Friday, August 3, 2012

Conquering Guilt and Being Present

One thing society can never prepare mothers for is the overwhelming feeling of guilt.  I am convinced that this is embedded in us during our pregnancies or it's a spell that takes control that first time you look into your child's eyes.  However it gets there, it becomes all-consuming, and I am yet to find a mother that doesn't express some level of guilt.

Last month I admitted in a post that I am far from devoid of this feeling as well.  Either it's a heightened sensitivity to the subject because of where I am in my life or it's a topic getting much more attention these days, but I have noticed more articles and numerous conversations with friends about guilt and motherhood judgments lately.  Not only are we all experiencing this unfortunate emotion, we are also finding a release from talking about it as well.

I have no doubt that being a mother has had its challenges through time.  However, I feel as though we are living in an exceptionally judgmental time to be a mother, and it's extremely unfortunate.  It's difficult enough to overcome these emotions without the added pressures society places on us.  When little r was born, I can remember having conversations with my mom about all the rules there seem to be now for moms.  She was appalled at all the pressures and expectations, and it was unnerving for her to watch how they took ahold of me when she remembered being a mother being natural and much less of an ordeal.  I'm not even sure that we realize how bad this has gotten because it has become so accepted.  The breastfeeding wars are just the surface of constant battles we contend with every day.  I don't know about you, but I'm ready to let all that go.

Sadly, I have to admit that I was one of them.  I judged. We all do, don't we?  Society trains us to think a certain way about how children should be raised and taken care of.  If you let your children watch too much tv, you are lazy and ruining your child's mind. If you feed your children frozen dinners, again you are lazy and filling your child with horrible food. Children must be on a schedule and are expected to sleep through the night at two months and you are judged if you don't have your child in bed at a decent hour. Potty training must be done before a child turns three.It's often a competition about which children read first or know another language.  All these pressures are exhausting.

My judgments are over and have been since little r entered this world. Things became especially clear when little r became a toddler and all it's time-consuming challenges.  What we need to do, and what I am trying hard to do, is to accept that you are your child's mother.  No one knows or understands your child or your life situation the way you do.  I suppose if you ask for advice, you are at the whim of opening yourself up for criticism, but otherwise, try hard to believe in yourself and your motherly instincts.

Also, making things easier for yourself doesn't necessarily mean they are bad.  I was a full-time working mom when little r was four months old.  As much as I wanted to make all his food from scratch, it took all I had to pump and breast feed him until he was seven months old.  I surely wasn't also going to have the time to make all his food instead of buying it from the store in a pre-measured container that is easy to plop into his daycare bag.  And frankly, sometimes you need a break for an hour and a friendly cartoon is a perfect answer, especially when your toddler refuses to nap.

Taking care of yourself should always be first on your list.  When you are healthy and happy, it's much easier to take care of your family.  This is difficult, or at least it was for me.  As a SAHM, using any free time I have to go for a run or practice yoga was something I had to work on because it was time I was taking away from being "productive" and not "working" on advancing myself intellectually.  And Lord forbid I should decide I need to take a nap.  Sometimes this is just necessary, especially when your toddler hasn't slept well for weeks due to nightmares or illnesses. Being a SAHM might not require that you spend a day in the office.  Instead, your home IS your office.  A healthy mind still requires a good seven hours of sleep a day to function.  Do you allow yourself to have this much rest?  I know I struggle to get there, and that is something I definitely need to work on.

I asked Big R yesterday what he does in his office when he has a slow afternoon with no clients, no court appearances the following day, nothing due to the judge in the next hour... He does what I remember doing when I'd have a day of low productivity.  We all have them. We do. We ALL have them.  He takes a break, and organizes files or reads things on the internet.  Searches the news and future travel ideas, writes emails... Gives himself a mental break so that he can be more productive when he needs to be.  Honestly, I think there are many days that he wishes he could curl up on the couch in his office and just take a nap.  Maybe this is why we feel guilty.  The ones we love are working hard to support the family financially, and here we are napping.  We forget that our jobs as SAHM's are to take care of the family emotionally and physically.  In order to do this, we need to put ourselves first sometimes.

Putting yourself first means finding a way to get that run in during the day or practice yoga.  It means not feeling guilty for having your child in daycare or kindergarten for a few hours a day even when you aren't working, or using a babysitter for date night so you can enjoy your marriage.

This brings me to my final reflection... As a mom, I want to teach myself to release the guilt and start letting myself live in the present. You only get to live once, and your children grow quickly before your eyes.  Although the early ages (and from what I hear, often the latter ages, as well) can be frustrating and tiring, it is also rewarding.  Last night Big R got up to get a glass of water around 2 a.m.  He noticed that the light was on in little r's room.  At some point after we put him to bed, he turned on his light, opened up his rollo (this is a metal window covering you raise and lower with a rope on the side of the window - not an easy feat for a two year old), and got out his crayons and coloring books.  He fell asleep on his rug clutching his dankee with his butt high up in the air.  Who knows how long he was sleeping this way or when he woke himself up to play. Instead of being frustrated that he didn't go to bed and stayed up playing, I found myself with a huge smile on my face and more disappointed that we didn't take a picture of this moment before Big R put him back to bed.

He is turning into a little boy right before our eyes.  Little r is no longer a "baby".  When did this happen?!  I know one thing is for sure, I am not going to miss any of these moments.  I want to be present for every experience. To watch him learn his boundaries even while he's pushing mine.  I am learning that to understand this means I need to take good care of myself so that I am not trying to function with too little sleep or no exercise.  That a weekly running date is productive for mind and body even if it consumes all of the free time in a day.  That a girls' night out is necessary to rejuvenate, and planning a meal and making a beautiful dinner for your family is an amazing part of your "job".

It might take some time to get to that place where guilt is an emotion gone by the wayside and turning a blind-eye to judgments is a thing of the past. As soon as I allowed myself to look at situations differently and take better care of myself, I started to feel so much happier.  We are living this amazing life in Germany, and I am determined to free myself of guilt and to truly allow myself to enjoy this experience with my family.

If you are a mother and you fight with guilt and judgment on a daily basis, I hope you find a way to let it all go as well.  Guilt takes years off your life, and it's the important ones that are affected the most.  The glass is half full, so let's fill it to the brim :)

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