person or through filtered social media posts. In other words, a breeding ground for perpetuating mom guilt. Guilt creeps in when we are consciously present with our children because we may think we failed to “keep up” in the workplace. Sometimes we do not have the time or energy left to make nutritious dinners so we opt instead for pizza or let our children eat sugar cereal for dinner. And so, guilt waltzes in. We worry our children are watching too much television and are spending too much time on tablets. We have fantasies of carving out 30 minutes a day for our children to practice their math skills in workbooks that we purchased but remain unopened. We pack their schedules with “all” the extra-curricular activities. Why? So that they are not bored, are well rounded and are stimulated children. We think of “that other mom” who seems to manage it all really well. More guilt.
What I find fascinating and disconcerting is that I have yet to meet a mother who hasn’t experienced the mom guilt. Too often, however, we tend to withhold our struggles from one another. This keeps alive the idea that we must be or are accomplishing it all, when that is an impossibility. Our children, the people who matter most, will never remember the things that we as mothers attempt to accomplish because those are expectations and judgments mostly maintained by mothers experiencing mom guilt. Our children are not setting such standards. Shifting mom guilt to feelings of self-compassion comes from mom collectives who refuse to adhere to the cultural and societal “mom expectations.”
I was privileged to participate in a conversation with a few mothers during an exercise class I attended not long ago. We reminded one another to ask ourselves a few questions: Are your children happy? Are they smiling? Are they laughing? If the answer is yes, take a deep breath, exhale and know that you are likely, lovingly enabling the kind of summer that will be remembered fondly.
Summertime now: My kids have eaten a lot of pizza, sometimes swimming counts as a bath in our house, and we ate fruit loops for breakfast the other day. They were delicious. Resist the temptation to perpetuate mom guilt. Share wonderful or what may feel like not so proud moments with another mother. And remind yourself that if your children are generally healthy and happy, you’re likely doing remarkable work in what is arguably the most difficult job that exists!
The inspiration for my blogs are informed by my experiences with clients, those around me in my personal life, and my own experiences. That said, I want to acknowledge I am not (by the process of omission) inferring that men and/or fathers or other caregivers are not struggling with guilt in a similar context as the mothers I concentrate on in this post.