Sunday, August 30, 2009

Guilt-Free Zone Ahead

Like many women in my suburban neighborhood, I am a stay-at-home mom. Well, I’m actually a not-quite-stay-at-home mom because, let’s face it, no “stay-at-home mom” actually is home very much. Sometimes I feel as if I live in my SUV; I have considered just putting my pillow and a fleece blanket in the cargo area, where my ubiquitous water bottles and the random leftover french fries and fruit snacks that I know will sustain me if I ever get stuck during a blizzard reside. But, I digress. I was talking about being a not-quite-stay-at-home mom. Not Quites often seek the guidance, solace, and companionship of other Not Quites in an attempt to carry on some type of conversation that requires an education beyond, say, 3rd grade level. We commiserate about our jobs. It’s really no different than what my hubby does with his coworkers when he’s enjoying a lunch that requires neither peanut butter nor jelly.

I was recently deeply alarmed by a conversation between a couple friends who were discussing how guilty they feel about the way they've parented their children and the repercussions of their parenting mistakes. My friends actually sit around and feel badly about what they feel they’ve done to their children. They actually worry about this. Guilt, it seems, is as natural to them as breathing. They are mothers. They have made mistakes. They feel inadequate because of it.

Now, I am Type A by nature. I like order. I seek it. I plan. I organize. I evaluate. I pay attention to detail. But, as anal retentive as I can be (Freud would have a field day going over my neuroses), I do not as a rule feel guilty about how I parent my children. Truth is, I don’t believe in guilt. My life is a guilt-free zone.

You may wonder how I achieve this blissful state of non-guilt. It started nearly 20 years ago. My mother wanted me to do something and I didn’t want to. Being a good catholic, she went into the traditional ritual of the laying on of guilt (I believe this is the 8th sacrament). Something in me snapped. I was 23. I was finally in charge of my own life and feeling defiant. I remember telling her, “You can say what you want. Guilt doesn’t work on me anymore.” And, POOF, just like that, guilt was gone. Funny how when you cease to believe in something (the tooth fairy, Santa Claus, Prince Charming, or fair and balanced journalism, for example) you feel a release from bullshit. And, thus it was that guilt vanished for me.

The way I have it figured, guilt is a wasted emotion. Guilt implies that I have done something wrong. I’m not sure about other parents, but I parent from my gut and I do the best I can with what gifts, talents, and skills I have. I’m not implying that I’m not potentially ruining my kids with my parenting style. Certainly, at the very least, I am messing them up. But, that’s not the point. The point is that I’m just being me. I am living my life and I am raising children. Am I going to be perfect at it? No. Will they need therapy someday because of me? Possibly. Does that make me a bad mother? I don’t believe so. If my sons ever have children of their own, I think they will come to the same realization that I did: parenting is the great leveler. Most parents are at one time or another flattened by the cries of a teething infant, or powerless handling a toddler with croup, or brokenhearted when their child’s favorite stuffed animal disintegrates in the mouth of the family dog. Some things that happen in our children’s lives will be negative, and they may be a direct result of our actions. But, that’s life. I’m just going to do my best, forgive myself when I make a mistake, apologize to them when necessary, and move on, trying not to repeat the same bad behavior next time. Guilt-free.

The beautiful thing is that guilt-free works in all areas of life. When I eat that Love It size of Founder’s Favorite ice cream at Cold Stone, I eat it guilt-free. I might bike a few extra miles tomorrow because of it, but I don’t feel bad about it. I enjoy every second of it. I may be screwing my kids up, but I’m going to enjoy every second of my time with them. Guilt free.

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