Mother Guilt

11-20-08: What We Should or Shouldn't Be Doing


I've been thinking a lot about what it takes to be a good parent. Part of what makes mothering David such a joy is his needs are pretty straightforward. As long as I'm feeding, changing, and holding him I feel pretty confident that I'm doing a good job. Of course, I have experience on my side, and I realize that even these basic things seemed daunting with Julia. Nevertheless, parenting an infant seems a lot easier than taking care of a two and four year old. It seems there's a lot more room for error where the girls are concerned.

Some of my closest friends all have young children (and new babies). Lately, we've been chatting on the phone discussing the struggles we face as mothers. Often the conversation turns to concerns about what we are doing wrong. It seems my friends and I end most of ours days feeling guilty about the things we should or shouldn't be doing. We feel guilty that we yell. We feel guilty that our kids watch too much TV. We feel guilty that we don't want to play with our kids. The list goes on and on. We try to console ourselves, but the truth is we continue to feel guilty.

I'm wondering if this guilt just comes with the parenting territory, or if there's something we could be doing to feel better about our job as mothers? In some ways, I think guilt is useful. Guilt helps us to become better parents by drawing attention to the things we know we can improve. On the other hand, there's a certain amount of guilt we will always feel because no matter how hard we try, we'll make mistakes. But some perspective is important.

My good friend Sarah, who travels to India as part of her work, offered me a little perspective the other day. I was confessing to her how I had been letting the girls eat too much McDonalds in recent weeks, and how I felt really guilty. She remarked that there are many mothers in some parts of the world that can barely feed their children. "How lucky are we to have the option to provide our kids with a variety of food--healthy or not" she asked? It got me to thinking that even as our kids get older, their needs really aren't as complicated as we imagine. Just like babies, they need food, clothing, shelter, and love. If we're able to offer them that everyday, then I think we're doing a pretty good job.

Shelley Abreu is a freelance writer and mom of three who often feels guilty, but realizes that she's probably still a pretty good mother.