Saturday, January 7, 2012

On Mommy Guilt and Carpe Diem

A couple of my friends shared this article from Momastery on Facebook recently, and it really struck a chord with me. Glennon writes:

Everywhere I go, someone is telling me to seize the moment, raise my awareness, be happy, enjoy every second, etc, etc, etc.
I know that this message is right and good. But as 2011 closes, I have finally allowed myself to admit that it just doesn’t work for me. It bugs me. This CARPE DIEM message makes me paranoid and panicky. Especially during this phase of my life – while I’m raising young kids. Being told, in a million different ways to CARPE DIEM makes me worry that if I’m not in a constant state of intense gratitude and ecstasy, I’m doing something wrong.
I think parenting young children (and old ones, I’ve heard) is a little like climbing Mount Everest. Brave, adventurous souls try it because they’ve heard there’s magic in the climb. They try because they believe that finishing, or even attempting the climb are impressive accomplishments. They try because during the climb, if they allow themselves to pause and lift their eyes and minds from the pain and drudgery, the views are breathtaking. They try because even though it hurts and it’s hard, there are moments that make it worth the hard. These moments are so intense and unique that many people who reach the top start planning, almost immediately, to climb again. Even though any climber will tell you that  most of the climb is treacherous, exhausting, killer. That they literally cried most of the way up.
And so I think that if there were people stationed, say, every thirty feet along Mount Everest yelling to the climbers – “ARE YOU ENJOYING YOURSELF!? IF NOT, YOU SHOULD BE! ONE DAY YOU’LL BE SORRY YOU DIDN’T!” TRUST US!! IT’LL BE OVER TOO SOON! CARPE DIEM!” - those well-meaning, nostalgic cheerleaders might be physically thrown from the mountain.

I agree with these well-meaning (grand)parents Glennon speaks of, these strangers who approach me in the grocery store, urging me to enjoy every minute: it does go by fast. And thank God for that! If it went any slower sometimes, I don't know if I could handle it. Seriously, if you haven't parented a child who hated almost every moment of being a baby and continues to regularly have meltdowns because his socks are on wrong or we spent too much time at the grocery store at the wrong time of day or we spent two minutes too long on Skype with relatives, then please don't be condescending by advising me me to enjoy every minute of parenthood. Parenting neurotypical children is a hell of a hard job anyway, I acknowledge that fully. When there are any added challenges, it (naturally) just gets even harder.

I feel it's exceedingly important for parenting bloggers (or bloggers who happen to be parents) to be honest in writing about the many challenges present in parenthood. I believe that it's only through openness that we will ever be able to overcome the excessive "mommy guilt" that's piled on us each and every day. The fact is, no one's experience of parenting is all sunshine and roses. If we can't admit that none of us is June Cleaver—and that that's normal—then the myth of "supermommy" lives on.

Yes, we parents are awesome people, and we do an incredibly difficult job 24 hours a day. We often have to juggle the needs and demands of many people at once, all while trying to keep our sanity, get enough fuel in our bodies, and take a shower every few days. That said, parenting isn't unlike any challenging career or calling: there are easier days and harder days. There are happy minutes and heartbreaking minutes. Pretending that the difficult part of parenting doesn't exist (or choosing never to talk about it because that's the polite thing to do) does a disservice to ourselves and to other parents: past, present, and future. Lying to yourself and others about it doesn't make it less true.

It's important to me to be honest about my experience of motherhood, and if I can't be honest here on my blog ("in my house," so to speak) then keeping this blog running isn't worth it to me. After I wrote my post about hating Mondays in early October, I had a significant conflict with a family member. My intention in writing that particular post was to overcome the guilt I was feeling about not enjoying my experience of motherhood as much as I wanted, and share my truth anyway. I was grieving the loss of the babyhood I wanted for both Daniel and me. I needed to be open about how hard it has been for us, particularly because of Daniel's unique sensory challenges. Most people responded with commiseration and understanding, with empathy and love. One response (though I know it was intended to come from a similar place) left me feeling attacked and wrongly accused, defensive and just plain hurt.

Because of the personal repercussions of publishing that raw and honest piece, I've struggled with whether or not I feel safe here anymore, to share my experiences freely and openly. After much thought (and month-long break from blogging) I've decided I will continue to write honestly here, in spite of any opposition I have or will encounter. The fact is that this is my space and one of my most valued creative outlets. It's a way for me to stay in touch with my "real life" friends and family when I have few opportunities to keep in touch in person because of Daniel's special needs. Blogging here is also a way for me to be connected to others who are in a similar phase of life, who have similar philosophies about parenting, or who also parent children with high needs or special needs. Above all else, the content on this blog is an expression of my life and my thoughts, and it is one of the few spaces I have in my life where I can communicate about anything I want whenever I want to.

I spend the majority of my time giving myself wholly to another human being, meeting his every need as best I can. When I write here, I'm doing something for myself. I'm participating in a vital self-care activity which (in part) helps me to process the intense experiences and feelings I'm having on this journey. Writing here also keeps me connected to an invaluable online community of others sharing their individual experiences and journeys in life.

I'm making a promise to you today: I will continue to write openly and honestly about my experience, regardless of what happens in my personal life as a result. 

All I ask in return is that you try to consider this: the next time you encounter a parent, please think twice before giving her advice. Please reconsider before making assumptions about her character or parenting prowess based on her children's behavior. Please pause and remember before advising her to enjoy every minute, because you may have forgotten what it feels like to be climbing that mountain. Instead, please seize the moment as an opportunity to validate the experience that parent is having right then: Tell her she's amazing and that you get it, do a practical favor for her if you can, and try your hardest to leave out any judgment or advice.

I appreciate you taking this time to consider. You're doing a great thing for parents everywhere: killing mommy guilt one precious moment at a time.

12 comments:

  1. I agree with you wholeheartedly, and will add that I think if we could all just be honest about how hurtful any judgment is about our parenting (barring abuse), then maybe we all wouldn't feel so much stigma from doing so. It is hard to say if that would change any minds from previous generations, but we could start now and keep that dear to our hearts for when our babies have babies.

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  2. I'm sorry you felt attacked after writing that post, we do need more honesty about how hard parenting can be! I'm glad you will continue to share your journey with us.

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  3. Yes, this is EXACTLY what I am having such a hard time with. Adding child #3 has made things really intense and I feel like I miss out on things with each of them. What makes me most frustrated is when people advise me to just not worry about the cleaning, because it'll still be there later! Just hold that baby because "babies don't keep!" The people who say this must have had maids. As much as I love cuddling my baby--and I spend hours a day doing it because he usually doesn't want to be put down--I need a clean kitchen to fix lunch in, a floor that is swept and mopped so my 9-month-old doesn't find something in it to choke on, a hygienic bathroom. I can't just ignore everything while I rock my baby!

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  4. I totally agree with you back, @Brenna. The openness about both sides of this is so important to bring about change.

    Thank you, @Dionna. I appreciate your kind words very much.

    @Jenny: I totally feel that about the cleaning! Chaos in my environment greatly impacts my ability to function effectively, and putting effort into housework is (unfortunately) an essential part of my parenting. I wonder too, were there maids and/or nannies involved? Extended family helping with the chores and meal-prep? Something has definitely shifted, though I'm not sure exactly what.

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  5. Keep it up. Honesty and openness will change the world! I have my own version of mommy guilt...the kind where my husband stays home with my son while I go to work every day. Not what I intended but I love him so much. It's definitely a steep mountain!

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  6. I think you are right about what has changed. We used to live much more communally and there was always someone else around to pick up the slack.
    The thing I always got told by strangers was "You'll miss this age when it's over." Which I respond to with "I look forward to missing this."

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  7. @Fresh and Feisty: I work from home but I can imagine what it would feel like not to be the at-home parent. I just hope no one else is guilting you for your family's decision. <3

    I totally agree with your response to that comment, @Shannon! I have often thought that, but never dared to say it out loud. Next time, I definitely will. =)

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  8. So glad you are back, Amy! Thank you for your honesty, and for being you!

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  9. Amen, sister. To all of it.

    I comment your commitment to authenticity, and say boo to the person who hurt you, however well intentioned.

    BOO!

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  10. oops: I *commend* not comment...

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  11. It's funny because my baby experience is totally different than yours, but the experience of being judged is the same.

    While some people may seem blissful, I don't know any of them. I feel like I am basically surrounded by women who have had really difficult baby years with their kiddos. I find that women really judge me if I open my mouth at all about how things have been with Bennett because, well, I can count on one hand the number of really difficult days I've had, and I can count on one hand the number of times that Bennett has had a crying fit. And you know what? People don't like hearing that. I have been shocked to find that people don't really want to know about it when someone is doing well. I am surrounded by mothers who all seem to be able to relate to each other about how hard it is, and I can't. I mean, we have faced hard things (a stay in the NICU, a surgery, problems with milk supply, ear infections, sicknesses, teething, etc.) but they haven't really affected either Bennett or myself. I feel constantly judged by women and accused of not being authentic (not personally, but these statements are made towards women who "pretend" that being a mom is fun and easy). Well, for me, is IS fun and easy. I'm no pretending. I'm not lying. I'm not a fraud. But I feel that way, because so many around me are struggling and suffering. So I pretty much keep my mouth closed - all the time -- when I am around other moms. Sometimes I'll be in a group of moms and they'll go around the circle lamenting their children's behaviors and if I say nothing, I get this blank look. If I say "Bennett throws food on the floor?" I get a look that says, "Lady, you're in denial." I also am made to feel at times like I haven't REALLY parented yet, because I don't hate it. It feels almost as though a rite of passage is to really loathe the baby stage (at least at times) and I haven't. I am beginning to grieve it already, as Bennett is becoming such a little boy at 18 months, and not a baby anymore.

    I guess I say all that to say that I KNOW you are not alone in how you feel. I know you aren't, because almost every mother that I know is struggling too, in some way or another.

    Because I AM one of those mothers who savors every single moment, I can say that I don't think a person says this maliciously in any way. They may simply be a mother like me who is speaking from their own experience. Or they may be a mother for whom things got WAY harder later during the teenage and adult years and they truly do miss the struggles of raising a baby in comparison with the struggles of raising an adult.

    I just know that grace is required for all of us -- those that are struggling and those that aren't. I truly believe that, for the most part, we are all doing the best we can, enjoying things when we can, in our own way.

    I know you are an amzing mama and that this part of your journey will not last forever. You will come away from this so much stronger than you ever imagined you were because of all that you are going through now. Hang in there, friend. xo

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  12. Ah, thank goodness for honesty. I'm glad you didn't let the attack stop your voice. We need the truth of the hard times of parenting along with the good.

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