Guilt. The numero uno emotion for most mommies. I’ve read a lot about mommy guilt lately. How to forgive yourself. Take care of yourself. Go easy on yourself. So easy to say, isn’t it? Not so easy to do. For me, this has been one of the most difficult aspects of motherhood. I am not well-associated with guilt. I really didn’t experience much of it prior to motherhood. Not because I was perfect – oh no, far from it. I did plenty of craptacular things as a daughter, friend, sister, girlfriend, wife. I just never really felt guilty about them. Don’t get me wrong – I have a conscience. You’re probably doubting that after my last statement, but honestly, I do. I just prefer to spend my emotional time on learning from my mistakes than feeling guilty for things that can’t be undone. To me, guilt was, and is, a useless emotion. Or rather, guilt without action towards improvement is a useless emotion.
Now here I find myself a mother for 3 years, stepmother for 7 and aside from overwhelming love and pride, the thing I feel most is…yep, you guessed it – guilt. Ugh.
So, for therapeutic reasons, I’ve decided to confess all.
The list of things I feel guilty about, in no particular order:
- Losing my patience. Constantly. Sometimes I fear I am a tyrant. I am strict, because my parents weren’t and aren’t we supposed to learn from their mistakes? I am also old – too old sometimes for a 4 year old. But when she looks up at me with those beautiful dark eyes and they are without their usual sparkle, I feel a soul-suck so huge that I want to drop to my knees and beg for her forgiveness. Sadly for my kids, bad manners, poor behavior and sassy mouths bug me far more than my guilt over losing my patience.
- Shouting. When Baby Girl says to me randomly “You’re being a nice mommy today!” I want to weep. Aren’t I a nice mommy everyday? Somebody please tell me they shout at their kids sometimes too?? I try, I really do, to refrain from shouting, but sometimes it feels like that is the only way I get heard around here. Even though I took both of them for hearing tests and they were both perfectly audio-enabled, according to the technician who tested them. I think she got her signals crossed, but who am I?
- I’m not black enough to be a good parent to my daughter. Ok, well, I’m not black at all, not just not black enough. That means that I can’t provide a black perspective for my daughter. I make her feel like she “doesn’t match” her family simply by her looking at me. While I can’t help the fact that I’m not the same skin colour or race as my daughter, I still feel guilty that my lack of black will in some ways make her life more difficult. I don’t know how to do her hair (not that I’m a bang-up stylist with white girl’s hair, either, mind you) so I must pay a salon to do it for me. I have never experienced racism. I am not Zulu, cannot speak her birth language and cannot teach her the dances or anecdotal history or foods of her ancestors. Not only will she be embarrassed of me as a teenager simply because I am a grinning fool mother who is busting with pride and love for my daughter, but I am also white, which may subject her to teasing or bullying for “not matching” her family. My skin colour may result in her segregation from other kids with black skin, or kids with white skin. Do I think transracial adoption is not a good thing because of this? Absolutely not. I know in my soul that she was meant to be in our family and that most transracially adopted children are better off with transracial parents than as orphans in institutions or bounced-around foster kids with no permanent family. I do everything I can to educate myself and others and to advocate for her as a child who was transracially adopted. I try to teach my daughter everything I can about being black in our world and what that means to her, as well as how to deal with racism. But I’m not black and all the things I teach her are other people’s experiences, not my own. I feel guilty that everything I do to make up for that still won’t be enough. Last week, after pondering for a few weeks a “Black History Month” presentation at school, she asked me if I was ever a slave or if I had ever had a slave before I adopted her. Aside from the fact that some of that presentation obviously didn’t sink in for her, I am fairly confident that black children with black parents do NOT ask their parents these questions, so I feel guilt for already having failed at giving her black-ness.
- Hypocrisy. I am a parent of the “Do as I say, not as I do” variety, despite my guilt over the hypocrisy of that methodology. I can only assume it is the grace of a Greater Power that has prevented my daughter or stepson from saying “But YOU do it!” every time I tell them not to shout, not to lose their patience but use their words instead and not to sulk when they don’t get their own way. I would love to “be the person I want my children to be” but my hope for them is that they become better people than their father and I. Less guilty, at least.
- Enjoying time apart from them. Ok, so if you are one of those moms (and hats off to you, if you are) who genuinely feels sad about time apart from your child(ren), then you may want to skip ahead to Number 6 at this point. Because I am NOT one of those moms. I love my kids beyond measurement. I generally enjoy a lot of time with them. But when the time comes for mamma to have some time without them, I don’t look back. My kids are both verbose (Jabberjaws 1 & 2 are nicknames we use when the kids aren’t around) and sometimes a little silence is music to my tired old ears. Both kids come to me for EVERYTHING, often with their father sitting right there in front of them. Moms are the go-to person in most families, I think (please tell me it’s not just mine). When you are a SAHM (stay at home mom) and don’t get much chance for adult interraction outside of your home, a little time apart from your kidlets is like a pot of gold at the end of your barely hanging by a thread rainbow. Except I feel guilty when I’m dropping Baby Girl at my folks’ for a sleepover and she’s hugging me up like crazy and saying “I’ll miss you mommy” and all I’m thinking is “WOO HOO!!!”. Don’t judge me, I’m not all bad.
- Fighting with my husband in front of them. Stop gasping. Other couples do it, I know they do. I just have the guts to admit it. When we have a disagreement/argument that is civilized and we use a structured dialogue to present our respective opposing points of view, I do think we are actually helping our kids to verbalize their anger and disagreement in a method of communication that will help them later in life. In fact, Captain Sassypants has, on two occasions, asked her father or I for a dialogue about her feelings. Using the same formatted structure that we have used. So, it’s not all bad news, but sadly, we don’t always have civilized arguments. There’s no UFC going on here with a PG audience (or at all), but I hate when we can’t control ourselves enough to have civilized discussions instead of fights and feel gutted when she gets so much pleasure and glee out of seeing us hug and kiss. That’s an indication to me that we just don’t do it enough for it to be “normal” in her world.
- My eating habits. I am a junk food and restaurant junkie. I love Wendy’s. I love Popeye’s. I eat McDonald’s as a form of entertainment for Captain Sassypants. I love dinner AT the movies. I love chips. I love cookies. I love chocolate. I love a wholelottashit that is really bad for me. And my kids. To make it even worse, I hate exercise almost as much as I love junk food. Last spring, I was told by 2 doctors to lose some weight to help with a chronic sore foot and to keep healthy the one kidney I do possess. I did it – I lost 25 lbs and ate better foods and felt better and stopped setting a really bad example for my kids. Except then I stopped doing that and fell into the bad eating habits again. They just taste better for some reason. I do encourage my kids to participate in exercise, despite the fact that I don’t (refer #4 above) but aside from my own piss-poor eating habits, I sometimes allow them to partake in the same junk foods as I do. Despite the fact that we only allow “treats” (dessert that isn’t fruit or yogurt) every other day, I also sometimes let them eat crap like Alphagetti, Kraft Dinner and other food that is pre-prepared, pre-packaged and not homemade with good, wholesome ingredients. I feel guilty that this will negatively affect their health now or in their future. Bad Mommy police, please be gentle.
- Not paying as much attention to them as I should. Baby Girl is extremely good at entertaining herself, and my stepson is at an age where he just wants to be in his room or watching tv, but in moments of candor, I must admit that I take advantage of that. I am a bit of an online addict – Facebook ,Twitter, HuffPost, YummyMummyClub, mommy blogs, adoption blogs, parenting sites – how do other parents do it? How do they fit in online time with face time? And manage to squeeze in full-time paying jobs to boot? I don’t completely ignore either of my kids all the time, but I do in my heart know that when Captain Sassypants is asking me to post a picture on Facebook for her, or asking if there are any good tweets on Twitter, it’s time for me to start spending time offline.
- Not finding out as much information as I could about Baby Girl’s birth family. When we adopted her, we were given as much information as the social worker had. There was a very, very long shot of us getting more information about her birth family from an alternate source, but we didn’t pursue it as far as we could have. Not because we didn’t want to, not because we were afraid to. We didn’t because we didn’t really think about it while we were there and the opportunity didn’t exist outside of the country. We had to spend 30 days in South Africa waiting for Canadian citizenship for our darling new daughter, and we were so intently focused on her and spending time with her and falling in love with her that nothing much else entered our minds. We asked a few questions that the social worker seemed unable or hesitant to answer or help us get answers to, but we didn’t pursue it and one day, my daughter will ask me those same questions and I will feel more guilty than ever that I didn’t try harder to get those answers.
- Cussing in front of the kids. No, I don’t cuss at them. EVER. I am just a person that uses 4-letter words periodically (stop laughing, friends!) and has never fully stopped doing so after I had kids. Even when my daughter was 2 years old and just getting her words and one day ate a piece of food off the floor of a restaurant and I asked her what she thought mommy was going to say about that and she responded with no hesitation “Fuckit?”. Even that didn’t make me stop completely (although I do admit I tried to refrain for a while after that lovely public episode). Both my kids know that some words are for adult use only. My daughter accepts this, and my stepson is at an age (12) where he thinks my occasional expletive use is kinda cool. Like recently when my husband and I caught him lying to us and I told him that adults sometimes called lying “shoveling shit” so for his consequences, he could shovel the shit out of our 4 kitty litter boxes for 2 weeks. He actually laughed at the deliverance of this consequence. No shit.
So, there you have it. Confessions of a guilt-ridden mommy. I console myself that there are no felonies on my list and that no parent is perfect. When the day is done, on most nights I fall asleep feeling like I am good enough, and that’s good enough for me. I only hope that my kids will forgive me my transgressions when they examine their own parental guilt lists one day.