March 26, 2007 in Features

Mothers bathed in guilt

Cindy Hval The Spokesman-Review
 

Parents council

The Spokesman-Review Parents Council is a group of readers who get together in person and online to discuss issues facing families in the Inland Northwest. To join the conversation, go to spokesmanreview.com/blogs/parents.

As a freelance writer and contributor to the Chicken Soup for the Soul series, I receive story requests each month. The sample chapter titles for the upcoming Chicken Soup for the Working Mom’s Soul caught my eye. They included “Overcoming Working Mom Guilt,” and “Good Moms can Choose to Work and Still Have Great Kids.” The chapter titles reveal that for most moms there’s more than enough guilt to go around.

Even though I’m able to contribute to our family income by working from home, I still struggle with the feeling that there are not enough hours in the day, and not enough of me to go around to make everyone happy.

A recent posting on the Parents Council blog made me squirm. A mom asked, “Do you think day care is just as good as being raised by a parent?”

Another mom responded, “Why do we have to evaluate one choice as being better than the other? Why does every choice in parenting have to end up in a ranking?”

Both queries troubled me. Why do parents, particularly mothers, feel the need to quantify and validate their choices as being better than the choices another family makes?

Whether it’s choosing cloth or disposable diapers, breast- or bottle-feeding, every decision seems fraught with importance. We so desperately want to do the “right” thing.

I posed the question to Susie Leonard Weller, who teaches parenting and family management through the Community Colleges of Spokane. She said, “People feel guilty one way or the other and so we must justify our decisions. Moms at home feel like they’ve given up a lot economically and socially. Moms who work feel like they must justify their love for their kids.”

And it’s the justifications that get us into trouble. We polarize each other when we insinuate that our particular preference is the best.

Weller said, “Parents need to make peace with their choices because what is best for kids is to have happy parents. Really, the proof of how well we’ve done our jobs is in the adults we raise.”

For some of us, that proof is still many years away. In the meantime, parenting is too important and the stakes too high for any of us to feel superior about our choices. Most parents don’t take their responsibilities lightly. Adding a heaping portion of guilt to the load does us all a disservice.

When they placed my firstborn in my arms a minute after he drew his first breath, I immediately grasped the awesome duty and privilege granted to me. I looked into his eyes, felt the heft of him in my arms and wondered, am I up to this task?

Seventeen years later I’m still wondering.

And I’m hoping that instead of alienating one another by asserting our decisions as “best,” we parents can learn to offer support and encouragement without judgment.


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