Exploiting My Baby* *Because It's Exploiting Me

Why Mom Guilt is Good

Book Press, Press Clippings, Good Mommy/Bad MommyTeresa Strasser15 Comments

From the Today Show mom blog ... thanks for letting me contribute this piece.

What does Gordon Gekko’s philosophy have to do with parenting?

Just replace the word “greed” with the word “guilt” and let me break it down for you. After months of people telling me not to feel guilty, and my deeply rooted inability to take that excellent and let’s face it, pretty facile advice, I have a new mantra and it’s all thanks to Michael Douglas.

Guilt – for lack of a better word – is good.

Guilt is right.

Guilt works.

Hold on and duck, conventional wisdom and pop psychology, because Gordon and I are about to fly into your predictably upbeat, sappy, stupid face. Guilt is seen as a waste of time, as a burden, as the unresolved remnant of a negative bummer of a mother who is just not “letting things go.” And by the way, when people tell me to “let things go,” I mainly just want to let my handbag go into their testicles or perhaps their jugular. Maybe holding onto things isn’t so bad. That’s right, maybe guilt is good.

Maybe guilt works.

In my 15 months as a mother, I’ve done a lot of whining and crying, and a lot of apologizing for whining and crying about what I know are high quality, first world problems with my beautiful, healthy child. Still, to me, my anxieties are heavy, I drag them around in a diaper bag of doubt and you telling me to put them down doesn’t help.

I worry that I don’t know how to play with my child, that maybe I work too many hours, that it’s my fault he caught hand, foot and mouth disease because I took him to the germ-infested play area at the mall in Glendale. I feel guilty because I sometimes look at a guy reading the paper at a coffee shop with not a care in the world and I want to yell, “Do you know what it’s like to have the clock ticking every second? You don’t have to be at daycare in 20 minutes, do you? DO YOU, DUMMY?”

I feel guilty because I don’t cook and my baby probably doesn’t get enough vitamins and some days I skip giving him the liquid kind because it’s a whole fiasco. I feel guilty because sometimes when I take him to the park, I’m not totally present. I’m checking my email on my phone. I feel guilty because when my son picks up a cell phone – as kids love to do – he calls it “mama.” My son thinks phones are called “mamas.” Do my guilt minutes rollover?

There is guilt when I just let him have something he’s grabbing instead of “parenting” and explaining why he can’t have it and there is guilt when I try to reason with him because, c’mon, he barely knows his phone from his mama and I’m trying to explain the concept of “grandma’s glasses aren’t a toy” like that makes any sense in his world.

I feel guilty when I let him cry it out in the dark of night. I feel guilty when I run in to soothe him, because I should be letting him soothe himself.

There is guilt when I drive him around to do errands, because that must suck, being all trapped in a car seat like that, listening to people yammer on NPR, or worse, mom singing some Dixie Chicks song or getting every other word wrong to “Let Me Ride.” On the other hand, there is guilt when we stay home, just staring at the same old toys without the stimulation his little brain needs. There is guilt when he kicks his feet and cries when I leave him with the sitter to go to the movies on a Saturday afternoon, and there is guilt when he smiles and beams at the sitter when I go, because he must love her more, because he must sense that I’m not loving every second of this mom thing.

Some of these feelings of guilt are fleeting – like when I can’t pick him up from daycare and have to send my mom – but I’m trying to list them all here so I can make a point. There are degrees of guilt, and there are levels of intensity, there are colors and textures of guilt, but there is guilt for almost every parenting occasion. It’s not like I spend every waking moment doused in a marinade of it, but whenever I mention to anyone that I might feel … gulp … guilty … about being a working mom, or in imperfect mom, or an impatient mom, or a stilted, un-fun mom, I get the same story.

“Never feel guilty. You’re doing your best. The worse thing you can do for your child is to feel guilty.”

This sounds so wise.

Only I’ve finally concluded that at least for me, it’s not possible.

If I didn’t second-guess my decisions and approach each challenge with at least a pinch of self-doubt, I wouldn’t be me. So, thanks for all the great advice, but it’s not going to happen. And since I can’t let go of my guilt, I’m embracing the hell out of it.

Guilt makes me stop by the bookstore for two books on the brain development of toddlers. Guilt makes me turn off the phone and stuff it in my bag during playtime some days, while I desperately struggle for ways to make peek-a-boo fun for him and be totally present. Guilt makes me scour to web for rainy day activities, so the two of us find places like the automotive museum, with a special floor just for kids. Guilt makes me visit a daycare nine times before choosing it.

Guilt makes me drive all the way to Whole Foods to buy some frozen spinach thing that my mom friend says she gets her kid to eat. If I think he got diaper rash because I didn’t change him often enough, it’s the guilt that drives me to the dermatologist to figure out how to get rid of it. It’s the guilt that has me buying $30 diaper cream and hand-cutting medical grade surgical strips to cover it and hold it in place. The guilt hurts me, but in lieu of getting rid of it, which I can’t do, I can appreciate the way it works. The way it makes me do right. The way it is – for lack of a better word – good.

Read on at....Today Show Blog

Teresa Strasser is an Emmy Award-winning writer. Her new memoir Exploiting My Baby is now available from Penguin.