Home Planet: At times, it’s alright to get it wrong
I got my first taste of mother guilt just minutes after the birth of my first child.
After I delivered her – an all-day affair that in no way resembled the serene, choreographed breathing and point-of-focus births in Lamaze class films – I held her, counting fingers and toes, and nursed her and finally let them take her away for all the things they do to newborns. Exhausted and exhilarated, I chatted with the nurse who stayed with me to take care of all the immediate post partum chores and we quickly discovered we had mutual friends.
“Did you hear …?” she asked, dropping a gossipy bombshell. “No!” I said. “I always thought …”
And we were off and running, comparing notes on the bad behavior of a couple we knew. Just the kind of thing you do at a party or some other social occasion. But, I suddenly remembered, it wasn’t a party. I wasn’t just one of the girls. I was somebody’s mother.
Obviously not a very good mother, I thought, less than an hour on the new job and I’d already fallen short. What kind of mother, I asked myself, forgets for even a moment?
That was just the first time. I’ve wallowed in a lot of guilt since that afternoon.
Now, I could fill pages with my mistakes; with all the times I lost my focus or worse, my temper. I could write volumes on the little things I got wrong or just didn’t get at all. I could fill an encyclopedia with the times and places of situations that didn’t go as I’d hoped. Things I should have said and didn’t. Things I shouldn’t have said, and did. Steps I should have taken but missed. Promises I had to break and lessons I neglected to teach.
But I don’t have to record any of that. It isn’t necessary. All I have to do is look at my children, (most of whom can only be described as children in a proprietary way. Three of the four are grown and out of my grasp) and I am swept away by a tide of self-doubt and occasional deep regret.
What kind of mother, I still ask myself, gets it so wrong so often?
Fortunately, years of talking to other women – especially other mothers – have taught me one important thing: We all get it wrong some of the time.
From the moment any child comes into the world, he or she is placed in the hands of a rank amateur. It doesn’t matter if you’ve had one child or a dozen. Each new child puts you back at square one.
Mother’s Day is coming up. I’m hoping I’ll get my children together for at least an hour or so.
It doesn’t matter if there are flowers or chocolates or packages wrapped in pretty paper. It doesn’t matter where we are or what they bring me. All that matters is that I get a chance to see them all, intact, upright and reasonably well-adjusted in spite of me. And – this is the part I don’t remember often enough – because of me.
I’d like to think that on some level my children understand that even when I made my biggest blunders I was trying so very hard to get it right. I did the best I could but I was working without a script. Leaping without a safety net. Navigating without a map.
I suppose I could ask them, if I do get them all together, to tell me what I did right. But that would be fishing for compliments, wouldn’t it?
And goodness knows, I’d never want to be guilty of that.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance columnist for The Spokesman-Review. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org