When my daughter was in elementary school, I made an epic blunder. One of those infamous, soul-stealing, cookie-dough-nightmare fundraisers was going on and I completely forgot to get sales for my little girl. When the day came to award prizes to the top sellers, every single child in my little girl’s class received some ridiculous, plastic, ten cent toy…except for my child. She was the only one who received nothing at all. I was absolutely horrified and became stricken with Mommy Guilt. To remedy such an atrocity, I took my daughter to the nearest toy store and spent an outrageous amount of money on a toy she had been eyeing for a while. Even with this recompense, I still felt guilt and shame over such a misadventure in parenting.
Trust me, Mommy Guilt is real and evil! It is that bleak, empty feeling that comes along when something unpleasant happens in our child’s life, whether it is our fault or not. It does not even have to be a big deal in the grand scheme of things! If our child is affected in any negative way, that nasty creature that is Mommy Guilt seeps through our pores, into our bloodstreams, and lands squarely and harshly upon our hearts. It could begin with something as simple as letting an Elmo video “babysit” while you get a twenty-minute break, or an incident as serious as a divorce. Any lack of perfection for our children makes that living entity of overwhelming guilt rear its ugly head. The situation usually ends with overcompensation, as it did in my fundraising fiasco.
My daughter is now seventeen, and I still feel it over the strangest things. If a friend hurts her feelings, I want to make it better and inevitably feel guilty because I cannot. For a long time, I assumed I was slightly insane, then discovered through various discussions with friends that I am not alone. There is something intrinsic to motherhood that makes us want to protect at all costs. In reality, I know that not only can’t I make everything right, I really shouldn’t, either. After all, how will she ever learn to deal with disappointments or trials if I jump in to fix it all? It is a bitter pill for a parent to swallow. Motherhood is unlike any other role in life. There are seriously high stakes when it comes to raising a child!
While some guilt may be valid…and even productive…much of it is utter nonsense. A facade of perfection teaches our children nothing. Sorting out these emotions into categories of what is just and what is silly can be a slippery slope, yet is important nonetheless. We should take a few steps back and ask ourselves if this is something that will even matter a month from now. Imagine your own response if your friend came to you with feelings of guilt or remorse over the same action. Would you tell her that she should not feel so bad? Cut yourself the same slack! Pause before you overcompensate and remember that we live in a flawed world, and our children are watching how we deal with disappointments. Their actions will likely mirror our own.
When it comes down to it, we need to take a page out of Elsa’s book and let it go! My mother sent me to school with shorn hair that had been subjected to a home perm…and I still think she was a pretty great mom! I was referred to as Brillo Pad Head, Orphan Annie, Fuzzy, and many other less than complimentary names…and I survived. I did not hold it against her into my adulthood, and when I see those pictures, I can even laugh. Trust me, your children will forgive you many missteps, as long as they feel loved unconditionally!