Mama guilt is real and ridiculous

I find myself sitting alone in the kitchen after I give the kids their dinner some nights, eating alone and listening to a podcast, and it fills me with guilt.

How dare I sit and not be with my children? Don’t I love them? Don’t I want to be with them all the time? If I don’t is something wrong with me?

Of course, I know I love my children. And I know I don’t have to be with them all the time to show it. I know there isn’t anything wrong with needing a break from my children throughout the day but something deep within in me says my little breaks are selfish and wrong.

Where does this guilt come from? I have no idea. No one has ever told me I should play with my children constantly or entertain them non-stop or sacrifice quiet moments to myself because I gave birth to tiny humans.

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My husband works a second shift, leaving me home with the kids during two of the busiest, sometimes most stressful, times of day – supper and bedtime. I don’t resent being a stay-at-home mom. In fact, I wanted to be at a stay-at-home mom for years. I worried about putting financial stress on our family but I felt being home with our son, to raise him, was the right step to take. By the time he was in school, I considered going back to work to lift some of the financial burdens but by the time I made up my mind about that I was pregnant again. A situation at my son’s school led to a decision to homeschool him at the end of last school year. Going back to work wasn’t an option at that point.

Seven years ago, after working for 14 years, I was home with my son,  overwhelmed with the thought that I was now doing something I never imagined doing. When I was a teenager and in college, I knew I was going to be a writer or a photojournalist who traveled the world, not a mom. And if I was a mom, that baby would be in a carrier, on my back, not in my lap or in my floor while I did the things stay-at-home moms did. I didn’t know what they did, but to me stay-at-home moms were boring and frumpy and covered in spit-up, yet also super organized and played with their children and did crafts and arts with them and cooked home meals and stood in the kitchen in their aprons and waited for their husbands to come home from work and – and – the mere thought of being that mom sent me into sheer panic mode.

But then I was holding him and he was looking at me. He was funny and intelligent and I forgot about the boogers and spit up on me. The late nights were hard and I was a walking zombie. Pregnancy and breastfeeding kicked my tail and soon I was on thyroid medication and supplements and anything I could consume to keep me functioning. But he was worth it all.

And today both he and his sister are worth it all.DSC_0540

DSC_0535What’s happened to me, though, is what happens to many stay-at-home moms: I run the danger of pouring so much of me into them there is very little left for anyone else and there is definitely nothing left for me to relax and refresh my inner self.

I remember being so obsessed with caring for my son, feeling his care was my sole responsibility, that I found myself consumed by guilt if I even took a few moments to myself to take a shower or a bath or run to the store to grocery shop on my own.

My mom did everything for us growing up. My dad worked and she cooked, cleaned, cared for us and was there for us when we fell off our bikes or came down with a cold or woke up with a nightmare. She was amazing and I think when I became a mom I subconsciously compared myself to her and thought I had to do as much as she did and had to sacrifice the way she did, or at least the way I thought she did.

One thing I don’t remember my mom doing is playing with me. She colored with me some, but as for playing, she’d been raised that children needed to entertain themselves and learn on their own to teach them independence. She didn’t ignore me or shout at me to leave her alone, but she gently directed me toward my toys or my sketchbooks or outside to find something to do.

I truly have no idea what my mom did to relax, except she read. A lot. She escaped in a book and she took time for herself when she cooked. Did she feel guilty that she wasn’t spending her every waking moment with me or my brother? I don’t know but I have a feeling she knew we were okay on our own and she didn’t need to be with us every second. She also wasn’t bombarded with messages from magazines and social media and tv about our failings as parents.

Is being a mother harder now because of the many voices we have telling us how to be one? I don’t know, but what I do know is we don’t have to listen to all those voices.

Maybe we can take one or two, think about what they are saying and apply their advice, but then we can ignore the others and listen to the only voice that really matters: the voice inside us that tells us when we’ve stretched ourselves thin enough and it’s OK to set the kids up with a game, a book or even – gasp! – a cartoon and take a little time for ourselves.

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Three going on fifteen or why my new name is “mooooooom”

Little Miss, 3, 1/2 is back to calling me “mom” instead of “Mama” and saying it like an annoyed and spoiled teenager. “Oh Moooom.”

“Mooooom, watch me.”

“No, I don’t want that for dinner, Moooom.”

It’s seriously like she’s 3 1/2 going on 15 some days. And boy does she have my moodiness tendencies, much to my disappointment. One day last week she made a mess with water by pouring it all over the living room floor in what she said was an attempt to pour it on Zooma the Wonder Dog to stop her from pulling on her clothes.

I asked her to clean up said mess and she informed me, first, “No. I won’t. That’s not my job.”

Trust me, that little comment did not go over well with me.

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Her second excuse was: “I just got comfortable” as she lounged on the couch watching a cartoon.

I promptly turned off the cartoon and this resulted in long sighs as if she’d been mentally transported into the future as her 15-year old self. Somehow my demands that she clean up the mess she made by herself became a completely overblown toddler crisis and she ended up hiding behind our couch, in a small area near our front door where we keep our shoes.

She had thrown all the shoes out, was crying and in between sobs was saying “but it’s not my joooob! I don’t want to do it! I just want to be lazy and not clean it up!”

I know exactly where her demands to be lazy are coming from and when my 11-year old son got back from camp we had a serious talk about the days he declares “I don’t want to do anything today! It’s lazy… (insert whichever day of the week it is). Eventually the entire drama came down to her saying she would have cleaned up the water if only I had used the word, “please.”

She said all this while still nestled in the space behind the couch and when I added the “magic word” of please to the request a slightly muffled voice informed me: “Well, I can’t do it while I’m crying and I can’t stop crying!”

Eventually, the water did get cleaned up and the drama was abated with a cartoon and cuddle but the attitude bordering on full-blown teenage angst continued off and on throughout the day, with most of her responses coming at me in irritated and impatient tones.

I liked my mom’s suggestion when I told her this story, which was that if she says again “it’s not my job” I turn the tables on her by refusing to do various tasks she would like done and saying flippantly “Sorry. It’s not my job.” Mom and I were fairly certain this effort will one day backfire on me, however, since I am a mom and it actually is my “job” to take care of my kids and Little Miss will most likely inform me of that. one day.

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