Controlling Your Mental Masochist – Maternal Guilt
Did I spend enough quality time with my kids today? Am I preparing them properly for school? Was I too harsh with the discipline? Was I too lenient? Am I patient enough, loving enough, strict enough, here enough, attentive enough … ?? The questions and mental torment go on and on. I find that no matter how much I give throughout the day, I’m always left wondering … Was that enough? Did I react properly to that behavior? Did I answer that question age-appropriately? What more can I do? Maternal guilt is ever-present, is it not? How can we, as mothers, learn to control it?
To some degree, guilt can be healthy, as it may keep us in check. But when is enough ENOUGH? I think when we come to realize that most of it is self-induced and largely illogical, we may be able to take it down a notch. Sometimes, it’s ok to say, “I need to get away and do something for myself.” This is something I particularly have trouble with, and believe me … it takes its toll after a few years. Why should it be selfish for you to want to go shopping alone or go to a movie with a friend? This is where logic comes in. It’s completely illogical for that to be selfish; however, the guilt is there. Of course, moderation is the obvious factor here. As a parent, your kids should come first. But aren’t you entitled to a little “you” time occasionally? Of course, you are.
I have found that a guilt-ridden mom’s worst enemy is one of those “perfect” moms. We all know at least one. These “perfect” moms give the illusion that everything they—and their kids—do is perfect, no problems, no issues … just perfection on the home front. Come on … this doesn’t exist. But I’ve experienced my fair share of these moms. Anytime I’m around them, I allow myself to feel insufficient. I become guilt-ridden. If she can do everything: have a career, keep a perfect home, chase four kids as they reek of perfection, provide them with every single material object desired by children everywhere, and smile all the while pretending to be free of the common parenting stressors … why do I feel so imperfect with just two? At one time, I tortured myself with this question. But, with maturity, I realized something … there’s no such thing. She is lying … to herself as well as everyone else. Then I pitied her. I realized that not only does she have the same issues as the rest of us but she must be utterly exhausted from putting on the never-ending “envy my perfection” show. That is, after all, her motive: the desire to be envied. Does high school never end?
The guilt we all feel is completely normal. None of us is perfect. None of us can do it all. All we can do is our best. The key is making peace with that fact. We’ll always feel some guilt when it comes to our kids, but realize this: every mom feels the same guilt. You are not an anomaly.
Making yourself miserable with excessive, unreasonable guilt will eventually result in your projection of those frustrations onto your kids. As a borderline OCD, perfectionist mother, I have been guilty of this more than a few times. So, when you feel the guilt taking hold, ask yourself: Did I do everything in my realistic, logical abilities to make my kids feel loved and appreciated today? (Love and appreciation are the most important daily gifts you can give your children … they will never prefer material things to your love and attention … contrary to popular belief.) If the answer is yes, then pat yourself on the back, lock away your guilt, and prepare for the next tango with your mental masochist. It’ll be back.