(Photo by Lauren Kirkham Photography)
Mom guilt is ridiculous. Seriously, it is. Because it is moms who care deeply about the well-being of their children and doing what is best for them that experience guilt over not being perfect at it. And if they care that deeply, then they are probably working pretty hard to get it right and the guilt is a pointless lie that keeps them bogged down and tied up instead of living freely.
I’ve been experiencing excessive amounts of guilt since our move. There is guilt when I see my husband wash, fold, and put away three loads of laundry and my mom clean the kitchen for the second time that day and one or both of them make dinner. It doesn’t matter if I am also completing tasks at the same time. Just a few weeks ago I was caring for an entire house myself and taking care of meal planning and shopping while my husband worked. There is guilt that the two of them are playing with and reading to and caring for Aeryn while I am doing other things like working out, visiting friends, writing, or just relaxing. A few weeks ago she only had me all day during the week, and Dale worked long hours. Now I’m in a situation where instead of one person carrying the load of a household and parenting, three of them do. This is a dream for most people. It’s a dream for me.
Yet, the guilt keeps screaming that I should be doing it all with no help. That it is a lazy housewife and an inattentive mother who lets them do all of that while she does normal adult activities like sit down for five minutes. And yet they also take days where they clean and cook less and relax more and do things they enjoy. Without guilt. Because they have no reason to feel guilty. The household tasks get accomplished, everyone is fed, and my daughter is well-cared for. The guilt comes for me in that it is not me taking on all of it. But that is silly because, in this season, my husband is not working and this house holds two families to care for it. I’m not in a season that I have to do it all alone.
I had a brief conversation with a friend this week about seasons. The two of us are writers with kids under the age of two. We have stories in our soul and babies in our hearts, and the balancing act of those two beautiful callings leaves us torn at times. We needed to remind ourselves that there are seasons to life. Sometimes we think of those seasons as large overarching things like college, career, having young kids, kids in school, etc. But, there are smaller seasons constantly fluctuating in all aspects of life.
There was a season my daughter only cat napped 20 minutes maximum, so we had the freedom to leave the house whenever and do whatever. But I never had time to myself, ever. Then she moved to 1.5-2 hour naps at a specific time and we were more limited in our outings, but sweet alone time was finally mine. I have been through seasons where I took up running for exercise to challenge myself, seasons where all I wanted to do was hike and it made me happy, seasons where I took on strength training and discovered a new me, and seasons where my thyroid levels were so bad that climbing out of bed in the morning qualified as exertion. There have been times our pups have been walked, played with, trained, groomed, and cared for to an impressive extent, and now we are in a season where I clip their nails and call it good. Some seasons we travel the world; in other seasons we only go to see family. Sometimes I read 9 books in one month, and sometimes I go a month without reading. I could keep going.
Right now, I am in a season where my husband is home all day and we share a house with family. Yes, he has interviews, job fairs, meetings, and paperwork to do, but he is home. There is no reason that he shouldn’t be parenting more and helping around the house, so he does both, willingly and wonderfully and I am so grateful. My daughter adores her Nani, and many times she only wants Nani and no one else. I can and should appreciate that fact and all of the things my mom will teach her that I wouldn’t think of.
This past week, my husband and mom kicked me out of the house on two different days to write so that I could complete my goal for NaNoWriMo. It was an entirely self-imposed deadline and word goal that I don’t get paid to accomplish. I felt guilty for essentially doing nothing all day both times except the thing I love most while they took care of Aeryn and the house. It seemed wrong to shove those things off on them when I wasn’t out making money. Yet there is no reason for it. They were perfectly happy to support and encourage me in my goals.
This is a season. We will not live with my parents forever (they hope), my husband will have a job again (soon), and we will have a house and more kids (we hope) that will require more time and attention. This is a season where I can work toward some long-held dreams of mine with minimal neglect to my household and child. It’s a gift. Another season will come sooner than I imagine. It could be a house that needs renovation or a new baby who envelops all of my free moments or something either bigger or smaller than those. I may have to put my writing on hold and give more focus and attention to my house, kids, and other things. That will be okay. It doesn’t all have to happen now.
So why the guilt? I’m in the ideal situation. If you aren’t taking care of your child, who better to do it than her incredibly involved father and the Nani that she often prefers to her mother. That’s because it’s not about how she is cared for or the quality of what gets accomplished in the house. It’s about what I think a good wife and mother looks like and who I compare myself to and what I believe I have to do according to societal standards. It’s also about my presence and whether I am focused on Aeryn when I am with her, whether I have whiled away time by being scattered in too many different directions instead of seeing her with my whole self. And the truth is that all of this is based on a change where I am under less pressure to take everything on by myself. Now, all that I can see is what I don’t do and not the moments where I am giving them the break or feeding love into my daughter’s life.
I’m combating the guilt in two ways. The first is to remind myself as many times as needed that this is a season and I need to enjoy every bit of it I can, and that no outside, vague, and irrelevant standard should determine when I think I’m being a good mom and wife. Asking for and receiving help, especially when it’s freely given, should never induce guilt. The second is to be present. Many times my guilt stems from only being partially present to my daughter and other people in my life. I try to do too much at once or I only offer her half of my attention while I scroll through my phone or try to “get something done.” I want to be all in one place – heart, mind, and body – and focused on one task at a time. Dividing myself never really gives me more.