I remember telling my friend, Jo, that I was certain my mother guilt came out with the baby at delivery, right behind the placenta. She says her’s emerged the day she stood in Walgreens trying to decide which pregnancy test to buy. “Should I buy the more expensive one?” she thought. “After all I want only the best for the alleged baby.” Her mind raced. “Maybe I should get the cheapest one. We need to be more prudent in our spending now that we may be having a little one.”
After she shared her struggle with mom guilt, I thought perhaps it is best to pretend that it doesn’t even exist and go on with life not dwelling upon how neurotic I am. I have tried that but then I feel guilty about not dealing with it!
Yesterday I happened to read two articles that painted such opposite pictures of mothering, both bringing on a new round of mom guilt.
The first one described a young pediatric intern’s poignant story of caring for a small child whose mom had brought her into the hospital suffering from dehydration, and left her there for a couple days while she took a free, convenient vacation. The doctor told how this little child had obviously been used to spending many hours alone. My heart pounded as I read the story.
The other article discussed the perfection model portrayed in the Elsie Dinsmore book and the author’s mother guilt that reading them brought out in her. What was she doing wrong in her parenting to not produce her own perfect, sweet, caring, serving Elsie? I have been there and done that, too.
My own mom guilt receives its super powers from the line-up of perfect moms who have paraded through my life: June Clever, the perpetually smiling, apron-and-pearl-wearing wonder who greeted her family each afternoon with milk, cookies, and a spotless house. Donna Reed, the always wise, organized, and admired matriarch of Hillsdale. Shirley Partridge, the hip, cool, and ever-diligent rock and roll playing, bell-bottom wearing mom who not only fixed supper but sang lead in the family band as they traveled in a flower power bus. Marmy, who kept the home fires burning while her husband was at war, cared for the sick and wounded, and raised intelligent, thoughtful, and independent daughters. Ma Ingalls who could make a Christmas dinner from a can of oysters and a cozy home from a sod cave. Michaela Quinn, a vision of perfect hair in spite of being held hostage by dog soldiers, performing surgery on the dining room table, raising four children and running her town. Abigail Adams, homeschooling a future president, lecturing the founding fathers, and melting down heirloom silverware to make bullets to fend off the English.
Somewhere along my parenting journey, I discovered that I would never be one of those moms and I began to settle into my own groove, defining what was important to me and to my family, listening to them and discovering how I could use my momness in the best possible way. We began homeschooling and all was going well until I was introduced to the “homeschool lifestyle” and an entirely new breed of mom perfection, at which point the guilt flood gates were flung wide open. A new and previously unthought-of guilt list, not even including the academic angle, hit my radar.
Somehow I was now expected to be planting, growing, and canning all my own produce, scrubbing and polishing my home until it blinded all who saw it, preparing organic and delicious, but economical meals from scratch for not only my troops but for overnight guests, visitors to my church, and all mothers within a 20 mile radius who had recently given birth. I learned that my blue jeans were immodest and not feminine; my hair needed to make me attractive but not be colored and was best worn long, an impossibility all at once. I found out that godly moms don’t yell, don’t use cream of mushroom soup, don’t listen to Carole King, don’t need time away from their kids, EVER, and don’t attempt to teach any male anything ever unless it is a 3 year old how to use the bathroom.
The truth of the matter is that life is lived daily, seasonally, and uniquely. Each mom has days when she WISHES she could drop a kid off at the hospital and take a free vacation. Each mom has days she WISHES she could be a vision of loveliness and perfection playing to a crowd of admiring children and an adoring husband. But reality is not like this. We all live somewhere in the middle, trying to just make it through another day, hoping the bills get paid, the dog won’t throw up on the bed, and no one gets killed or badly injured in backyard dodge ball. We struggle with a sin nature that tempts us to do terrible, horrible things, on one hand, or to become something God never intended for us to be. We desire to love and serve our families in each stage of life and we recognize that to do this without going crazy, the only place we can reside is in the normal middle of these two extremes, in that place of tension between heinous depravity and the idolatry of perfection, and, most importantly, in daily repentance for the times we fail.
My pastor has been preaching about heaven the past few weeks and has painted a picture of the glory ahead of us as believers. I have found myself salivating, caught up in the details as John describes them, wishing I could be there today. I long to run my hand over the names of the apostles written in the stones of the foundation of the city, to marvel at the gates, each made of a single pearl, to hear Jesus say my name. Perfection will come my way some day but it will be found only in the New Jerusalem, where every tear will be wiped away and perfect rest will be mine. Oh, and yes, the mom guilt will be gone!