Family life

A bad case of mommy guilt

A cluster of commitments has kept Tracy away from her kids a little too long. How do you beat the guilt trap?

By Tracy Chappell
A bad case of mommy guilt

The girls Tracy’s been missing.

I’m a person who used to navigate many decisions by how guilty I’d feel if I did one thing versus another. And when I was a new mom? Good lord, I felt guilty about everything. Everything. When I switched from breast to bottle. That I didn’t feed my kids an all-organic diet. That the TV was on too much. And so on, and so on. I didn’t even have to venture into the world of the mom-to-mom judgment Lisa Van de Geyn wrote about last week — I was my own worst enemy.
In the past few years, I’ve made a very deliberate decision to give up the guilt. It’s such a consuming, exhausting, wasteful emotion. I know that now. I can’t please everyone, and I do my best with my kids (except when I’m too tired to do my best). I also put a great deal of my professional energy into trying to steer moms away from feeling guilty about what kind of parent they are or are not.
One thing that’s helped me beat the mom-induced guilt trap is that I have the ability to spend the kind of time I want to spend with my kids. The quality and quantity of time parents spend (and want to spend) with their children is different for everyone, but I was getting what I needed in this department. So I never felt bad for things like nights out or weekends away with my girlfriends when those opportunities arose.
But lately, I found myself reacquainted with my old, not-so-dear friend. I didn’t see her coming, but there she was in extreme close-up, as I drove home very late on a blustery Tuesday night in my mom-mobile, realizing I hadn’t put my kids to bed in a week. A week! How did that happen?
Right now, we have hockey one day on the weekend and one weeknight. Anna has Sparks another night. The girls both had swimming lessons on top of that, but we decided to take this term off because they were feeling too busy. It was a good idea. But this last month, I added something into our manageable schedule that has changed everything. Bootcamp. As much as I adore (and, of course, hate) my bootcamp class and am not dreaming of giving it up, it means that I don’t put the kids to bed two nights a week. If I rush home, I can sometimes catch them just falling asleep. But most times, I have to go in and kiss their sweet-smelling freshly-washed sleepy heads and miss all the snuggles and conversation bedtime brings, which is usually my favourite time with them.
Two nights per week — no big deal, right? But last weekend, I went away with my girlfriends. Sean came home early on Friday so I could get out of town in the daylight, so I didn’t even see Anna before she came home from school (which I promised I would). I got back Sunday and they were out, so I had to just rush though homework and bedtime with them when they returned. Then they had a hockey game on Monday night, so it was another rushed bedtime. Then, I had tickets to see The Wizard of Oz on stage with my friends on Tuesday night.
And so there it was, I found myself driving home with that sad, heavy feeling in my chest, missing my babies, my husband and my house. And I’m not the only one doing the missing. Avery climbed into bed with me that night. I didn’t have the heart to take her back to her room, so I kicked Sean out instead.
“Will you hold my hand, Mommy?” she whispered in the dark. (Heartbreak!) So I held her hand, and ended up spending the night flat on my back while she wrapped her arms and legs tightly around my right arm. She woke when I had to break free. “I just have to turn over, Avery,” I whispered. “I want to be close to you!” she said. I convinced her to let me turn onto my side and she spent the rest of the night cuddled up to my back.
And this, from Anna: “I keep calling you dad by accident because I never see you anymore!” Gah!
I know it’s just an unusual cluster of commitments this week and it won’t always be like this. It’s good that I’m doing this class twice a week. And it’s good that I get some time away with my friends. And it’s good that I have a partner who doesn’t for a minute make me feel guilty about any of it. And really, it’s good that I miss my girls (it would be worse if I didn’t!). I guess I’m just accustomed to being the one who’s here for all the day-to-day stuff.
There’s one very immediate solution to this issue: Sean is going away this weekend. So three full days of all-mom, all the time, will certainly cure this case of mommy guilt, and give us a chance to catch up on the cuddles and conversations we’ve missed.
Do you feel guilty for any of your parenting choices? How do you beat the guilt trap?

This article was originally published on Feb 01, 2013

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