Je m’accuse

06Dec07

It’s no secret that parenting comes with guilt. Google parenting and guilt together and you get 1,900,000 hits. Parenting and happiness? 1,850,000. Parenting and satisfaction? 1,840,000. As much as we love (or purport to love) being parents, we can’t seem to escape the guilt.

We feel guilty if we work outside the home and guilty if we don’t. We feel guilty if we feed our kids from bottles, or give them happy meals, or if we circumcise or don’t circumcise our boys. We feel guilty for every bump and bruise that we feel we could possibly have prevented. Some parents feel guilty even for the ones over which they had no control.

I think the guilt comes from a few things: from having choices (e.g. the choice to work or stay home, the choice to breastfeed or bottle feed); from having so much information available to us (so many expects stand at the ready, waiting to tell me why I should or should not following this or that parenting practice); from having so little practice or training (particularly in this day and age, when we don’t get the opportunity to learn parenting from people in our lives who’ve done it before – so many of us learn it as we go, in part because this is the only way to learn it and in part because we don’t have the extended networks we need to learn things like how to raise a kid).

Most of all, though, I think it comes from the nurture assumption – the assumption that we have a direct and significant impact on how our children will turn out. If I let my child cry, this line of reasoning goes, I am making that child into something – I am making him independent, I am giving him the ability to soothe himself, or I am making him into someone who needs to complain and fuss to get attention. If I let my kid play video games, I’m giving him ADHD. How this kid turns out is a direct result of my actions, this line of reasoning goes, so I need to agonize over every decision and I’m the only one to blame if things aren’t perfect.

The beauty of a belief in nurture over nature is that you get to pat yourself on the back when things are going well. If Evan’s a little angel, well clearly I must be doing something right. Because I have a good little baby on my hands, I haven’t had to feel this guilt too much yet. Of course I suspect that Evan’s a good baby mostly on his own. I meet his needs, which helps, but I can’t take credit for all that goodness.

The main source of my own guilt (so far at least) comes from somewhere entirely different (and yet not so entirely, after all). It comes from feeling like I have no right to think parenting is hard.

Because of the aforementioned easy baby, I often have occasion to think, “Wow. I’m so lucky.” I see a mother in the store with a shrieking baby and I think, “That would be so difficult.” I watch my friend raise a child alone or see my sister-in-law with twins (TWINS!) and think, “I don’t know how they do it.” I am fully aware of the fact that so far, Evan’s been an easy kid to have. We went through the usual itty-bitty-baby afternoon and evening fussiness, but it ended. He didn’t have colic, learned to sleep through the night, and has remained healthy and happy. I am, as some would say, blessed. I have the opportunity to mostly stay home with Evan, but I also do get a few hours each week to go out and teach and be a grown-up without a baby. Money’s never been plentiful but we have enough to keep Evan clothed, fed, and supplied with a small pile of toys. I have a husband who works just one job and who loves me, loves the kid, and helps out with housework and baby care. I don’t have any older kids to juggle yet. I’m on easy parenting street.

So on the days when it seems so hard, the days when I am fighting off tears or frustration or both, the days when I just wish Brian would please come home already and take this kid, I feel horrible. Guilty. How dare I think this is hard? How dare I cry or wish I had help? I think of the moms I know who have it so much harder, and I think about the ones who keep smiling through every possible hardship, and I just feel like I am the whiniest, most spoiled, biggest piece of crap who ever lived. I even think of Brian, who had to go to work, come home, cook dinner, and study for the New York Bar Exam when all I did all day was hang out and watch a baby and I feel like I have no right to complain.

Guilt’s not always rational, after all. I mean, I know that I have every right to think this is hard because it is hard. I know that it’s OK to have bad days and that what I do all day isn’t just hanging out. But still. The guilt creeps in. The brain twists things so that feeling lucky to have such a good, sweet, healthy baby turns into evidence for my laziness and lack of coping skills. Guilt’s insipid. It’s water in the sidewalk cracks just waiting for a big freeze – harmless and then, suddenly, destructive.

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6 Responses to “Je m’accuse”

  1. Guilt is a weird, weird thing. It’s a useful thing – lets us know when we’re treading into dangerous waters – but it’s sometimes odd what we decide to feel guilty about.

  2. Love the last line.

    I don’t know how to fix that crack in the sidewalk. Do you?

  3. Bub was, at times, a very difficult baby. For weeks at a time, though, especially in the early days, he was not. He slept for long periods of time, could always be consoled. But those times weren’t necessarily easier – they were just a different brand of desperation, sometimes. I can recall the horrible self-loathing I felt simply because of the way I flew to the computer (surfing BabyCenter rather than blogs in those days) the moment he fell asleep, so relieved to get AWAY.

  4. The crack in the sidewalk analogy is gorgeous, and so true!

    I laughed at the comment at my place re. 12-yr-old girls turning on you. Exactly why I’m glad I teach 4th grade, and not 6th!

  5. There’s no escaping the guilt, is there?

    Like you, I have times where I feel awful – like a spoiled, pouty baby – because I feel it’s all so hard and boring and blah when in reality I have it easy and have a good support system. Yet, I do.

    But no matter how easy and good you have it, it’s not – it CAN’T – be like that all the time. So don’t be so hard on yourself. It’s good you’re aware of your blessings and recognize that you have little to be unhappy about. But it’s also o.k. to feel unhappy and tired and done sometimes.

  6. Mira is often a difficult baby, but some days when I’m upset about it the guilt kicks in and I think that I’m so lucky to even have this chance to stay home with her right now. It’s a tough choice for us to deal with only one income, but I get the choice many don’t, and I should be thankful instead of wishing someone would take her away for a little while.

    Guilt is normal. It makes us constantly re-evaluate our parenting, so we know we’re doing the best we can. And no matter what your situation, you’re going to run into bad days when you feel like it’s hard. We all have our own burdens, and while yours might be lighter than someone else’s, it doesn’t make your burden any easier.


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