Mom Guilt. That thing that keeps me up at night realizing I could have done XYZ differently if only I’d had a bit of time to process, think, and come up with the perfect parent response like I just did lying in bed. In real life though, I don’t get moments to process. I act and speak in the moment because that’s what my kids expect me to do. They can’t ask me a question or misbehave somehow while I tell them I’ll get back with them on that tomorrow. Doesn’t work! So, I thought I’d make a list, as I’m wont to do, of all the things that make me feel guilty when it comes to parenting my two daughters.
Let it be known, first of all, that they are my world. I would literally die for them, to keep them safe, to keep them happy. I have never loved anything so much, and sometimes it hurts my heart because it is so full of love for them. That will never change. Even with all that love oozing from me I am not a perfect parent by any stretch of the imagination because I’m not a perfect person. I’m human like the rest of the world.
We parent based off the parenting we’ve seen, our own childhoods, and we try to emulate the parts we liked and try to avoid the parts we didn’t. The problem is though, that everyone has different childhood experiences and no one gets together, sits down, and compares notes. There is no one size fits all, how-to guide to parenting a child. I don’t know about most, but attempting to parent my two daughters in the exact same way would most certainly be an epic failure. They are too unique, too different from each other. I didn’t even have siblings so this whole sisterhood thing makes it twice as complicated. Am I parenting 1 child? 2? Or a collective at the same time? It is tough stuff guys. And guess what? I’ve never been a parent before this! No one has. You don’t get a trial run with a trial kid to see what works and what doesn’t. And even if you did, that child wouldn’t be your particular child. No one would be. You get thrown head first into the ordeal with no experience whatsoever. We are all learning as we go. In my case, I was still growing up too.
I had my girls young, and looking back, I was most certainly still a child myself. I didn’t know who I was or what I wanted to be. My brain was still forming and my person-hood was still changing. I’ve grown as they have. Certain aspects of being a young mom are great-like I’ll only be 40 when they go off to college and will still have a lot of life left to live if I’m lucky. Plus I’ll be able to do a lot more things with them that require a certain amount of youth and fitness. I can relate to a lot of the issues they face. The world has changed since I was a child, but it hasn’t changed nearly as much as it has for a parent that had kids when they were 30 or 40. I can still remember well what middle school was like, and first dates, and all those milestones. I know the technologies because we all use them.
The huge drawback, of course, is as I said, I was still growing up myself. I wasn’t prepared to give up nights out with friends at 21 years old. I didn’t want to miss out on my youth or that essential part of growing. I wasn’t prepared enough financially-I was waiting tables and tending bar late nights. I hadn’t yet finished my degree and that’s a pretty tough thing to do while raising kids. I probably lost my temper more easily as I had not yet developed the patience of an adult. I talked to my kids more as peers than as tiny people, although I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing…my youngest has an amazing vocabulary and I’d like to take some credit for that!
I also wasn’t ready to “settle down” yet. I didn’t have a stable relationship when they were babies, although I did attempt a marriage to give them that type of home life. It failed, of course. I was unprepared to parent the way I’d always imagined I would. The great thing is though, kids are flexible. They love(d) me anyway. We’ve grown together and built a beautiful family. They are smart, they are kind, they never want for anything.
They’ve seen the pitfalls of having a young mother, and they’ve seen the successes, and I hope they learn from all of it. They trust me and we have open conversations about body parts, boys, and puberty. They’ve seen me work hard at school, and at jobs, and they know that everything they have comes from hard work. They have seen, although, they were probably too young to remember, a failed relationship and a mother that stood up for herself and her children and was strong enough to leave an unhealthy environment. They’ve seen, for the past 5+ years of their lives, a healthy, loving home that is family centered and shows by example how a man should treat a woman and vice versa. Most of their memories will come from this relationship. It will be what they know and it is a good one for them to look up to. We’ve built holiday traditions and taken family vacations and made dinner table rituals. I think they will look back on these things fondly. I know I will.
Still though, after all of the good things, I find myself up at night beating myself up over parenting mistakes. Did I yell too many times? Will they grow up to resent me? Are good table manners really worth dinner arguments? What if they only remember the times I was tough on them instead of the good times? Is unloading the dishwasher really worth the arguments with my 10 year old? What if all the time I spent in the office, at home, but away from them, is seen as just that instead of seen as something they can be proud of me for…finishing a degree in something I enjoy? That’s a big one.
I help them with their homework and then I go to my office and spend time in there on my work. Then I make dinner, spend time with the family, and put them to bed. They give me a hard time about spending so much time in front of the computer when they would much rather me be playing with them. I give myself a hard time too. I try to explain that at least I am home, I am a room away if and when I’m needed. Most parents are at work until 5 or 6 in a “typical” household, not that there is ANYTHING wrong with that. I’ll be there too in a year and I’ve been there before. But I worry that it’s still not enough time with them. I worry that it’s worse on them than being away. Out of sight out of mind, but with me home and still away in the office, maybe they think I’m choosing to be in there instead of with them. I worry that they’ll only have memories of me telling them to go play, or that I need quiet time instead of being proud of me for working hard at school and at home so that I can have a career to provide them with everything they’ll need–college for themselves, prom dresses, cars, gymnastics fees, braces, contacts, etc….I do it all for them. I also do it for myself though, and I hope they see that too. I want them to know that it’s okay, and not just okay but important, to do things for oneself especially if those things benefit others in the process. I hope they see that it’s never too late to succeed at something if you give it your best. That dreams don’t have to disappear once you reach a certain age. That mistakes are forgivable. I just want them to know I’m doing the very best I can and that it’s all done with love in mind. So much love.
Now, back to that list!
Things I worry about/feel guilty over:
- Time in my office working on school
- Not always being awake and present enough in the mornings before I’ve had my coffee
- Being an introvert and needing periods of quiet alone time to re-energize
- Not being a PTA mom
- Not being a total free-spirit, hippy mom
- Giving them too many responsibilities
- Not giving them enough responsibilities
- Getting frustrated too easily
- Not taking them out enough
- Not parenting “fairly” enough, even though they are so different
- Being too protective of them
- Not making enough crafts, not going to enough movies, not having enough days at the park, or enough tickle fights
- Not making cupcakes with Caro every single time she wants to do them
- Getting on to them too much about manners and chores and picking up after themselves
- Saying the wrong thing when they ask me a question instead of giving a thoughtful, helpful answer
- Them being jealous of one another
- Spoiling them too much
- Not teaching them enough life lessons and world lessons and also teaching them too much about life and the world
- Not having enough friends for them to see me interacting with
- Having an end of the day cocktail in front of them too often
- Getting on to them about staying in their own beds, even though I secretly like that they want to sleep with me and I love snuggling up with them all night
- Worrying that I treat Izzy too much like a baby sometimes, but also knowing she needs that security in her life when there are so many other struggles for her to deal with
- Raising them in a town with no cultural awareness, a lack of diversity, less opportunities for fun, practically nothing in the outdoor world to do, racism, sexism, etc.
Reading over this, most of my worries seem pretty petty compared to the worries of people with serious problems. I am fortunate. I am not the perfect parent, but writing this has made me grateful for the parent that I am able to be now, as well as the parent I’ve been before. They are loved and they know that, and really, that’s what matters. I may not be teaching them 3 different languages and travelling with them around the globe, reading books every night, or taking them on month long camping adventures like I’d always imagined. We do those things though. It’s on a much smaller scale, but Izzy uses Duolingo on my phone to learn Spanish, and Caro and I practice German together. We all go over the countries on the map and make lists of where we’d like to go, and occasionally we sit down, all together, and read and work on the Little Passports packets they get each month. We read books together too, although not as much as we used to when they were little. I take them on vacations around the country. They know what feminism is and we talk about the body and name the parts correctly. We have discussions about racism and why it is wrong. I may not be the total hippy mom raising total hippy children, but they go to music festivals, they hula hoop and dance, and they know what glitter paint is! I may not be the perfect PTA mom coaching sports and baking cookies either, but we made a rainbow cake from scratch last year and then cupcakes for their classes on Halloween.
And you know what? We’re doing alright after all, and I guarantee, so are you. 🙂
Me and Izzy taking her first steps into the ocean a few years back.