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.”