Tuesday, February 2, 2010

To Feel Guilty Or Not To Feel Guilty ...That Is The Question.

Several times over the last few weeks I have found myself involved in conversations with other mothers, or reading articles regarding guilt associated with Motherhood. What I found so interesting was that all mothers regardless of their circumstances felt guilty about their choices.

Guilt because they had to work, guilt because they chose to work, guilt because they weren't working, guilt because they felt they weren't doing enough as a mother, and guilt because they wanted to do something for themselves.

This got me thinking. Where does guilt come from? Is it a learned behavior? Is it part of our DNA as women? Is it imposed on us or self imposed? Does it just happen when we become mothers? I know that I will never know where it comes from. But I am thinking that I might be able to influence it for my children based on my behavior and choices.

It occurred to me that children don't feel guilty for the choices they make. They don't feel guilty about going to school, participating in after school activities, going to a friends house, having a friend over, or going to a sleep over. We actually encourage them to do it. These are the things that help our children become well round people. This is all part of character development.

So why as mothers do we feel guilty about those same things, the things that bring joy to our lives and allow us to continue to cultivate our character development. Why do we feel that by leaving these things behind it somehow makes us better Mothers? Our interests are the things that make us interesting and unique. Isn't it important that we continue to grow as people too? If children learn by example then what are we exemplifying? Would you consciously teach your children how to feel guilty about doing things that bring them joy if it means being apart from the family?

I have decided I am not going to teach that. I am going to participate in the things beyond my family that give me joy and feed my soul. I feed my body when it is hungry because I know that if I don't I will be cranky, irritable and have low energy. After eating I'm not cranky, irritable and my energy level is high. So I am proposing that by doing the things that feed our soul we in- turn are bringing joy, patience, peace and a sense of fulfillment to our families. Don't you agree you and your family are worth it? What feeds your soul?


  1. Another thoughtful post my dear. Glad to see that you're keeping at it. I'm also leaving a comment to see if your e-mail alerts are working correctly.

    Aaron ;)

  2. Nice Aaron. LOL

    On that note, since Aaron's twitter brought me here...I would like to think I'm helping my kids to have a guilt-free childhood, but honestly, I have seen guilt on the face of my kids. Case in point, when my 9yo was invited to a sleepover and I had plans with my oldest, he felt bad leaving Daddy home by himself. I think his feelings of guilt were initiated by thoughts that he wouldn't want to be home alone and Daddy might feel the same way. I think it came from a place inside him where he was assigning his feelings to his Dad and considering his Dad's feelings. Obviously I would never want my kids to feel guilt over a sleepover, and we would totally encourage that time, but he felt the way he did on his own. That said, I could see ways guilt could be implied for children. I have told my kids to think of how other people felt when they have wronged someone, e.g. my oldest son telling my youngest he acts like a brat, my youngest son not wanting to share with his brother, etc. I'm curious if you've done those things. Said...how would you feel if XYZ? how do you think so and so felt when you did XYZ? And do you think that could cause guilty feelings, when the intended purpose is for someone to identify with another person's feelings. Thoughts?

  3. Well, Melanie, I can assure you that this lovely sensation is not the exclusive purview of mothers. Dad guilt is just as real, if less often acknowledged and discussed. There are a thousand ways to mess up as a parent, and most of us find 999 of them. I'm still trying to figure out how to be a "good parent" without the false guilt of the mythical "perfect parent" breathing down my neck!

  4. Hi Alicia,
    I believe you were part of the Mzinga era with Aaron correct?
    Thanks for you comment. I appreciated hearing the stories with your children.

    I feel this is a work in progress for me as well. It wasn't until recently that I began giving this any thought. My goal is to continue to be conscious of my actions and how I speak to my children. I certainly don't want to be imposing guilt on them, and in lesson of right and wrong those conversations will be taking a very different form. As I work through it I'll post updates. Thanks, Melanie

  5. Steve - you are correct. Absolutely not just a "Mom" thing (this coming from a dad that travels way more than his family would like).

    -Alicia, so nice to see you in the comments!

  6. Melanie - yes, you are correct. I'm a Mzingite, in addition to being a Mom for the last almost, gasp, 15 years. I struggle with Mom-guilt too. I'll never be perfect, but I will always try my hardest. What works for one of my kids doesn't always work for the other, except when it comes to spending time with them and eating dinner at the table. I'm curious to see your working-through-it-ness.

    Until then - Alicia

  7. Thanks Steve,
    Since I have a husband that travels quite frequently on business, and is dealing with the same feelings of guilt, by no mean was I suggesting this is a Female feeling.

    I spent quite a bit of time thinking about how the feeling of guilt made me feel. It was sad, depressing and oppressive. So I thought what if instead of allowing myself to feel awful I used it as an opportunity handle things differently next time.

    We teach our children the importance of "try try again." and that "practice makes perfect" I am simply suggesting a little of that for ourselves.

  8. Interesting post and thread. My children are still young, 3 and almost 2, so just starting to teach them values and things. But the Mom/Dad guilt can be absolutely overwhelming. Working full time and leaving then in daycare for 10-11 hours a day is the king of the heap in terms of guilt.

  9. Becki,
    Thanks for your comments. While I am certainly not qualified to give any advice to you, I thought I might share some thoughts with you.

    If you are working because you choose to I think that somehow everyone is better for it. It is far better for you to feel good about your job then to be home feeling resentful and unfulfilled being home full time. Both my parents worked and worked hard. I went to a babysitter after school each day. I certainly didn't feel unloved or uncared for. I knew that they did what they did to give my sisters and me not specifically "things" but better opportunities. For that I am grateful. You shouldn't feel guilt about that.

    On the flip side if you are working because you have to then you are doing the right thing because it's what needs to be done to make your life work. Sadly, the working world doesn't make family the priority. Something to consider is maybe picking one day a week when you get home a little earlier then usual and just be with your kids. Then do a little work after they go to bed. I know easier said then done. I also know that generally employers are saying things like "go home early you are working to hard, or, don't take on any additional responsibilities you already have enough on your plate." They will take whatever you are willing to give. But so will your children.

    I know this doesn't solve anything but maybe can just give a different perspective. All the best. Melanie

  10. Melanie - thank you for your advice and kind words. I am hoping as the kids get older things will get a bit easier - at least they will be up later! And, can help make supper. At this point "helping" in the kitchen means banging mixing bowls while I cook.

  11. I liked what you said on Guilt.