Heidi is determined to help other moms be realistic and open about their child-rearing goals and experiences through sharing her own on her blog, No Dead Beetles. She's close to finishing a book, and hopes to start holding seminars and firesides soon, addressing subjects such as postpartum depression, perfectionism, and how moms can find time to be themselves through re-prioritizing and delegation.
“It became increasingly clear to me that the shame and guilt that my ambivalence engendered had made it extremely hard for me, as a young mother, to come to terms with my limits. And I began to see that this was true for most mothers.”
Barbara Almond, The Monster Within: The Hidden Side of Motherhood
I first noticed the guilt while my oldest child was in utero. I don’t remember when I realized exactly how constant and contradictory it had become.
I felt guilty for not getting enough exercise. No matter that I walked 20 minutes each way two and from classes at least once a day. I was still a slug who was gaining too much weight.
When I started, er, leaking a lot of liquid off and on, my mother convinced me that my refusal to hurry to the doctor might be killing my baby. My panic brought on stronger contractions, which made me think I was going into labor early, which landed me in the hospital, where they informed me the baby was kicking my bladder. Then I felt guilty because I was sure the stress of college and work was hurting the baby (it was certainly hurting me), so I quit my job and started taking the elevator instead of the stairs between classes.
Then I felt guilty for not bringing in income, and for exercising even less.
For women, and for moms especially, the expectations society has for us are set up so that we fail no matter what. Guilt is inevitable, unless we can teach ourselves to ignore those expectations.
I used to work for the LDS church at a Distribution Center in Orem, Utah. Working nine to fifteen hours a week at an evening job is dangerous living for a Mormon mommy. Most times when I’d mention my little girl to another employee or to a customer, their eyes would fill with concern and they’d say,
“Well, who is she with right now?”
She’s with her father. He’s, you know, fathering. In a non-biological sense. And then they would look surprised, or maybe make a comment about how he was “watching the baby” or “babysitting”. Some of them looked genuinely worried. What, do you think he’s going to drop the baby on her head? Blow up the house while trying to heat soup? He’s not a child himself, and he’s fully capable of putting our child to sleep without accidentally setting her on fire. He might even, you know, clean up a bit afterwards. And everyone will still be alive when I get home. Mom gets a break and some cash, Dad gets time with his kid, everybody wins, no guilt required.
But we seem to like guilt. Without it, we’d have to deal with that fact that life--that the right thing to do--can’t be the same for everybody.
Sometimes the customers got awkwardly aggressive about my family. I always felt like I had to explain myself: oh, I only work a few hours a week. My husband’s still a student. She sleeps most of the time I’m gone anyway. One lady told me I shouldn’t be taking classes while I had small children. One older man advised that it was time for me to have a second child. My pregnant supervisor had it even worse than I did. Customers constantly asked her why she was working. I remember her ranting in the back office, wild-eyed.
“Because we, oh, I don’t know, need the money? Because I FEEL LIKE WORKING? Because I LIKE IT?”
I quit that job while pregnant with my second child. You’d think the guilt would have stopped there, but no, this is where the no-win comes in. Someone always thought I could be doing better. A lot of times that someone was me. Because it’s not good enough if you’re at home 24/7. You have to want to be. You have to enjoy every minute of it, or you’re doing something wrong.
I’ve looked into this. I’ve asked around. Let me tell you, no one enjoys every minute of it. It’s okay to need a break. It’s okay to need a break at an ofice. People tell me, there is time for careers and hobbies later. Now is your season to be at home. To sacrifice everything, even when it’s not necessary. Like if I spend a minute doing something not directly related to children, they’ll somehow disappear, or grow up to be crack dealers.
But the opposite is true. The time I spend away from my kids makes me a better mom. It gives me a chance to recharge, a chance to miss them, a chance to be the woman I was before I had kids. I didn’t spend my pre-mom years sitting around waiting to be granted a purpose upon conceiving. I am a whole person, and being a mom is an important part of that, but it’s not the entire story.
It’s so easy to say, “Don’t have guilt about working for pay.” It’s just as easy to say, “Don’t feel guilty about being a stay-at-home-mom. You do so much work, even if you’re not bringing in money.” But it’s a lot less easy to make yourself believe these things. I still work on it every day. When I’m with my kids, I could be earning money. If I play with them, I could be doing chores. If I’m doing chores, they want to be played with. If I go to work, I should be at home. No matter what I do, I can’t measure up to all the things I’ve been told I should be. It’s physically impossible. No wonder I’ve spent half my life feeling like a failure. According to my own standards, I can’t be anything but.
So I’ve stopped caring (well, not really, but I’m trying my best). Whatever I’m doing right now is good enough. There are days when I repeat this while writing, while scrubbing toilets, while enjoying a moment just sitting with my kids.
Whatever I’m doing right now is good enough.
Let yourself say it. I promise this won’t end with your children sitting neglected in a pile of filth while you run around getting pedicures and taking college courses.
Saying it will actually make you a better mom, and of course, a happier person.
“The day I realized that the cultural ideal of femininity was, quite literally, unattainable? The day I realized that women are supposed to be sexy and chaste, undemanding and seeking commitment, meek delicate flowers and strong backbones of the family? The day I realized that if you're tall you're supposed to look shorter, and if you're short you're supposed to look taller, and if you're fat you're supposed to look thinner, and if you're thin you're supposed to look more voluptuous, and that whatever body type you had you were supposed to make it look different? The day I realized that every woman is insecure about her looks... including the ones we're supposed to idolize? The day I realized that, no matter what I did, no matter how hard I worked, I would always, always, always be a failure as a woman?
That was the day I quit worrying about it.”
--Greta Christina, Alternet