By Rebecca Hawkes
I know better than to beat myself up with mother guilt. Of course I do. Don't I nod with agreement when I encounter statements in MotherWoman literature about the dangers of the cultural myth of the "Good Mother"? Haven't I spoken words of encouragement to other mothers, urging them to be gentle with themselves? Haven't I sat in conversation other moms wishing that they could be released from the tyranny of self judgment?!
But knowing, and wishing, doesn't necessarily make it so. It's a bullheaded beast, that guilt.
This past Labor Day I returned home after a four-day mini-vacation. It was a trip I'd gone on without my family, with their full support and encouragement. I returned feeling rested and restored, and I walked into my home feeling confident that, with my cup now full, I would be a model of patience and understanding, able to handle any challenge that might come my way with utmost grace.
Within an hour I was a cranky, irritable, hot mess, snapping at my family members like a rabid animal. My bliss bubble was gone! And what did I find in its place? You guessed it: mom guilt.
Looking back at the situation, I can now see that I didn't walk into my house unencumbered. Rather, I was carrying a couple of problematic beliefs: 1) It's okay for Mom to go on vacation by herself as long as there's an overall benefit to the family as a whole as a result of her doing so; in other words, time away is only justified if Mom returns as a more resourceful parent. 2) Mom needs to make up for her time away by being extra patient and supportive of her children upon her return.
But wait a minute! Hold the presses! Why can't a mom go on vacation, just like everybody else, simply for the sake of the vacation itself? And where were these beliefs coming from? No one in my family was saying, or even thinking, these things. I was putting it on myself, yes. But it also came from "out there" -- the dreaded myth of the Good Mother rearing its head again.
The next morning I drove my daughter to her first day of middle school, providing a supportive listening ear as she expressed her anxieties. I dropped her off -- with words of reassurance, a backpack full of school supplies, and money in her pocket for lunch -- confident that I had provided for her needs of the day. And all was well. Until I opened Facebook later that morning. There they were, one after another after another in my stream: the obligatory back-to-school photos. I, of course, had neglected to take such photos, both on that morning and the previous week when my older daughter went back to school. Suddenly I had visions of my children looking back critically on their childhood, convinced that their mother hadn't really loved them based on the lack of photographic evidence of their carefully selected first-day-of-school outfits. Never mind that my children, like many children of this digital age, are photographed practically every day of their lives. No, I was sure of it -- what would stand out in their minds would be my failure to capture this one particular moment.
I posted a joking comment on Facebook about my "mom failure" and waited. Minutes passed. More minutes. And then, at last, she arrived -- the mom who instantly became my most favorite in the universe. "I have back to school picture guilt too," she wrote, "It will be okay."
It will be okay. It will be okay. Say it with me. Repeat it as a mantra. It will be okay.
Over and over again, I come back to this place, reminding myself of the lessons I've already learned. Mom guilt is not something I conquer once and for all, vanquishing from my queendom forever. I exile it, and it slinks back, again and again. As with so many things in life, this is an ongoing process.
And you know what? It will be okay!
It will be okay, in part, because I know I am not alone. Organizations like MotherWoman connect me with other moms and also help me stay connected to my own intention to treat myself gently. Events like the Book Release Party for The Good Mother Myth (co-sponsored by MotherWoman), which I am looking forward to attending this Friday, allow me to learn from the experiences of others while also providing companionship in the process!
Rebecca Hawkes writes about adoption, family, and identity at Sea Glass and Other Fragments, The Thriving Child, Lost Daughters, and Adoption Voices Magazine. She is a co-founder of Ashley's Moms and lives in Western Massachusetts with her husband, her two daughters, and a dog named Buddy.
LIKE MotherWoman on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MotherWoman