THE GUILT GAME

About once a day, I make a parenting mistake that makes me cringe, wondering how my children will ever survive a mother so fraught with foibles. Today, I landed squarely in the Mommy Hall of Shame. Not only did I forget that I was chaperoning my daughters class trip –something she mentioned and I swiftly rejected—but I also missed an important meeting with the school principal regarding my son.

Snuggly working at my desk, I realized what I had done at exactly 10am, the precise moment I was supposed to be reporting to school. Luckily, I live only a few blocks from the school, so I started running like “tomorrow was a rumor” (quote courtesy of Homegirl Yoga). The kids were lined up for the bus when I arrived, at which point I began hollering my daughter’s name, insisting, “STOP!!!! I’M THE CHAPERONE! I’M THE MOTHER!!!! THE MMMMOOOOOTHHHHEER!!!!!!” Mercifully, my daughter was already on the bus and missed her mother’s proud moment.

I do guilt particularly well. In keeping, I began apologizing profusely to my daughter,. She could not have care less. Instead, she grinned from ear to ear, delighted with her unexpected guest. I had failed myself. Not her. By the end of an amazing trip to the New York City Ballet, I forced myself to get over it. My self-flagellation threatened to destroy a wonderful morning.

Oddly enough, one of my Mom’s most dramatic “failures” revolved around City Ballet too. We were enjoying a lovely pre-Nutracker dinner, when Mom realized the show began at 6pm, not 8pm. Since we arrived in the middle of the first act, we sat in the aisles. An adventure! But what I remember most vividly was the fragile tone of my mother’s voice when she discovered her error. I felt my heart break a little bit.

We make mistakes. Sometimes, they are of the logistical nature. (That’s often if you are me). Other times, you are kind of mean. You are not the nice, calm, loving Mommy you envisioned –the one who speaks in sing-song homilies like Marmee in Little Women. You are annoyed that your kids are not ready for school in time again. Or you cannot think straight because both children are talking –complaining—to you at once. You shout, “Silence! One at a time!” You are just you.

These things do happen. Yet I’ve noticed when I eliminate the guilt and admit that I “get like that,” my kids recover much better. They are –hopefully—less scarred by my flaws. All of which I found Issa Waters’ BlogHer post No Excuses: Parenting Is Not Hard particularly unhelpful. In an effort to argue that “parenting is hard” cannot justify bad behavior, she wrote:

“Sometimes I participate in a discussion about someone in public being mean to their child. By “being mean” I mean spanking, slapping, grabbing, yanking, dragging, yelling, name-calling, belittling, punishing and so forth. And there’s always someone in these discussions ready to declare that “parenting is hard” and we should therefore cut the parent some slack. And I just reject this wholeheartedly. It is not hard to not treat people like shit. Children are small, dependent people, and we should be doubly sure not to treat them like shit.”

I took offense to the fact that Waters globs abusive actions like “slapping, yanking…and belittling” with “yelling” and “punishing.” By her definition, most parents I know are unfit to raise their children.

More problematic is that Waters’ turns a naïve eye to the dangers of guilt to both parent and child. Parenting may not be hard….but being human is often excruciating. To me, these challenges are one and the same. Without the guilt, I have the freedom to simply fix my mistakes. In the process, I am teaching my children an invaluable lesson. I am just human –a flawed person who forgets things and loses her patience— but one who will run after the bus to make things right.

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