As a young child, I was advised on managing my emotions. As a teenager, I was taught the value of hard work and operating a budget. As a college student, older women coached me in the art of running a household. As a young woman preparing for marriage, I spent hours in pre-marital counseling learning how to establish effective communication habits with my spouse. But nowhere in my three seconds of pre-children counseling, was I prepared for the daunting task of managing my guilt as a mother.
I graduated college with a B.S.E. in elementary education. I spent hours behind a desk learning how to be a specialist in classroom management. Yes, I am certified by the State of Arkansas to teach the ABC’s and 123’s and beyond to multiple children by using Apple Annie, plastic teddy bear counters and geometric pattern blocks. I am a trained bachelor of academic education, but somehow expected myself to be the master of motherhood.
Unfortunately I found out that being a proficient mind-reader of my infant was a process and not an instantaneous skill given to me at her birth. I had to learn that one cry meant “hold me”, consistent crying meant “feed me”, and multiple soft fusses accompanied by the moving legs meant “I need to poop”. I failed to be a fortune-teller, unable to for-see the toddler quickly pull herself up in the bucket of the shopping cart, flip over, and land head-first on the parking lot pavement. I released myself from that guilt when the same child made straight A’s in kindergarten (Whoo! No long term damage). I wasn’t naturally adept at managing the umpteen antibiotics, multiple aspirators, and Kleenexes that came with the ear infections. And of course it was my fault that my children had the numerous ear infections. I didn’t eat enough spinach while pregnant. I should never have taken them to germ-infested grocery stores. Instead, I should have been at home milking my own cow and tilling my flower-bed sized yard into a flourishing garden of beans and herbs and wheat. I should have also played my genetics card right and married someone with big ears to counter-balance my tiny canals that passed on just the right amount of genetic conditions making someone susceptible to allergies and snot-blocked auditory meatus that resulted in multiple infections and five surgeries of two of my children. Or I could have just realized sooner that we were all allergic to dairy. I guess the cow would have gotten in the way.
It was hard to come to grips with the fact that I was no magician—unable to enchant my young ones to the exciting adventures of eating small trees and leaves in the form of broccoli and lettuce. I did not charm my refluxed infant into rhythmical sleeping patterns in order to have a peaceful night’s sleep. As a mother, I expected myself to be equipped as a judge between the sibling rivalry, a referee in their monopoly games/soon to be wrestling matches, a diplomat in the affairs of childhood disagreements, a politician that inspired my little followers with my riveting rhetoric, and a coach that produced winning champions and child prodigies. When I don’t perform these jobs with correct discernment, skill, some creative acrobatics, and of course, a soothing, pleasant tone of voice that results in instantly well-mannered, healthy, responsible, and sensible children, guess what happens? I get a visit from my undesirable companion: GUILT.
Guilt is a quirky little beast familiar to all moms who actually care about their children. But I’ll tell you that I’ve found ways to contain this shrewd animal with his seductive eyes, sharp claws, and a paralyzing, poisonous bite. At my house, he's trained to stay in his cage. I hear him scratching every now and then. Occasionally he escapes, but I’m quicker now and clever enough to trap him again. He spends more time hearing me laugh at him than I do getting irritated or immobilized by him.
Next week, with Snakes and Safeguards. I want to pass on what I’ve learned about guilt: how guilt is both useful and useless, and what we mothers (or anyone else) are suppose to do with it. Until then…Grab a recycled spoon and have some lactose-free vanilla yogurt mixed with honey and topped with sugarless granola and pesticide-free strawberries.