Mommy guilt ain’t worth it!

Mommy guilt. Two words that usually drive me beyond my physical limits.

This idea was apparent the latter part of last week. On Thursday the kids and I ventured out to see animal fossils at a local children’s natural history museum. The facility was cozy and inviting; only 5 other visitors were there that afternoon. Kids easily navigated themselves through the different themed rooms and had opportunities to look under microscopes, touch bones and seashells, view fossils of ice age animals found nearby the city of Fremont, and search for items on their scavenger hunt list provided by the museum – a completed list could be traded for a prize at the end of their visit.

According to the kids, this outing or adventuring, as Elliot refers to it, was awesome. I should’ve been content with that, but mommy guilt kicked in which made me think that I needed another outing that would be “awesome.” So the next day we took a field trip to a local nursery shop.  I agreed that each child could get 3 kinds of flowers.

We came home and immediately got to work in transferring the flowers and adding new soil into the planted pots. I didn’t know why I felt so rushed in doing everything in one afternoon. My muscles burned from squatting and lifting; my stomach grumbled; my mood was souring quickly. However, they sounded so upbeat and excited that I overlooked my complaints and kept going. Elliot even made his giddy giggle laugh, which only happens in cases of extreme happiness. Ellis, who gets bored and tires easily, shoveled some dirt then walked away saying she was too sleepy. She left her flowers on the ground and went inside the house to find daddy. I looked at her longingly and wished I could do the same.


Now I was hangry – so hungry that it turns to anger.

My grumpiness lasted all evening even though I tried to be patient and polite. However, the breaking point came when I asked them to wash up for bed and Elliot accused me of yelling ALL day. He thinks anything beyond a normal tone of voice is yelling. But this evening there was some truth to what he said, so it hurt me double. It was true that I yelled more often than I would have liked that day, but it was not ALL day. Also, if he listened to directions, why would I need to yell? If taken out of context, what he said would turn me into a pathological yeller.

Ready to explode, I stomped upstairs. I laid down on the floor facing the dresser with my arms folded across my chest. I refused to turn around and talk when they came into the bedroom looking for me. When they realized I was serious, they left the room to go look for daddy.  I knew I was acting childish and overreacting. But in that moment, I didn’t care about anything. I just wanted to wallow in my self pity, because I felt unappreciated and unloved by these seemingly ungrateful children.

The next morning Elliot and I had a mini talk to process what happened the previous night. As a sign of peace we shook hands and agreed to have a better day together.

Overall, it was an eye opening experience for all of us: kids realized that mommy has meltdowns just like them; I realized that I need to set clearer boundaries, eat more regularly, and rest when needed without the mommy guilt accusing me of laziness.

This experience taught me that mommy guilt is mainly driven by fear and guilt. The thoughts of “I should” or “ought to” wreaked havoc on my mind. Why do I do this to myself? Why do I set up ridiculous expectations for myself in our current life season? What’s the use in comparing myself to other moms? What defines success? What does it mean to be different yet feel the need to be like others? What’s behind all the insecurities?

I’m hoping to replace the negative mindset that a good mother is someone who puts herself last on the list. I shouldn’t evaluate my role as a mother based on how much we do, how fast my kids reach their milestones, or how busy we stay with structured activities.

Michel De Montaigne (1991), the 16th century French philosopher, explains that the end result of education is to “become better and wiser” (p.  171). I think his words are applicable for all areas of life. For me as a mommy learner, I have a long way to go. It’s a challenging endeavor, but hopefully it will drive our experiences towards becoming “better and wiser.”






Tired mom’s prayer for extra energy!

Last Thursday was one of those days when it’s hard to think positive or feel grateful. I was on day 4 of 5 with the antibiotics for a urinary tract infection (UTI) but the symptoms still persisted. My lower stomach was bloated, the constant urge to run to the bathroom persisted, and I had a headache to go with the body aches. This is what happens when I neglect my health needs over time; I’m learning this lesson the painful way. Getting UTI is my body’s way of telling me that I need to sleep more and eat more regularly.

This summer stirred up a mixture of emotions for me. Because Ellis needs to be clear of any respiratory illness for a month before her heart cath procedure in July, we avoided outings that involved lots of kids or indoor spaces where germs can linger. This means we stay home often and we seek out things to do in open spaces. I was heartbroken that both my kids would miss out on typical summer fun for kids. So in my haste, I tried to compensate by squeezing in outings to the farm, library, bookstores, and coffee shops. The pressure was all in my head. The kids have no idea that I wring my hands in the morning at the thought of staying home all day again and feel like they are missing out on life.

That Friday morning I was reluctant to start the day. But when I opened my eyes, I saw two kids smiling and sitting on the floor. When Ellis heard me, she turned to me cheerfully and in her high squeaky voice said, “Mommy wake up! It’s morning time.” I moaned silently.

We trekked down the stairs trying not to fall over the many favorite blankies they held in their arms. Once they started playing with their dinosaur toys, I plopped down on the couch and tried to fall back asleep. Few minutes later, Elliot poked my arm and motioned that he wanted to whisper in my ear: “I’m sorry to tell you this, but I’m really hungry.” He knows that those words get me up every time.

While scrambling eggs I mumbled an emergency prayer to God. It was a hodgepodge of words asking God for energy, patience, a new attitude, some reprieve, and for the day to go fast. I’ve prayed similar prayers in my desperation and he always brings relief in myriad ways. I’m not sure how it unfolds but previous experiences show me it’s a combination of various things: my attitude becomes more optimistic; my physical tiredness improves; the kids become more cooperative; unexpected help or encouragement arrives; we all take a nap.

I’m not sure what changed specifically this time, but the quality of our day changed for the better. Once again, I am amazed that He answers prayers. As a longtime Christian this shouldn’t come as a surprise, but it never ceases to amaze me. My faith is little, but he keeps showing me that He is a big, omnipotent God who cares, listens to, and answers inarticulate prayers like mine. He really is awesome!

Update on the UTI: Day 5 of antibiotics was a wonderful day. The symptoms finally subsided and I could stay away from the bathroom longer than 5 minutes.

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Library outing later that afternoon. It was very hot that day and everyone is feeling kind of funky! Mom somehow mustered enough energy to leave the house. 







How did the stove turn into such a dark menace?

Since adolescence, I dealt with a constant urge to check the stove before leaving the house. Even if the stove had not been used that day, I still needed to check. My rational mind told me that if I didn’t see the blue flames from the burner, then the stove is officially turned off. However, the irrational thought kept nagging me: maybe I didn’t see it correctly the first time. For more reassurance, I had to place my hand on top of the burner. If my palms burned, then it meant that my hunch was correct. Often I felt slight warmth from earlier usage, but never have I burned myself. I’m a slow learner.

My struggle with the stove began when a hearsay story circulated about a junior high classmate who burned down a part of her house with her curling iron. Although the facts may have altered through the hearsay process, this story frightened me to the core. I wondered about the events leading up to it: maybe the hot iron part was close to something flammable; maybe the curling iron got too hot too quickly; maybe it touched a faulty wire that went berserk; maybe she forgot to turn it off and left the house. How could an unassuming beauty tool become so dangerous?

I didn’t have a curling iron, but the closest thing for me that could lead to a catastrophic event was the stove. It was an electrical appliance I used occasionally to cook ramen noodles. The blue flame created a dreadful feeling in my stomach that a raging fire could consume me and everything around me.

This obsessive thought didn’t just occur; it was fueled by an underlying fear of the unknown: what if my reckless behavior burned down our house or caused some irreparable damage? This type of experience would take years of intensive therapy to get back to my old self.

This fear was prominent growing up in my parent’s home. They were first-generation Korean immigrants who struggled with the language barrier, held various low-paying jobs, and tried to find their niche in American society.

Through years of saving and sacrifice, they finally achieved a bit of the American Dream. They became proud owners of a spacious ranch-styled home in an affluent neighborhood. I was extra vigilant to keep it pristine as they intended. Also, it saved my head from getting chopped off: in case I chipped the marble floors, broke the stain glass windows by the front door, knocked over the porcelain lamps, or broke the Lladro collectible figurines.

After I got married, the tendency was still there to check the stove. Chris found it odd that I always had to take a long look at the stove before leaving our apartment. Blowing my cover was inevitable because the kitchen was right next to the front door.

He was a graceful listener and quick problem solver; he decided to do the checking for me instead. This was a relief, because I could finally let myself off the hook. Also, I could trust him with this job because he’s naturally observant and keen on details. Yet I also wondered, wasn’t this a form of enabling?

Now that I have two young kids, it’s not convenient to stall in front of the stove too long. In the background I hear protests, whining, crying – they want something or to go somewhere NOW! These two little souls motivate me to change for the better. Checking the stove should be just as it sounds. It should not entail sweating, wondering if what I’m seeing is accurate, talking to myself, or staring at the knobs.

It taking time to shift this irrational thinking. The obsessive thought didn’t develop overnight, so I might as well enjoy the ride of learning to undo it. Lately, I’ve even come to laugh at this kooky part of myself; I think this bodes well for me for the future.