cafe mama

entering the mind of the married mom

a balance of guilt - July 3, 2005

Larissa and I were talking about guilt. She told me how badly she'd felt when she'd left Sebastian to cry so she could finish a crafty project. I looked at her in surprise.

"I wouldn't feel guilty when I was doing crafts!" I said. "That's fun! On the other hand, I feel terribly guilty when I'm working."

Larissa said, "I don't feel guilty when I'm working - because I'm feeding my family!"

It's odd, how we choose to place our guilt for not spending every moment focused on our kids. I've read, for instance, that spending 40% of a child's waking time in "interactive stimulation" is sufficient for developing a strong, healthy mind and a balanced emotional makeup. But with Everett, it seems as if most of that "interactive" time is spent running errands, telling him what to do, and disciplining him for not doing it. With Truman - most of our interactivity is spent breastfeeding and diaper-changing. Am I hitting my 40% goal? Am I even close? Do my interactions "count"? I rarely spend a great deal of time in imaginative play with either of my kids; and when I do, I'm usually trying to get out of it for the last 75% of the time.

So when I work, I'm spending a lot of my energy trying to get my children to leave me alone so I can work, and then the rest of my energy goes towards feeling guilty. When they sleep, I can relieve the guilt - but then my remorse takes over, and I'm not overwhelmingly efficient.

I've been working on balancing my time better, and doing a good job of listening to seminars, doing research and catching up on my reading while breastfeeding, and furiously typing during naps and after bedtime. But I have a long way to go before the guilt is assuaged - both for ignoring my kids, and for being inefficient at my work.

And I can't figure out why I, a work-from-home mom with an involved baby-daddy in the picture, should be having such a hard time with guilt. I should feel totally absolved, given my past as a daycare-using, breast-pumping mom! Right?

But I don't, largely, I think, because I feel my failings are in the spotlight when I'm the primary all-the-time caregiver. My lack of schedules. My ineffective way of dealing with mealtimes (it seems as if I hardly ever feed my son until he yells, "I'm HUNgry!"). My laxity with the TV (although THAT I'm cracking down on, now). My failure to provide my boys with appropriate bath frequency. What am I good at?

I recently confessed to taking very few showers on Blogging Baby. The next day I confessed to letting Truman sleep on his tummy. Guess which one prompted more response, and, more criticism? Nope, you're wrong. It's the no-daily-shower thing. Evidently, I'm not taking good enough care of myself.

It's funny, while I'm worrying about whether or not I'm giving my babies the shaft for my career, others are worrying that I'm giving my own "sanity" the shaft so I can not listen to my babe scream while I'm in the shower.

I know I am good at some parenting stuff, like reading books to my boys (and poetry! did I mention I quote Gerard Manley Hopkins from memory?), and breastfeeding them (when they're babies, you know) until they spurt milk out the sides of their mouths, and giving them lots of kisses, and taking sweet photos of them, and writing about them, and making cookies and pancakes and biscuits and Coney Island hotdogs with them, and teaching them how to throw and catch a ball and to run, well and fast, and loving them to pieces. I'm just pretty terrible at all the rest.

Should I feel guilty? And what should I feel guilty about? Should I just forget it all and take more showers? What's the answer? I suppose I'll never quite find it, but I'll sure keep writing about it until all hours of the night. And now, back to work, guilt be damned.