Unlocking the ‘Mommy Guilt’ Code

I never knew there was a choice!

I don’t make New year’s Resolutions. As one friend of mine so eloquently put it – “Why should I set myself up for one more opportunity to fail?” I think we’ve all felt like this at one time or another. I felt like that last year. In lieu of resolutions, however, another friend of mine revealed that each year she selects a word, just a single word, to represent what she is hoping to focus on in the coming 365 days.

ONE word? As a writer, I wondered how on earth I would ever do that? (Which was the key, really, because it meant the gauntlet had officially been thrown down – by me – and I had to do it.)

I sat down and discussed it at length with my better half. We both came up with words for the year. His word apparently scared me so much that I didn’t write it down. Anywhere.  (No doubt it was “CHANGE” and not in the presidential way. 😉 Because we all know how I feel about that word.) After much pondering, I went with “Deliberate” for my word in 2011.

Here is what I had to say about my selection on the day that I came up with it:

My word for 2011 is going to be “Deliberate” – as in, on purpose, intentional – particularly as it pertains to parenting and my routine here in the home. My goal is to avoid the “accidental parenting” that happens when I fall into patterns I don’t even especially like but are easy and familiar. I want to seize the opportunities presented to me by my children in these current ages and stages in an effort to minimize any regrets later that I “missed” so much of this or that. I’m sure I’ll still be able to think of plenty of things I could’ve done differently when I’m 50 and reviewing these early parenting years, but my goal is to be present and engaged and, well, deliberate.

Here is the irony of this whole process – I have not thought about my word from that day to this. In fact, if another friend hadn’t brought up HER word for the year earlier this week, I probably wouldn’t have even remembered it again before next January! (Yes, another PRIME example of why I don’t make resolutions. But anyway  . . . ) I looked up my word and was stunned to see how closely it aligned with the parenting decisions we’ve made this year – most notably our decision to homeschool – although in making these decisions, I can honestly say that I never even considered the word. So, apparently it played no part at all in my “deliberate” parenting other than being the initial articulation of something I’ve had stirring in me as a mommy for several years now.

Can I please read the clif notes instead?The thing is, as parents, we find so many opportunities to beat ourselves up. We continually feel we are making the wrong decision, even when 5 seconds before we were confident it was the absolute right one. I’m not sure why this is, but after 11 years of parenting, I learned to refer to it, without affection, as an undeniable case of “mommy guilt” that cropped up anytime I least needed it to.  All difficult parenting decisions came with a nice , warm cup of it, and any awkward conversations with my tween, her teacher or a fellow parent had the potential to further convince me that I was NOT making the grade in this Parenting 101 class.

However, in the days I have spent homeschooling this year (all 60-whatever of them, so don’t be thinking I know what I’m doing or anything) I think I’ve finally determined why I was so quick to feel like I had the words “epic fail” stamped on many of my parenting missteps.  Don’t get me wrong, homeschooling comes with it’s own, built-in fail-o-meter, and it’s a HUGE one. Fail at this, and you can potentially ruin your kid’s chance at getting into a good college, being successful or worse yet, being a productive member of society! Umm yeah, no pressure.  So why is it that I’m feeling far less guilty these days than I did last year. The year that prompted me to select DELIBERATE as my word for the parenting days ahead? I think it’s because it isn’t the act of failing that makes us feel like we’re not making the grade. It’s the times we wonder if we’ve done enough. Otherwise identifiable as the fear, regret, guilt cycle. Did we really put all our effort into that conversation, decision, project, study session, etc etc etc? Did we? (FEAR)  We decide we did not (typically when we make all our sound mommy decisions, circa. 1am), enter REGRET. Finally we are engulfed yet again by the ubiquitous and inevitable MOMMY GUILT. *Ugh!*

No. This lifestyle isn’t a perfect cure-all for the modern mommy guilt. I don’t want to portray that myth and add to the guilt! Yes. There are definitely days I’m almost comatose by 4pm just as it’s time to take everyone to swim, dance, soccer etc. HOWEVER, there are far MORE days when I am finally satisfied with the effort I’ve put in to my day with our kids.  I don’t lie awake at night anymore wondering if I’ll regret saying “no” to that last bed time story. Instead, I remember that I said YES to several other opportunities to make memories today – including reading aloud from a variety of books. I now plan our time together – I am deliberate in creating the moments we will spend in each others company. We will take trips just for fun. We will spend time reading. We will bake together (and clean the kitchen)! We will take walks to enjoy the sunshine and bundle up when we realize it’s really freezing cold instead! We will  have a range of discussions on every subject – scheduled and unscheduled – because we simply have more TIME together.

Taking time to smell the roses - or wildflowers in this case

I wish I had known, for the last 11 years, that what I really needed to do to relieve myself of heaping amounts of mommy-guilt, was just to say NO to the pressures around me, and take more TIME tending to the things I constantly felt like I could be doing better . . . instead of habitually feeling like I didn’t have enough quality time or questioning if we were spending it the way we *should*  (who decides that anyway?!).

Yes, we took family trips before. Yes, we ate dinner together as a family most nights. Yes, we sat on the ends of our kids’ beds at night while they discussed their day or their friends or their homework. Yes, we cheered them on at their soccer games and swim meets. Somehow it still didn’t feel like enough to me.

And that’s how I can quantify this decision to be more deliberate. Because now I feel it’s enough. I feel like they finally SEE the effort and care that I want them to know we put into this endeavor. Into THEM, not just their education. I’m not saying at 11, 9, and 8 I expect them to really “get” it, or even articulate their appreciation for it, but I know that they see it. And that’s finally ENOUGH for me as a parent.

I didn’t realize that my desire to be more deliberate was really synonymous with homeschooling – but that’s exactly how it has played out for me.

I guess it means I need to be more aware of whatever word I select for 2012?!