MOM GUILT didn’t come on my social radar until I became a mother. I was a carefree 31-year-old woman with a solid career, a great apartment, a wonderful support network of friends and a loving partner. I shopped for things when I wanted to, buying what I liked as opposed to what I “needed,” treated myself regularly to manicures/pedicures and brunches with friends, and the closest feeling of guilt that I had was when I double-booked my social calendar and had to beg off from one event so I could attend another.
Fast forward to being forty weeks pregnant; uncomfortable, anxious, and excited to meet my baby girl. Due to the fact that she wasn’t in any hurry about making her arrival, my doctor started mentioning the term “induction.” The fear of all the horror stories I had heard while I was pregnant instantly came upon me. I was terrified of the pain, the intensity of the contractions, the awful PITOCIN, and the ever-looming c-section that may come at the end of it all.
And then, I started thinking about my daughter. How could I fail her before she was even born? What did I do so wrong to not go into labor naturally? Did I not walk enough? Eat enough pineapple? Spicy foods?
Enter MOM GUILT. I had never felt so shameful and guilty in my life. I was already a terrible mother and my daughter hadn’t even met me yet.
This would be my first encounter with MOM GUILT but it wouldn’t be my last. Oh no… my friends, MOM GUILT has become that friend you dislike being around but because you have so much history together, you tolerate her and her draining antics.
She has surfaced for every second-guessed decision I have ever made regarding my daughter. After Mackenzie turned 1 month old and it was clear she was a “colicky” baby who could not be consoled with anything except to be put on the boob; she was right there to mock me.
“You must’ve done something to make her miserable! Maybe you should have re-thought that glass of red wine with dinner?”
When she was 4 months old, Bryan and I decided to take the advice of our pediatrician and attempt sleep training. As I sat on the couch watching Mackenzie on the monitor with tears streaming down my face, listening to her cry for the longest eight minutes of my life, MOM GUILT sat alongside me.
“You’re going to absolutely ruin her! She will be scarred for life! She is going to think you don’t love her!”
When Mackenzie was 7 ½ months old, I got a fantastic job offer with an incredible company. The decision to go back to work after staying home with my daughter for several months was absolutely terrifying. MOM GUILT was there, standing right behind the nanny as I handed my child off to her care.
“You don’t know what the nanny does with her all day! What if she doesn’t get fed? You are putting your career before your baby! What kind of mother are you?”
After nursing her and pumping at work for months, my milk supply couldn’t keep up. During bath time one evening, Bryan walked in and said “Babe, we only have four ounces of milk left.” He said it so delicately and kindly that it broke my heart even more. I nodded and said, “Maybe we should supplement with some formula tonight.” The kindness in which my husband spoke to me was the exact opposite of the tone MOM GUILT took with me.
“You’re giving up NOW? It is appalling that you aren’t even trying to pump more! Drink more water! She will hate formula!”
When Mackenzie was 14 months old, we relocated to another area of town and looked at daycare options. The first day I took her to her new class, MOM GUILT met me outside my car. I barely could look at her. My sobs didn’t change that horrifying, judgmental look across her face.
“She is going to be sick all the time! She won’t get the attention she needs! You are abandoning your baby with strangers!”
Those are just the larger decisions we made in her infant life. Now that she is a full-fledged toddler, MOM GUILT likes to harp on me when she is throwing a tantrum.
“She’s not listening to you because you aren’t paying enough attention to her when she needs you. You’re away from her nine hours a day and she is acting out because she misses you. What do you expect from her?”
For her two year checkup, her cholesterol levels were just slightly elevated. Our pediatrician asked if she was having whole milk and I said yes. She suggested switching to 2%. MOM GUILT stood up and pointed her finger at me.
“You should’ve switched it out months ago! You are so incompetent!”
Every single day, I experience an interaction with my freenemy.
MOM GUILT rears her head when I get caught up in a bidding war on one of my social media resale shops and I realize that Mackenzie is watching her third episode of Peppa Pig in a row.
MOM GUILT likes to spoil most date night outings by forcing me to come home earlier than expected because no one puts her to bed like we do.
MOM GUILT rolls her eyes at me when I give into Mackenzie’s requests for Oreo cookies.
MOM GUILT. I do not underestimate HER; she is a reminder that I fiercely love my daughter and when it comes to Mackenzie’s care and well-being, she is my highest priority.
I do long for a day that I can stare MOM GUILT down with confidence. A day that while I still may second-guess myself, in that moment the decision is made and there is very little fuss coming from her.
As I await the arrival of our second child coming in just a few more weeks, I know she will continue to visit, but now that we’ve known one another for the last two years, I am starting to learn methods to diminish her judgment.
Lots of deep breaths, reassuring talks with my other friends and support system, laughter, and occasionally a pat on my own back to say “You’re doing okay mama bear. You’re doing okay.”
And so are you mama … I promise.