MOM GUILT. I'm usually drowning in it, how about you?
But have you ever stopped and asked yourself why? Why do we all feel that we're not measuring up to some invisible standard of parenting? Why, even though our kids are happy and loved and safe we somehow feel like we're never doing enough for them? Why, even when our parents, spouses, community and friends tell us that we're wonderful mothers, we still convince ourselves that we're utter failures? Is it because of social media? Pinterest? A deeper issue of low self-esteem, anxiety, or feelings of inadequacy?
Recently I made the shift from working full-time to becoming a stay-at-home mom. Before doing so, I imagined that not having to split myself between work and family duties would mean that I'd feel like such a great mom, a better wife, and more productive person. Then why is it, that in this season of life, where I have the option to devote 100% of my time and energy into my household, without the distractions of work, social obligations, or other outside commitments, I am finding myself feeling more anxious about my role as a mother than ever before? Why do I let myself believe that if I don't prepare 3 nutritious meals a day (from scratch), do an afternoon craft with my toddler, and have healthy after school snacks ready for my kindergartner I'm a terrible excuse for a housewife?
I've spent a lot of time thinking about this lately, and trying to really understand why we as parents put so much guilt, blame, pressure and negative self-talk on ourselves.
Let's use Halloween as a case study.
When I was growing up, Halloween was one day of the year. Sometime the week of Halloween you spent about 10 minutes carving a face into a pumpkin. Said pumpkin came out of a big cardboard box at the grocery store. Then you woke up that morning, put on a costume, went to a school party, and trick-or-treated after school that night. Our costumes were usually some terrible flexible plastic mask with a thin elastic string that was sure to break before the night was over. The rest of the costume was the equivalent of a garbage bag with printing on it. It would also surely rip during all of those trips in and out of the conversion van while you trick or treated. But did anyone care? NOPE! It was all about the candy! We didn't have cute coordinated trick or treat pails... you had a free plastic bag from the telephone company, a pillow case, or a brown paper sack from the grocery store. If you were real lucky, you had a McDonalds happy meal pail... yep, that was the DREAM. But if you didn't have one, you surely didn't question your parents love and devotion for you. Some kids had homemade costumes- but let me tell you, they weren't masterpieces- they were cobbled together, had less than perfect seams, and were usually comprised of items found around the house. There were no pinterest-perfect face paint jobs walking around on Halloween night. You never really cared what your friends were even wearing- you just wanted the candy! Of course there were a few students whose mothers just loved sewing and crafting and they looked perfect... but no one really cared.
We never went to a pumpkin patch or apple orchard unless it was a school field trip. Trunk or treat was unheard of. Halloween camping? Nope. Spending the three weekends before Halloween trick or treating at 5 or 6 different events? Definitely not. Once in a great while we visited Crossroads Village, a local amusement park with the girl scout troop for a haunted train ride and trick or treating... but it was by no means an expectation.
How did we get to where we are today then? Why is it that I feel like a bad mom because it's October 29th and we haven't been trick or treating yet? On one hand, I'd be a terrible mom if I allowed my boys to live on candy for the next 4 months, but at the same time I'm failing them for not taking them trick or treating 5 times? WHY? Do we honestly think our toddlers will care if they miss all these events they don't even know about? Of course not! One hour of trick or treating on Halloween night is more than enough for them! So why can't I convince myself of that?
We were just at DISNEY WORLD for last weekend for crying out loud! Disney World! And yet I still wallowed in mom guilt this weekend because I didn't take my boys to ride the haunted train at Crossroads. Did I even stop to think about how many trains, trams, and trolleys we rode at Disney and airports last week?!
Mom Guilt. Is it because we're all competing for the award of busiest family? Have we come to pride ourselves on the number of family outings we do with our children? Why are we doing this to ourselves? Why can't we just savor the holidays through our kids' eyes? They surely don't care about the fact that we spent 20 hours shopping for and preparing that perfect homemade costume. In fact, it probably resulted in numerous tantrums because they wanted our attention and we were too busy.
They don't care about the incredible jack-o-lantern we spent 3 hours carving. They got bored 20 minutes into it and ran around the house while we sat yelling at them, and poured a mixed drink just to get ourselves through it all. For WHAT?!
Why is it considered "lazy" if we just go to the store, let them pick out a costume (that THEY are excited about), carve a simple pumpkin, and then take them through our community getting candy on Halloween night? They surely aren't holding us to the standard of perfection- they'd honestly probably have more fun this way. So why do we silently compete with each other for the best Instagram photo? Why do we tell ourselves that we're not good enough?
THERE ARE NO AWARDS FOR "BEST AT HALLOWEEN!"
And of course this isn't just true for Halloween; this stuff pours over into everything we do as parents: every holiday, every family vacation, weekend, camping trip, etc. We convince ourselves that we need coordinated outfits, themed snacks, homemade crafts, and those picture perfect moments for everything we do! But do any of us really even care what the others are doing? Do we value people more who have cuter snacks, matching outfits, or best holiday decor? No, in fact, we secretly resent those friends- because they are reminders to us that someone else has it more together than we do. What a silly game we play.
This morning I attended my son's preschool Halloween party and I noticed another parent snapping pictures her child (as we all were... gotta blast those onto Facebook or we didn't really do it, right?!- Yes, I am making fun of myself). She kept saying to her daughter "look like you're having fun!" Now let me say this, I'm not shaming her. I'm sure we've all done this at one time or another. However when you're removed from the situation, you realize how silly it is. Shouldn't we focus more on making sure she IS having fun than if she appears to be for a photo op? Why can't we resist the urge to capture it all, share it all, show it all off? (Yes, I've already posted my own pictures of said party to social media- I'm not above any of this behavior- I'm just realizing how silly it all is).
I don't have the answers to this dilemma, but I am working hard to become more self-aware of my actions, to focus more on my kids' actual happiness and enjoyment than on what I THINK might make them happy.
We all have moments were we could do better- of course, we're human. But the fact is, there are millions of kids in this world who don't even have parents. And even more who have them, but aren't loved or cared for by them. We need to stop the guilt game. If your children are loved, clothed, fed, and have a safe home to live in- YOU'RE WINNING! Maybe you don't even have all of those boxes checked off, but you're working your hardest to get there- you're winning too!
At the end of the day, our kids aren't going to remember whether they had the best homemade costume, coolest pumpkin, most trick or treat events, or best porch decor- they're going to remember having fun, and whether their parents were joining in on the fun with them or standing on the sidelines yelling at them. I'm ashamed yet honest enough to admit there is typically more grouchy mom moments around here than the moments where I put my phone down, lower my expectations, and just have fun with my kids. It's hard. But there's just got to be a better way. Let me know if you've already found it.