I was so honored to be a part of the 2013 cast of Listen To Your Mother Denver. Here is a re-print of the piece I read, and the video of me reading is at the bottom. Cheers!
Like so many others who have come before me, I suffer from chronic, persistent parental guilt. Though triggered by a diverse number of parenting failures, it most often strikes when I am presented with an opportunity to enjoy an amount of time between 30 seconds and 3 hours of maternal freedom. I really can’t blame anyone for it; my husband has never made snide remarks when I am on my way out the door, or sighed passive-aggressively when I inform him that one of my friends has invited me for coffee. It is a deeply rooted internal mechanism, which is much more problematic than having an outsider make me feel bad for desiring time alone. I feel guilty when scheduling a hair appointment, having a quick drink with girlfriends, or even taking an extra -long shower.
In fact, I usually only shower when my husband is home, due to the highly unpredictable and reckless nature of my youngest child, and I am always mindful of my family members waiting downstairs for me, likely in the throes of a pivotal family disaster while I sudse away. This vexing awareness causes me to rush, taking as hot and quick a shower as possible, leaving me the human equivalent of pan-seared. My husband has never demonstrated any ineptitude when left alone with our two daughters (though his wardrobe choices for the baby are a bit avant-garde) and he never rolls his eyes when I announce I would like to shower. So what is my problem? Why am I unable to fully enjoy even the most diminutive of daily pleasures?
I often wonder if fathers have this problem- I say that in a genuinely curious and not at all snarky way. I have a hard time believing that men feel guilty when lingering in the bathroom over a leisurely Sunday morning crap. But, who knows? Maybe they are unable to truly enjoy the Reader’s Digest, picturing us frantically scrubbing the kitchen sink with a toddler clinging to our legs.
My guilt works both ways, however. I very rarely venture out with girlfriends, a state of affairs I can attribute to my baby’s age, nursing schedule, and complicated bedtime routine. While I feel guilty on those sporadic occasions when I do go out, I feel equally uncomfortable with the fact that I am inflexible and generally unavailable for socialization. This remorse rears its ugly head most often when I am declining the opportunity to spend time with my childless friends, many of whom have graciously altered their expectations and frequently come to my Lame Den of Baby Einstein and Princesses to hang out. Plus, I feel like I am giving parenthood a bad rap, providing them with a bitter foretaste of the un-fun feast to come.
My temporary solution is a simple plan I refer to as “taking whatever the hell I can get and liking it.” I wring out every possible ounce of pleasure from events such as being the lucky adult who gets to pick up the takeout food. One day I greedily volunteered to take my oldest daughter to her school assessment, leaving the husband home with the Barnacle Baby, as a clever way to indulge in 20 minutes of uninterrupted reading. Alas, I was thwarted when another adult sat down next to me and engaged me in conversation for the entire time I had allotted for myself. I genuinely enjoy this woman and would love to spend 20 minutes talking to her under normal circumstances. But let’s get real: I have very few opportunities for parental hedonism, and not everything makes the cut.
What really stings is the fact that I have always proclaimed myself an advocate for mommy rights, urgently believing that mothers thrive when they afford themselves guilt-free time for whatever makes them feel human. And here I am, depriving myself, martyr-like, as I try to balance my own needs with the delicate, thought transient, decisions we are making for our youngest child. I feel like I should be doing this more gracefully. I remind myself how fleeting this stage of extreme dependence is, but there are times when my resentment runneth over.
During my thrilling fifteen minute escape to pick up Mexican take-out for dinner, I coaxed myself into soaking up every second of my sensory experience unburdened by tiny hands and voices. I stood a bit straighter, shoulders back, and breathed deeply. I felt the breeze in my hair, the sun’s warmth on my cheeks, and absorbed the sensation of my shoes slapping the pavement. I turned everything else off, tuned into my own solitary voice, and succeeded in momentarily slowing time.
On my drive home, a Red Hot Chili Peppers song came on the radio, one that I heard nearly daily when I was a college student. The memory of my former self, divested of any real responsibility, desperately living life, brought a lump to my throat. I rode silently home, unable to sing along, while hot tears spilled down my face. I realized that during my late adolescence and early twenties, like pretty much any pre-child adult, I had absolutely no appreciation of my freedom. In fact, I’m quite certain I longed for the day when I would snuggle up on the couch with my family, never again to succumb to loneliness.
Well, great. Now I feel guilty again, as my melancholy traipse down memory lane suggests that perhaps I’m not grateful enough for my family. See? Even my attempt at emotional purging smacks of culpability. It appears that I’m stuck with you, guilt, tenacious fungus of my soul.
And here is the video! Hope you enjoyed it!
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Wow, this really spoke volumes and let me tell you I have some many of the same feelings when I am out doing an errand by myself for 20 minutes, I feel guilt. If I am in the bathroom for a minute longer then I should, I feel guilt. Damn the list could go on and on and really could quite relate. You said it so perfectly and now cannot wait to see it on YouTube in the summer. Thanks for sharing and letting me know it isn’t just me!!
I knew you would be able to relate!
I think you speak for nearly every mother I know. Guilt is hell for us.. we cannot seem to win for losing can we???
Well put. Sigh.
YEA! That was awesome! I can’t wait to see it live! It does get easier, not a lot, but it does. I am basically still on one shower a week, and my boy is 7. However you will hopefully not have to worry about your house burning down while you’re showering. You really have put it into words perfectly! Bravo!! (I’m pretending I’m there :-))
God, this is amazing. You have so captured exactly what motherhood feels it and how we all feel about it. The part about the song on the radio made me sob. Yes.-Ashley
Oh, Ashley, thank you so much for that! I really appreciate that affirmation!
Isn’t it funny how music takes us back? Since my son was born, I never listen to music anymore. Living in the city means that my car trips are usually five or ten minutes at most. Last week I had to drive almost an hour for an appointment at a bank, and I realized that I didn’t even know the radio stations in my area. I became so engrossed with the radio and singing along to bad 1980s music that I literally forgot that my son was in the car with me. Then, of course, I felt guilty because I realized that I was driving way too fast and not concentrating on my driving. This is a great post, Steph, something that I struggle with every day.
I have had so many moments like that! Today I actually realized I needed to turn the music down, because my toddler was trying to talk to me. 🙁
Oh, I remember this one and I actually often think of it in light of my own constant, crippling guilt and my husband’s lack of it. It’s comforting for some reason to know that this dynamic is not unique for our family but is shared by others. It’s a great post, one of your best!
Aw, thanks, friend! I really appreciate that!
Wish I could have seen this in person, Stephanie! Looking forward to the video. I have much less mommy guilt than I did when my children were little – I have plenty of time to shower and read now 🙂 It’s funny, though – now that I have more time to spend alone, I want to be with my kids more.
Thanks Dana! That’s what I’m afraid of- it seems the perspective always comes too late.
Oh friend! You are so talented. Of course, I’m now crying a little bit for a slew of reasons. I am so proud of you. And that damn mommy guilt? I guarantee that my husband rarely has felt guilt when doing the things that he wants to do where I will think “oh it’s okay, I can just stay up until 2am again so that I can be sure to accompany my son and his dad to the playground.” What is up with it?
SOOO with you on music in the car. I mourn that fun college me who had no idea that coming home at 5am would be something to look back on not only with a cringe but with the realization that I had no clue just how free I was.
You are awesome and I’m proud to call you my friend – congratulations on LTYM. Wonderful.
I love your comments, they always make me feel so good. Thank you so much for always writing such thoughtful things. I know a lot of women relate to this, and while I had to gender stereotype, it seems that most men don’t.
Lovely post! I so enjoyed reading it!
Thank you so much, Roshi! 🙂
Beautifully written and so true. Most mothers will just nod in agreement at your words- we’ve all been there (or are there) in varying degrees. I suffer from more mommy guilt these days than in the past- because of work…I don’t know where to find balance. Let me know if you find some.
Tell me about it! The work- and blogging- balance with kids is SO hard. I feel resentful if I don’t get enough time to myself to accomplish what I am working on, but I feel like a jerk when I am not present enough with the family. I feel like I’ll be working on this forever.
This is why I read blogs — they help me understand myself better by showing me others who feel the same way. This is exactly how I feel. Just today we were at the library. The two older girls (2,4) were playing and my 4 month old was happy in her car seat. I wanted to sit back and read a book, but I felt so guilty taking that time when I could be playing with them or cuddling the baby. Then I blinked and they all needed something and the opportunity was lost. Next time, I vowed, I would take it. No guilt.
Thank you for such a fantastic, affirming comment! I’m so glad you stopped by!
Can’t wait to hear you speak it.
Is it weird that I feel guilty that I don’t feel as much guilt when I go out? Not that it’s a contest, obviously, but I just wonder why I’m not quite as guilt-ridden as most moms I know. Not that it never rears its ugly head; it does. But less perhaps?
You know, it’s very interesting you bring that up! I have been reading about personality types and motherhood (I am writing a post about it later this week) and it seems that my actual Meyers- Briggs personality type is more prone to guilt! I think moms are definitely wired differently, and I’m glad you don’t experience guilt with the same intensity, though I’m sure you have your fair share!
What a great post! So true is so very many ways. I cannot wait to see the video of you reading it!
Thanks Shannan! I can’t wait to see the LTYM Chicago video, too!
You have articulated the mixed-up jumble of emotions perfectly. I part about the Red Hot Chili Peppers was especially poignant and beautiful.
Thanks Rachel! It is such a complicated mess of feelings, isn’t it?
This is so awesome. Oh Lord I remember after my first was born, I would grab those quick drives alone in the mini van and ball my eyes out because I missed my carefree college days! But here is the good news—you get those days BACK once your kids grow up and move out! It’s hard to let them go but once you adapt to it, the possibilities are endless. I haven’t enjoyed my freedom like this in quite awhile—because i finally have the time to do whatever I want—and yet I still get to see my kids on a regular basis and enjoy them. So hang in there, my friend–good times are coming!
Now *that* is some advice I will drink to! Cheers, mama! I always love hearing your perspective, and I appreciate the words of encouragement.
I read this last night, and absolutely loved it. You captured everything I feel on a daily basis when it comes to my guilt about wanting a little bit of time to myself. I feel like I’m constantly wrestling with this guilt, and it drives me crazy. My husband doesn’t feel this way. I’ve asked him. So why do I feel so badly about the 3 times a year I slip out to get my hair cut, or the 2 times a year I reach my breaking point and my husband takes our daughter out for a drive so I can clean our condo in peace on a Sunday afternoon? It’s so silly. So very, very silly. And yet here I am typing this comment feeling guilty that my daughter has been awake for 2 minutes and I haven’t snatched her out of her crib. And I held my pee the entire 2 hours she napped so I didn’t waste a lick of the time I had alone.
One day, my dear, you and I need to have a drink together. 🙂
Yes, I second that! Someday…we can cheers in real life and not over the blogosphere!
I totally hold my pee so I can maximize my alone time. In fact, I’m doing it right now.
As I’ve said before and will continue to say until my dying breath, “Guilt is a wasted emotion.” I’m quoting my ob/gyn here. Can’t take credit for that one unfortunately. I don’t know, I don’t really feel guilt about leaving my kids or doing something for myself – finding the time is a completely other matter. And I have wondered the same exact thing about men (and not in such a nice way) experiencing guilt. I posit they don’t. The way I see it, I give roughly 99% of my life to my kids (and they would take more if they could). Why should I feel guilty about wanting 1% for myself?
Ack, I know.
My brain knows it is pointless, but it’s like a virus that I just can’t shake. At least I’m aware of it, I guess. I concur with your assessment about men and the lack of guilt. And also, I’m glad you savor your 1% of self-time without much guilt- well done!
Steph… so well written… many times I have felt that pain of guilt… and then felt guilty for feeling guilty! Ugh – a vicious cycle! It is always good to know you are not alone… thanks for connecting mothers together on this issue. You were always so insightful in college — take care of you! ~ Laura
Oh thank you so much, Laura! I’m so glad you stopped by! I am both relieved and sad that so many moms relate to this! I hope you are taking good care of yourself, too, and thanks for such a fantastic comment! xo
It was so fun to read this with your voice in my head… ok now that just sounds creepy, but I think you know what I mean. I kind of feel bad for everyone who didn’t get to be there in person. But good thing it will be on You Tube forever. And PS who doesn’t love a good freebie blog post:)
Not creepy at all, an awesome comment in fact! I seriously cannot wait for the YouTube channel!
Love it, love it, love it and I am SO glad you shared it! I understand that lump in your throat . . . youth is wasted on the young, as they say.
Oh thanks so much Nina! I appreciate that! And yes, youth is most definitely wasted on the young.
You know what? Men NEVER FEEL GUILTY!! They come and go as they please. They announce that they have a “dinner” or an “annual whatever.” Mine now has like 5 annual whatevers. I used to feel so guilty saying I wanted to go out with the girls (which girls? – well, I could find a couple)…. I almost felt like I was ASKING. But that was all me. Like you said, it’s not like he would roll his eyes or anything. He would practically push me out the door. So what’s up with that? Are we so self-absorbed that we think we (the Mom) are the only human being capable of taking perfect care of our little ones? What do you say?
I think there may be something to that! I really think men don’t think of it the same way as we do- they are less apologetic, but I had never thought of it as a self-absorption problem!
Oh man, this is so, so, so well written. Love it! Did you feel at all embarrassed about saying the word “crap” on stage. I might have turned red.
Do you know what’s interesting? I suffered GREATLY with mom guilt and frantic questioning of everything and totally freaked out about every decision and every fail as a mom…
And as the kids have gotten older… and perhaps? I have too-
It’s settling into grace.
It’s a beautiful thing!!
Yours will come, my friend. PROMISE!!