We’ve all had the ‘Mommy Guilt’ thoughts and struggles, and it’s one thing to wrestle with them internally, but it’s much harder when you’re suddenly forced into conversations about the topic. (For what it’s worth, I loath and despise the term Mommy Guilt, but that is for another time.)
Do I feel guilty.
That is what was asked of me recently. Amidst starting a business this past year, reshuffling life on the homefront and making choices that look, hmm, let’s say ‘different’ than many others, I’ve been riding this wave for awhile. But always in my own head.
Politely, I replied, “Well, I think Motherhood is a lot like running, and we all run a different race.”
It was short, sweet and admittingly, holding back to what I really wanted to say. Personally, I think keeping score of what we miss – and make – in our child’s schedule is handcuffing us to a permanent state of guilt, robbing us of our ability to be fully present during the moments that do matter. And let’s be honest, guilt doesn’t discriminate. It’s part of the deal whether you are the stay-at-home mom, the working mom, the stay-at-home-but-trying-to-work mom, the nanny-knows-my-kid-better-than-me mom, the step-mom, the longing-to-be-a mom, or the if-you-only-knew mom. We are triaging guilt trips and traps all the time. Guilt is a residual side effect of making tough but worthy choices. I used to resist the concept of it, and then someone gave me a dose of beautiful perspective. Guilt means you wrestled with it. You paused. You went through a mental process of sorts, and you made a choice. Guilt means you care.
But I digress.
I’ve been sitting on this conversation – this poignant question – for a few weeks now, and I can’t stop thinking about it.
Of all the miles I’ve logged and training I’ve done, Motherhood has always been – and remains – my most important race. And we can prepare, yes, but once the race begins, it becomes a battle of managing and withstanding the elements and conditions that confront us. Master plans go out the window and good intentions get blindsided.
To survive, we must run our race, and nobody else’s.
If we focus on those next to us, comparing their stride with ours (…wow, it looks so easy for them…) we lose our focus. We knock ourselves off balance and begin to feel pain in places we’ve never felt before. That’s when we realize the comparison game does nothing but derail us from our true path.
We must find our rhythm, even if it looks different.
Some miles are good. And hell, some miles are really good. (Damn, look at me GO.) During the journey, we’ll find ourselves in the middle of the pack – comfortable and protected. (I must be making good decisions, because there are a lot of smart people around me right now…) And other times, the only sound we’ll hear is that of our own footsteps, and those miles are usually the hardest. Yet, despite our fears of being alone and the isolating consequences of doing it our way, the freedom is nothing short of liberating. Suddenly, we can breathe. We realize the only person whose approval we ever truly needed was our own.
The bad-ass road warrior within us comes out, and we start to love her.
Inevitably, we’ll receive the slow clap from the confused and sleepy-eyed bystanders, accidently stumbling upon us as we trudge on by. Really? You can see the bewildered looks on their faces – you guys are doing this for fun?
“Yes, asshole…I’m doing this by choice.”
By choice. My choice.
I’m doing this because I wanted to.
Because something called me to it.
And now I’m here, so damnit, I’m going to enjoy the ride.
You remember why you started, you call yourself on the temptation to bail, and you keep going.
And throughout, we realize that in order to endure the longest miles, we must take care of ourselves. Listen to our own needs and nurture what needs love. We stretch when we’re tight, we fuel when we’re tired and when the pain comes (because it WILL come), we miraculously adapt. We find ways to distract ourselves from the hurt, knowing it will release if we just work through it. We evolve in the moment – digging deep into places we didn’t know existed. We surprise ourselves. We rally.
Chin up. Shoulders back. Steady feet. We’ve got this.
We seek out loved ones. We hope the next bend offers a friendly face and brief respite, even if to just catch our breath. But of course, we also feel the glances and judgments of strangers – who don’t know us or our story – but have something to say anyway. It’s usually silent and in their own heads, but you can feel it. The soft, subtle blows, usually below the knees.
I’m not sure you’re cut out for this.
You’re doing it wrong.
You’ll never make it.
Did you even train for this?
Ah yes, the armchair quarterbacks of our life. We want to curse them in frustration, “Why don’t you get out here and see if you can do any better.”
But we move on. It does us no good to dwell in a place that isn’t healthy for us or give our time to people who don’t value our choices. The negativity depletes and drains you, but helps you realize leaving will make you lighter. Freer. We step back into our stride. And eventually, even the harshest of voices fade away.
And as our miles progress, we care less and less about the distance we’ve already covered. We get smarter, wiser and more confident as we go. We learn, honor the past, and settle in for the long haul. We stop making ourselves feel guilty for what we didn’t do and we celebrate the fact that WE’RE STILL HERE. We’re surviving. And if we’re lucky enough, we’re blessed with a brief cloud-clearing view that brings us to our knees and burns our eyes with so much joy, we don’t care if we ever see again.
Yes, you get it. You know the joy outweighs the burden, every time.
And unlike all my other races, this is not one I plan on finishing. Yes, I wouldn’t mind a 10K split time, just to know I’m not way off pace, but I’m good with knowing I’ll never reach the true finish line.
But I think motherhood is a masterpiece best left unfinished. A race incomplete. A journey uncharted.
So, yeah, do I feel guilty?
For taking an hour out of my day to do something that brings me health and happiness? For making time to reconnect with friends? For chasing a dream that requires sacrifice?
To this, I’d say, if we are not fulfilled, we deny our children the chance to see us TRULY alive. And if they watch us constantly give out our love to others without nurturing our own needs, they lose the opportunity to witness self-love from their greatest teachers. And if they do not see us forgive and accept ourselves – for mistakes, doubts and struggles – they will begin to mirror the very qualities we try to keep hidden from them. And if we do not chase our own dreams because they are hard and cripple us with guilt, we do not let them feel safe and loved as they begin to chase theirs.
Yes…perhaps we cannot escape the guilt, but we can take away its power.
P.S. Thank you Errin Hiltbrand Photography for the wonderful photos seen in this post.