Monday, May 5, 2008

mother's day guilt

two months after our oldest child (who just turned 6 in december) was born, i began my career as a working stay-at-home mom. what i mean is, i got my first set of proofs for a journal and started learning what it means to be a full-time mom and to work full time from home.

i remember being so bleary eyed staring at those proofs, wondering how in the world i was ever going to catch any typesetting errors when i was working on about 1 or 2 hours of sleep (gillian was what some might call a difficult least that's what i called her!). i was grateful for the opportunity to be able to provide extra income at the time. and i honestly thought the work was easy. and it really was at that point. i wasn't doing any copyediting or having to sit at the computer just yet.

by the time gillian was 5 months old, though, i already had editing jobs lined up and was somewhat tied to the computer. i spent time holding her, trying to type. lucky for me, she was a very calm baby. she didn't try to hit the keyboard or type her own additions to the articles i was reading. (this is what rhys has been doing lately!)

on top of my paid work, i also decided to make my own baby food. and i couldn't stand living in chaos (i still can't)...and i also didn't want to end up as one of those families who has so much kid stuff in their living room that it is off putting to visitors, especially those without kids (but sometimes even for those WITH kids!). so i was also very diligent about cleaning up after playtime, which, for those of you with babies know, occurs multiple times a day in between various naptimes. i also took the subway when i had errands to run (ok, except for the grocery store, which would have been WAY too complicated), which took extra time, but we only had one car and plus, i liked taking public transportation.

then, six months after gillian was born, we found out we were expecting baby #2. surprise! i tried to prepare by taking on extra work so we could afford to buy the things we needed plus pay for health insurance and various other costs that go along with having kids (most of which you don't realize until they are there, living and breathing in your house, and then you go, "oh crap! you cost a lot!" at least that's what i did.).

ok, fast forward to today, where i carry a full workload, editing anywhere from 8 to 10 to sometimes 12 hours a day (depending on where i am in a project). my husband is an amazing dad, and he does a fantastic job playing with the kids, holding rhys when he's fussy, feeding him (especially now that i'm done nursing), and cooking dinner sometimes.

there are a multitude of other things around the house that i just feel ultimately responsible for, though, even if rick were willing to take care of them. it's just in my personality. like take laundry for one. it's easier for me to do it, plus i really enjoy the motion of washing and drying clothes. (putting them away, that's another story) and doing dishes is something i hate, but i'm super fast at it, so i end up wanting to take over even if someone else is in there helping me out. i really, really, really enjoy cooking, so i usually don't want to give up that job to someone else, even if i need to so i can get some editing done. vacuuming...well that's pretty much up to me most days, and that's ok, because i never dust...rick always does it for me after it gets seriously bad. :)

so here's my problem: i read this list of what a good mom is on my friend J's blog the other day. it took my breath away. it almost made me cry. but not because i was waxing nostalgic about how i fit into the list. it made me realize what kind of mom i have NOT become. i am not the mom on this list. i want to be (well, mostly), but life experiences and struggles have not allowed that.

i want to say right now that J is my friend. we were in close community together for a year and a half in houston. we haven't talked much since we moved away from there, but i still think of her and her family often and still very much consider her a friend. so i am not trying to criticize her list. after all, it's hers! but after thinking about commenting, and feeling at such a loss for words and feeling pretty much empty inside about what kind of mother i have become, i realized i needed to blog about it instead.

i blogged a while back about feeling a sense of relief when my older, wiser friend shared how we really shouldn't feel such pressure to entertain our kids. i also heard another wise friend with 4 kids joke, "when my kids ask me to play, i tell them, 'go play with your brother or sister; that's why i had more than 1 of you!" even though i know she is kidding, i know there is some truth to that, and it was refreshing to hear her honesty.

so i've been trying to embrace the more honest side of motherhood, like just facing the fact that i have to work all the time right now and can't stop sometimes to look at what the kids have drawn, or listen to their stories. it's painful, but it's just the truth. some days, i spend so much time trying to get them to be quiet so i can concentrate, that after they are fast asleep and i'm lying in bed trying to fall asleep too, the guilt just washes over me and i go into their rooms and crawl into bed with them, as if i'm trying to tell them, "i am so sorry."

i apologize when they are awake too. i cling to the fact that children are such vessels of grace and that maybe i'm not screwing them up THAT much. but my biggest fear as a mother is having them grow up feeling like i didn't love them enough, didn't spend enough time with them, yelled at them too much, didn't listen to them enough.

i wonder if sometimes (and again, i'm not trying to criticize my friend's list) we are told that we have to be superhuman as mothers. we have to work (lots of us do, despite what people might think), take care of our homes, find time to take care of our bodies (this is very last on my list, despite my recent commitment to exercise--i've resorted the past few days to just abstaining from food...), find time for snuggling with our spouses, and also be an amazing, fantastic mom who never loses it, always makes handmade cookies and other goodies for them, does elaborate projects with them, takes them places around the city to give them some culture.

this is an inordinate amount of pressure, people! i for one can't live under it. i haven't figured out a solution though. a while back asti recommended a book called Buddhism for Mothers: A Calm Approach to Caring for Yourself and Your Children. i haven't taken her advice and ordered this book yet; most of the time thinking about reading makes my head spin because it's what i do all day long. but there's really no excuse for me not getting the book; it's cheap, and it looks like an easy read.

on my previous post about this kind of thing, there were a few comments, but i would like to dialogue more (as much as we can electronically) about what you think about all this. do you feel these pressures? how do you deal with them? how are those "perfect" mothers all so calm and, well, perfect?


The Josti's said...

yeah that list stressed me out a little...especially the bad mom quote. i think that was a little strong.

i'm having a hard time finding 10 hours a week for work and my house is definitely not spotless...steve does more cleaning than i do right now.

i think i'll keep checking back on that list though. some of the things were good for accountability while others were a little too much for me.

thanks for being so open.

karin said...

I think you sell yourself short. You are a GREAT mom and I'm glad you don't fit into the cookie cutter mom category. If you did I don't think I could follow your example, and I do follow your example A LOT. I am new to mothering so I'm still exploring what a good or bad mom is. I want to choose more broad strokes instead of specifics. I strive to be:
a mom who maintains healthy boundaries and rules
a mom who helps him see God around him
a mom who helps him appreciate the differences of other people
a mom who expose him to a lot of different things that will help him become who a great person

I guess how I get there is up to me and how you get there is up to you and we won't have the same path. It's a lot of pressure to measure up to all of those specifics, but I am glad to have others, like you, that inspire me when I watch how you mother.

You have taught me so much more than you know.

kristi said...

kelly, thanks for your comment. i think the reader comments that came after the list were actually more helpful, especially the ones where the kids spoke up and said what was important to THEM. because i think if we really thought about it our kids have WAY less expectations than we put on ourselves. plus, like i said, i count on the fact that kids are resilient enough to withstand my not-so-good days. :)

kristi said...

karin, thanks for your list. if i stopped to make a list i think it would look a lot like yours. and i have really treasured your support of my mothering over the are probably the only person besides rick who has seen me "in action" ever since i started down this road, so it means a lot to think you don't consider me a failure (at least yet). :) i think the wisest thing about your list is choosing to be broad instead of specific, because it's easy to get bogged down in those minute details and lose sight of the larger picture, don't you think?

Amelia Plum said...

that being a good mom list puts a lot of pressure on mom to basically be a superwoman who doesn't get emotional or upset. I don't know that anyone can attain that level of perfection or, to be honest, why anyone would want to. loving, caring, providing and keeping your children safe - absolutely I'm all for that. but the pressure of never raising your voice, spotless house, singing them to sleep. does this person ever have a 'negative' emotion? I like the honest humor of your friend's comment about having more than one child so they could have a playmate. There is a lot of competiveness, in addition to pressure, among moms in this day and age and I know I can get debilitated with guilt that I'm not a good mother but I have to hope that means that I'm good enough to at least question and seek what's best for my child. I'm including a link to yet another book on parenthood. My good friend read this book and sent me this link from the NYTimes it sounds like a very insightful book. I haven't read it yet, when I find time to read I want to lose myself and forget about parenting if only for a brief time, but I think the idea of raising children to be self-reliant is very important in this day and age.

j said...


that list was a joke!
it was my attempt to put in writing the exact struggle you're talking about!

did you read the intro?
"Here are some of the things on my list. Some are real, important, life-changing. Some are silly, but I press myself into them anyway. Some are mutually exclusive. Some impossible."

I don't and CAN'T do most of the things on the list... and i feel guilty and pressured about some of them too. But not all of them!

I wasn't trying to write a real list, my friend, about what we SHOULD be as mothers, just a funny list of the things i sometimes think i should attempt. Like keeping a spotless house, or sewing cute clothes for them, or even bathing them every day. I don't do any of those things and i don't feel guilty about it! i just put that on the list to make people who feel the same way laugh!

some of the things on the list were mutually exclusive, like feeding them sugary food, or never feeding them sweets. all i was trying to say was that cultural pressure exerts way too much force on us mothers and we can't do it all, most of it is either impossible or mutually exclusive.

are you with me?
maybe the list only makes sense as a joke for people who have actually SEEN my house lately! :)

sorry for causing such angst!


Anonymous said...

okay...I read your post...I read the list...and me thinks thou doth protest too much.

I am an outsider, first time to your blog, first time to your friend J's blog...and personally, when i read her list I laughed at the exact opposites on the list and figured she was talking tongue in cheek.

Perhaps you aren't the mother you think you should be; I'm sure your friend is not the mother she thinks she should be either. I don't know any mom that is the mother they think they should be.

Your repeated "not picking on J's post" reference actually inferred that yes, you were picking on her post. Had you said, wow, her post made me think and her are my thoughts on being a mom...blah blah blah.

I guess since Mother's Day is approaching, many moms are having soul searching issues...I have read several angst filled posts lately.

I think you can rest assured as along as you feel like a failure, you are probably doing a good's when you don't think you need to worry about your mom skills, you need to reevaluate.


kristi said...

j, even though we have chatted via email i just wanted to publicly say that i completely missed the tongue in cheekness of your post, probably because i am dealing with so much mother guilt crap right now (along with so much other life stuff). thanks for reassuring me that you are still the same J i knew before. :)

melissa, thanks for stopping by and taking time to comment! i have to say that i disagree with you that i repeatedly said i was not picking on j's post--i went back and read what i had written again, and i think i was pretty clear that i took her list seriously and just felt awful and how i didn't measure up to the list.

i also think it's easier for you to read her list and get the irony in it after being able to read her take on it in the comments section of my blog. after all, when i read her take on it, that certainly gave me a new perspective when i revisited the list and thought "oh how did i miss the fact that she was kidding?"

i will say that i asked a couple of friends if they thought she was kidding, because i was afraid i was reading too much into it, and they both took her as seriously as i did.

even so, i wasn't trying to criticize her as much as point out how much of a failure i have felt lately. and i think that other moms feel this way too and are just afraid to say it. what i try to do on my blog is be honest with myself, because i know when other people have been honest with me about their own struggles it helps me feel like i'm not alone in what i'm going through.

i certainly don't have any answers, but i do think that by dialoguing about things can be some source of encouragement for myself and hopefully for other people too.

i appreciated your final point: i definitely agree that whenever we get comfortable with ourselves really in any capacity it probably means we are not being self-reflective enough and that we should do a little more soul searching that we had been doing. i do think, though, that we don't do enough of "it's ok that you don't keep a clean house" or "it's ok that you don't play creative games all day long with your kids."

and to me, that is the most important thing: breaking down those walls of thinking that we have to appear perfect (because obviously we CAN'T be) to those around us. finding this place of being able to be real is, to me, ultimate personal and spiritual freedom!