I know that I am a good mom. I adore my boys. I enjoy taking care of them, teaching them, and spending time with them.
But I am drowning in mom guilt.
I tell myself it’s because of my 50/50 parenting plan. I only have them half of the time, and the other half I think of them a lot of the time (much of my waking hours, and a good chunk of my slumber.) I work part time and try to do as much of that while they are at school. I plan most of my life around them, and there is nothing wrong with that, unless it’s never enough.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s enough for them (at least they don’t complain). They seem secure in my love for them. They know (I feel as certain as one can be) that they know how important they are to me. Yet, when I choose to be away from them I feel like a terrible mom. And when I don’t choose to be away, I feel almost as bad.
This is my confession.
But I am not okay with feeling this way. My husband and I are taking a cruise soon, without the boys. I get a little anxious thinking about being away from them. No, this isn’t my first vacay without them; I’ve had several (a big one last summer for my anniversary.) I had a friend ask me if they were coming with us, and when I said no, she said, “I could never leave my daughter behind. We always take her with us.” And while I know her husband probably wishes he could have some alone time with his wife, I couldn’t help but feel like an inferior mom for being okay with “leaving my kids behind.”
I have been thinking through this problem (yes, it’s a problem, not a mom-badge to be proudly displayed) since I learned about the cruise, as I am determined to enjoy my husband and myself. And here are some of my realizations:
- You cannot be in two places at once–No matter how much guilt you wad up and stuff in your luggage, your work bag, or in your gut, you cannot teleport yourself to your kids so they will forgive you for having a life (or responsibilities) outside of them. So you might as well kick some butt and take some names wherever you are, so you can go home and tell them what you accomplished!
- Feeling guilt doesn’t change a thing–Great, you feel guilty. You can’t trade all that guilt in for time with your children or for feelings of succeeding as a mom.
- They need a life outside of you–Whether you are working, jogging, having a girls night out, or just hiding in your bathrobe around the corner for a few seconds of “me” time, these are chances for your kids to become little more of themselves. I am not saying to leave your kids to their own devices, but if they spend time with a daycare provider, your ex, a family member or a trusted friend, they get to do things and learn things that are beyond you.
- Comparison sucks–The reality is, I don’t organize my life the same way you do, and I don’t value what you do exactly. Just because you do things differently at your house (like grow organic okra, hand sew their underpants, breastfeed until they’re 9, or Pinterest everything that you could potentially get at Target or Etsy) doesn’t mean I have to feel obliged to do it too. There are excellent moms who work 60 hours a week, moms who work from home, moms who travel, and moms who never leave. Who cares how other moms do it. My kids sure don’t. Do yours?
- Guilt and love are not the same thing–No matter how much guilt I feel, manufacture or deliberate upon, I will never be able to convert guilt to love. I will never be able to kiss away tears, brighten a day, or bring upon a smile with guilt.
Guilt is binding and painful. Love is open and healing. Guilt is a thief. Love is a gift. Never get them confused.
What I really want my kids to feel is loved. But I am not the only one qualified to give it to them. Moreover, I am not responsible for every feeling they have, every time they have them. Yes, it stinks when my kid asks why he can’t go on the cruise with us (we took 3 great vacations with them last year, so they are not being kicked to the curb.) But moping at a Captain’s Dinner or drooping across a zip line like an emo sack of potatoes when I should be making memories isn’t going to accomplish a thing…
…except maybe wife guilt. Yikes.
Guilt is not pure. Guilt is not productive. Guilt cannot be converted to love.
Therefore it is my pleasure to announce that I will be attempting my first guilt-free vacation in 14 years.
I will think of my kids, I will pray for them, and I will call them a bit too. I will even send postcards from our ports, and I will buy them overpriced souvenirs. But I will not ruin quality time with my husband to prove to myself that I am a good mom; because it never has and it never will.
Do you have mom guilt? When does it hit you the hardest? How do you fight back?