Warning – The Invisible Virus

Guilt – A highly contagious virus is spreading like wildfire this flu season.  Parents, especially mothers are highly susceptible.  This includes: stay-at-home, working, breastfeeding, bottle feeding, single, coupled, same-sex, attachment-parenting, helicopter, free-range, tiger, and any other type of mother you can think of.

There is no known vaccine.

The virus may cause insomnia, emotional distress, stress related headaches, attitude problems, marital discord, stomach aches, and nausea.  It may lead sufferers to drink copious amounts of wine or binge eat after bedtime.

There is no known cure.  Although sleep, exercise, yoga, wine and confessing all your guilt inducing sins to your true friends will help alleviate symptoms. Acceptance, of oneself and fellow sufferers is key to moving forward.

Let’s support one another in this parenting escapade.

We are all doing the best we can.

Also, if you get a chance check out my essay “Mom Guilt” on the Huffington Post – share it, like it, tweet it, and email it around.  You can “Fan Me” if you want the Huff Post to send you an email whenever I publish over there.

I am an insecure writer, so any fandom is much appreciated.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/justine-solot/mom-guilt_b_5793030.html

Thanks,

Justine

Mom Guilt – I Will Do Better

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My head is heavy on my pillow. I roll over in my bed, trying to turn my brain off. It is time to sleep for hopefully three hours until the baby wakes me for his midnight snack. Instead I endure a mental pummeling. Why did I get so impatient when my four-year old treated the minivan like a jungle gym? I raise my voice too often. I tell them to hurry too much. I’m not a fun mom. I don’t read enough with the baby, his bedtime routine is non-existent. I was on the phone when I should have been playing with my three-year-old. I must schedule more special individual time with each of my kids.

Thoughts hit rapid fire, they don’t listen, is there something wrong with them, do other preschoolers listen better? Is their behavior normal? Is there something wrong with my parenting? Are my expectations too high? Am I putting unnecessary pressure on my oldest? Should I sleep train the baby? Will sleep training cause emotional problems?

I am so tired.

Pow. Bang. Boom. The punches keep coming. I take the blows like a professional, but I feel them hard in my gut. I gasp for breath, the guilt. I am a crappy mom. I must do better! I feel defeated.

I make a promise to myself.

Tomorrow I won’t raise my voice. Tomorrow I will be “fun” mommy. Tomorrow I will be less stressed and smile more. Tomorrow I will look at my phone less and play with my kids more. Tomorrow we will eat healthy foods. Tomorrow everyone will brush teeth morning and night. Tomorrow there will be less screen time. Tomorrow I will participate in child directed imaginary play (good for their self-esteem). Tomorrow I will get two loads of laundry done at least. I will return friends’ phone calls. I will be a better mom. I will be a better wife. I will be a better friend. I will be the fun parent.

                                                                       *****

I suffer from mom guilt. Every night I unleash an internal assault upon myself. It has gotten worse since the girls have gotten older and seem to deliberately antagonize each other and myself. I know I’m not alone. We all feel it. However, recently I discovered a temporary scapegoat for my mom guilt rage – Hands Free Mama.

Instead of directing my frustration at myself, my husband, my children or my dogs, I am directing my mom guilt anger at the Hands Free Mama. Her essays about putting the phone down, not yelling and not telling her children to hurry up have gone viral. I wholeheartedly agree that nothing is as important as the time we spend with our children. Further, she insists that we must focus on our young children because we will never get this precious time back (a true but very guilt inducing message).

She has one post in particular, The Day I Stopped Saying Hurry Up that makes me feel exceedingly guilty. The angelic mama eliminated “hurry up” from her vocabulary. One of her children was a “stop and smell the roses” type of child. Before becoming Hands Free, the writer lived a frazzled life. She told the child to hurry up. Then enlightenment struck, she realized she bullied her child by rushing her and decided that she would be more patient. Just like that, she reformed. She accepted her child for who she was and started scheduling herself at her daughter’s pace. Sometimes they were late, but she acknowledged “… I will be late only for a few years, if that, while she is young”.

In theory, I agree with the Hands Free Mama. My children are paramount. My time with them is priceless and I must do my best to enjoy my time with them without distraction. But, and this is a big but, I must do this in the context of the real world.

Hands Free Mama makes me (and possibly others) feel like bad mothers. Her perfection makes me mad. Maybe my anger stems from jealousy of her seemingly endless patience and energy? Or maybe it’s because she makes millions of women feel guilty because we fail to live up to her standards by setting our agendas to our preschoolers’ time clocks. We aspire to live as she does, but we fail because we are women who have jobs, household responsibilities and other children, in other words, full and busy lives.

American society has become very child-centric. Parenting theories a la the Hands Free Mama, tell us that we must focus even more on our children. If they act out, they are feeling ignored, so we must have time-ins rather than time-outs. We must never raise our voices. We must never be distracted when we interact with them. We must schedule our lives around endless afternoon activities. We must never get frustrated when our children don’t listen. We must. We must … And if we don’t, we are parenting failures.

We put too much pressure on ourselves to be too many things. We are human. Humans raise their voices. Humans get impatient. Humans sometimes need to make phone calls, respond to emails or meet work deadlines when their children are present.

Being human is not a disservice to our children. The real world is not going to revolve around our grown children.  As adults they will have to show up on time to school, interviews and work. Their future bosses, acquaintances, friends, husbands and wives will be human. They will be human and sometimes will raise their voices, make mistakes, be distracted and be busy. We must teach our children to forgive them when they do these things.

Children learn what it means to be human from their parents. Isn’t it best that we prepare our children for an imperfect world? I aspire to spend undistracted time with my children, to refrain from telling them to hurry up, to not raise my voice, to be patient and to spend quality time with each of them.

Most likely through the course of a day, I will sometimes be patient, undistracted, calm and fun, but I will also sometimes raise my voice, be impatient and distracted. If I am the un-pretty version of myself, I will apologize to them, I will try to do better and I will try to forgive myself for not being a“perfect” parent. My children will learn that I am human (as they are too) and make mistakes, but also learn the importance of taking responsibility for their own mistakes and saying sorry.

Fajitas

The plate sizzles, oil popping, its not a plate but a large skillet, the steam is acting as an emergency smoke signal as the waiter carries it across the dining room.  Heads turn, necks crane, a woman twists in her chair, everyone is wondering who ordered those fajitas, and where will they land?

*****

“Fajitas,” he comments, “I hate fajitas.”

“What do you mean?” I ask, thinking to myself that you can’t really go wrong with fajitas.  We are in our early twenties, it may be our second date, it may be our fifth, I know that I really like this guy and he’s not bad to look at either.

“You know, the spectacle of fajitas, where everyone turns and stares at the person in the restaurant that ordered the huge sizzling plate of food.”  He states with obvious distaste in his voice.

I smile knowingly, “Like when you go to a restaurant for a birthday and the wait staff gathers around the table to sing Happy Birthday?”

“Exactly, definite fajitas,” he says.

“I don’t really like fajitas either,” I say blushing, thinking who is this handsome guy and why doesn’t he want to be the center of attention?  In an instant a part of our family vernacular is born…

*****

Fast forward ten years later, married, two beautiful daughters, a gorgeous basset hound, a handsome plot hound, and fajitas are still a part of our shared family language.  But the question is, do we really hate fajitas?  Fajitas are now served to us on a daily basis.  For instance:

1)  Walking our basset hound to the park on a hot summer day, her ears flapping, her neck flab swinging, her paws, she is a walking cartoon.  Children and adults constantly asking if they can pet her, “No she doesn’t like people,” embarrassed I repeat the warning over and over.  She is the definition of fajitas.

2)  It’s Christmas, my oldest daughter is two, the mall is swarming with holiday shoppers, we each hold her hand tightly pushing our way through the crowds, my daughter is singing ‘Hakuna Matata’ at the top of her lungs, “IT MEANS NO WORRIES FOR THE REST OF YOUR DAYS.”

“This is fajitas,” I whisper to my blushing husband, we share a smile.

3)  Spring break, a sunny afternoon at the park, mothers and children surround us from all sides. I’ve been in the house for a week with sick kids, but decide to stop by the park to get some fresh air.  I’m dressed like I just got out of jail, dirty, oily, and ratty.  I had no idea the park would be a social gathering, probably would have put on some nice jeans, or brushed my hair if I’d known.  It’s almost nap time, we need to leave, I give the girls the mandatory count down, “two minutes … one more minute … okay time to go.”

My youngest starts screaming immediately, “No Mama, no mama, no mama,” building in momentum and intensity like an Italian Opera.  I scoop her up in my arms.

My oldest whines, “My friends are still here, they’re still playing, why can’t I? I want to stay! I’m not going!”  Then she turns her pleading into the ‘car alarm cry’, shriek, breath, shriek, breath, it sounds as if I’m stabbing her in the middle of the playground.  I would scoop her up as well, but I only have two arms, a baby in one, a picnic blanket, and diaper bag in the other.  How the hell am I going to make it to the car? My blood pressure rises, sweat makes my clothes stick in ways they shouldn’t, I am the spectacle.

*****

Parenthood is all about fajitas, little people with their own thoughts and behaviors that no parenting strategy will ever fully control. They live without social filters as they learn societal norms and etiquette.  If a friend chooses to play with someone else, tears stream down my oldest daughter’s face.  I may feel the same way at happy hour, but I’ve learned to tone down my reaction.  My youngest squeals in excitement when she sees a slide and throws herself on the floor screaming when its time to brush teeth. My daughters behave this way in the solitude of our home, or at a “Meet the Parent Picnic” in a room full of strangers I’d like to impress. Toddlers could care less whether their parents like to be the center of attention.

*****

Dear Husband,

Toddlers (and basset hounds) are the definition of fajitas. I think we’ve got to learn to live with them.  Mexican food is great, pour yourself a margarita and enjoy the ride.

Love,

Your Adoring WifeImage