In which Deb Kristina wants you to drop the guilt, already

liarscoverthumbnailHere’s a gift we mothers should all give yourselves this Mother’s Day week: guilt-free parenting!

If only it were that easy. On one hand we have experts, television pundits, the Supernanny, and advice magazines burdening us with restrictions and caveats far beyond what our parents could have imagined. Then, just when we think we’ve covered all our bases with PABA-free sunscreen, anti-porn computer software and cutting our grapes in half to prevent a choking hazard, other bloggers and pundits use the snotty term “helicopter parent” and mock our best intentions.

Wait a second! Who’s in charge here? Why am I letting a TV show make me feel like a bad mom for not slipping squash puree into my children’s brownies? Why do I let someone on a radio talk show make me feel embarassed that I want to keep my child safe?

That said, I’m not going to pretend every mother is a Hallmark card.

I just watched an episode of the A&E addiction documentary “Intervention.” My heart broke for Janet’s 8-year-old daughter who related to a nest of orphaned baby birds because her mom was not around, either. Janet was constantly drunk. Not just tipsy, but fall-down, vomit, pass-out drunk. They used subtitles on her drunken slurring. It seemed the producers could not catch one single sober moment of Janet on camera.

One could reasonably argue that Janet had every reason to feel guilty, and in fact she should have felt guilty for the toll her drinking took on her children.

I would disagree. I watched the anguish on her face as her children, during the intervention, were honest about what they’d endured. I believe she had been feeling plenty guilty. But guilt for what she’d already done only led her to drink more, feeling worthless for all the sins she’d committed and could never undo. Janet needed action; and guilt only sucked her in deeper.

Guilt is hopeless because we can’t change what’s done. Guilt keeps us knotted up in the past when our children want us here, now, not mired in yesterday when we roared like a mountain lion over a spilled bowl of cereal.

Ah ha, but should we now feel guilty for feeling guilty? Of course not. Guilt is human. We couldn’t shut it off like a spigot any more than we could switch off any emotion we’d rather not have: anger, spite, jealousy. It’s all human, all normal.

But we can – we must — stop beating ourselves up. Let’s enjoy our children in this moment, right now, because it’s the only moment that matters.

Deb Kristina

p.s. Happy Anniversary, honey! Happy to still be in love with you even though it’s been long enough now I have to stop and do the math when someone asks how many years… And Happy Mother’s Day to my own awesome mom and my “bonus mom” mother-in-law.

9 Replies to “In which Deb Kristina wants you to drop the guilt, already”

  1. I love this, Kristina (even though I’m not a mom, myself). I really feel the part about being told to do all of these extraordinary things to keep your kids safe and then being told you’re raising teacup children. And this line made me totally LOL: “Why am I letting a TV show make me feel like a bad mom for not slipping squash puree into my children’s brownies?”

    Your kids are lucky to have such a caring, smart mother!

  2. My mom at 74 still feels guilty about her parenting mistakes, even though all 4 of us have all grown up, gotten over any of the crap that happened when we were kids.
    Okay, maybe not the wheatgerm in everything stage but the rest of it.
    She is so cool that we got her a new toilet for Mother’s Day. YES!!! a new toilet. She wanted a handicapped toilet that is 4 inches taller so her hips didn’t hurt when she sits on the throne!
    She is ecstatic and I am supposed to tell everyone that she is so special she got a new toilet, for Mother’s Day. A $400 toilet.

  3. Aww, Katie, thanks. I wasn’t fishing for compliments but I’ll take them anyway.

    Gaylin, bless your heart! Flowers will die after a few days but now because of that gift her hips will feel more comfortable indefinitely! Every mom deserves a cushy throne, I’d say.

  4. I figure it this way: you do the best you can, the best. And then you gotta be lucky. I think it goes for everything in life—I better cut this out. Profundity is not allowed before cocktails, or not at my house.


  5. Here, here, Kristina! I’m all for no guilt parenting (although occasionally I feel guilty about feeling guilty). My mother is great about telling me how lucky my son is to have us as parents, and when you think about all the kids being raised by abusive alcoholics, we look pretty damn near perfect!

  6. Nice post, Kris. I guess one of the things about mothering is no matter how bad of a job you think you’re doing, there is someone (or plenty of mothers) out there doing it much, much worse. Hmmm… is that a good thing or a bad thing? Well, anyway … yeah … there are always plenty of mothering moments for us to feel bad about. But in the end, most of us do a pretty good job and we forget that our kids usually do forgive and forget and we moms hold onto the anguish longer than our kids usually do.

    I say usually ’cause I know that’s not always the case …

  7. Good post, Kris. Guilt just comes with the territory. Have you looked at Ayelet Waldman’s new book, Bad Mother?

  8. Becky, good point about luck, which is, in a way, scary. In some ways it’s comforting for parents to think they can control everything (if I only do everything perfectly our kids will never come to grief, right?), but of course that’s not the case.

    Meredith, my parents (and in-laws) are also great about supporting us as parents. It’s good to listen to the people who know us (and ignore the blather from strangers and those annoying “experts”!)

    Eve, I think one reason we’re so good at holding onto the anguish is that the stakes feel so high. Is there a more important job on the planet than raising the next generation? Is there anything more valuable than our children? Yet, that doesn’t mean every misstep needs to be magnified into critical importance. That’s sometimes where we (I) lose perspective.

    Tiffany, I’ve been hearing about this book and I should give it a look! Thanks for the reminder.

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