Dealing with the guilt of mothering

(This is my 100th post!)

look who can climb on the couch all on his own!

Sometimes when Little Man is yelling for me because he can’t quite reach the toy he wants, or can’t quite get up on the couch, or some other very important toddler frustration, and I’m in the middle of dinner (or a book, or any activity that is helping me center myself), I won’t come to help him.

That’s right.

Instead, I’ll encourage him to try to figure it out, or to find a different, less frustrating activity.  And it took a long time before I didn’t feel guilty about this.  That I didn’t feel like I was being a selfish monster.  Because I’m not being a selfish monster.  I think I’m actually being a good mother, teaching my child to be independent and solve problems.  But it didn’t feel like it.  It felt like I was being completely self-absorbed.

I mean, as a mommy, am I supposed to be at the beck and call of my little ones?  Am I going to damage them (G-d forbid) by taking time for myself?  By making them wait just a minute before I run to them?

I know I’m not the only one who feels this way.  I asked some of my friends why they thought this was the case.  My friend Karen suggested that this idea of being an on-call mommy stems from the backlash generated from the “Me” generation.  That the horror of being so self-absorbed was boomeranged into self-abnegation.  As usual, the path is in the middle, and it fluctuates from time to time, so you have to keep your finger on the pulse.

It’s a balance between taking care of yourself and taking care of your kids.  I think this generation has come to understand that in order to take care of your kids, you need to take care of yourself.  There’s a story I heard once about a mommy who would lock herself in the kitchen to have her coffee before she started mommying.  If her kids would ask what she was doing, she would reply, “I’m making a mommy!”

It’s a matter of knowing how and when to balance your me-time and your mommy-time.

For instance, when the baby is screaming his head off, has three teeth coming in, a fever and a massive diaper rash, it’s probably not the best time to drink coffee and catch up on your favorite blogs.  However if he’s taken care of, fed, clean, rested, then you can absolve yourself.  Unless you just want to play with him.  That’s also understandable!

Now that I have a toddler AND an infant, I think it would be even easier to try to be an uber-mommy, and to come down hard on myself when I fall short.  Sometimes the baby is going to cry while I’m changing Little Man’s diaper, and vice versa.  It is unavoidable.  I cannot be in two places at once.

So, this is my new mantra:  I am doing the best I can.  Say it with me.  I am doing the best I can.





20 thoughts on “Dealing with the guilt of mothering

  1. I think this is a universal feeling. I have only been a Mom for a month, and already if my baby starts to make noise from the other room, I feel terrible if I don’t jump up from what I’m doing to immediately tend to him. But I also came to realize that if I don’t have a shower every night, or sit down and eat something at least once a day, I can’t function properly as a good Mom. I also strongly believe that if all the Moms discussed this openly and honestly, as you have done with your friends, then the goal to be “Super Mom” might turn in to “The Best Mom I can be.” Which I think is pretty darned good.

  2. having raised my kids the other way (never letting them cry it out, always coming running for every little whimper) I can tell you that one of my twins has trouble entertaining herself for even a minute and always has to have mommy or Abba reading to her or playing WITH her. Makes it hard to leave the room. I wish there was one right answer to how to do this parenting thing! Where’s the manual??? :)

    1. It would be GREAT if there were one right answer. But then I guess all parents and children would have to be exactly the same, eh? I’m a firm believer in “what works for one child may not work for another.”

      It’s interesting that only one of your twins needs more attention. Do you think it proves that even when we parent children the same way, their own needs and personalities trump our parenting techniques?

  3. I think you are totally on the right track. When my daughter was an infant, of course I was there for her. But as she got older, I encouraged her to be independent and figure things out; partly so she could learn how to problem solve and entertain herself, partly so I could have some sanity time, partly so she could learn that every second wasn’t about her (though I always strived to make her feel safe and secure) and partly so she wouldn’t grow up spoiled and feel entitled.

    I have friends who tell me that it is their job to ‘entertain’ their kids. I couldn’t disagree more.

    1. We are like-minded mommies! If my toddler couldn’t entertain himself, I might go a little crazy (and this blog would not exist). Of course, I acknowledge that his independence comes in part because of his personality. I also want to provide my children with a sense of love and security while teaching them that every second isn’t about them. I guess we’ll see how that goes over the years.

    2. Re: your comment about my twins….. it’s the whole nature versus nurture thing! Yep, I parent them PRETTY much the same way— for the big things, for certain. And yet, yep, it’s only one of my twins now who is whiny and needy and frankly, acting quite spoiled lately. So…. all kids are different and regarding my comment about there being a manual…. what if it were a choose your own adventure type of manual? If your kid is throwing his food, turn to page 6. If your kid is biting his sister, turn to page 32. If your kid is writing on the wall…. :)

      1. haha – that’s great! Choose your own adventure! The whole nature v. nurture thing is so fascinating to me. I was reading a blog by a single guy a couple weeks ago who was blaming rowdy kids entirely on bad parenting, and I was just laughing. As if parenting were the only factor. ha! Good luck with your whiny twin. May he/she outgrow it soon!

  4. I had to figure this out the hard way when baby #1 was 18 months old, baby #2 was a colicky newborn, and Daddy was working at night. It used to absolutely make me feel horrible when I would try to do something completely necessary, such as giving my daughter a bath, putting her pjs on and reading her a story, then in the middle of that, Joey would start screaming his head off if I didn’t pick him up within 5 seconds.

    After a few frustrating nights of disrupting bedtime rushing up and downstairs trying to keep them both calm and still get bedtime routines accomplished, I tried to adjust Sophie’s bedtime a little so we weren’t in the middle of something when he started fussing, and if he did, he would just have to cry it out for 10 or 15 minutes. No harm ever came to him by letting him cry. I remember my pediatrician telling me, if you’re meeting all his needs otherwise, he will be fine if he cries.

    It took me a long time to not feel guilty about letting him cry, but doing it really helped me do what I needed to accomplish. That in itself removed a certain amount of stress. Now with baby #3 coming, I am SO thankful my husband works days and I can count on his help at the end of the day. I am still working on the me-time though. It is definitely hard not to take time for myself without feeling guilty.

    1. That sounds really stressful! I’m glad you were able to find a workable solution. And I’m really glad that your husband’s schedule is more conducive to your sanity now! I would take you out for coffee (decaf) and force some me-time on you if I could! Hope you’re feeling good.

  5. This is such a good post. It’s so important to maintain that balance (and your sanity!) and remember that you are also a person and need to have some time to yourself so that you can be the best mommy possible for your children.

    Good luck with the balancing act!

  6. yep the middle is the best/ sometimes they need someone, and other times they can do it on their own with enough effort. So true about taking care of yourself so you can take care of them.

    True with couples too, sometimes they need to be alone together to keep it strong.
    hatzlacha and nachas

  7. Rivki, I have gone through this many times. I believe that, like you, I absolved myself from guilt once I had my second. There are times you just can’t be there and the baby must learn how to be independent.

  8. Rivki, your logic is dead on accurate. As mommies, we have to let our children figure things out for themselves, lest they grow up not being able to do so at all. Your future daughter-in-law will be thanking you for raising an independent, self-sufficient man that doesn’t need mothering from his wife. Bravo to you!

  9. Really interesting topic. I guess this is just beginning to set in for me since she is only 6 months old From the start, she has always been relaxed and does well playing independently for 20 minute stretches. I am kinda similar to Heather (responding quickly) but recently relaxing and taking a little more time (such as unexpected awakenings) to find out that she will sometimes settle down herself within minutes. I can only imagine the challenges of having 2 or more while making everyone happy.

    1. Oh, my friend, wait and see! As Stephanie grows and gets more mobile, it will also get more interesting. IY”H, she will continue to be a relaxed and independent child, and you’ll see how your own mothering preferences adapt to her additional skills. As for the challenge of having 2 (or more!) kiddies, it’s been interesting so far. We’ll see what happens in the future! Wheeee!

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