A little tale of mama-guilt

How does anyone survive the parenting years?

We all have those moments with our little ones, whatever their age: a simple moment where our frustration, our anxiety, our stresses about the day, our fears that whatever they’re doing might get their little selves hurt, our wishing that once—just once—they would listen to us; that moment.

It all boils up.

Whatever it is — the day you had, the moment you’re having, the fears and worry that are bottled up inside you. And 99.9 per cent of the time you’re able to push all of those things back down into your gut before they boil over. Take a deep breath, speak to your small one calmly and serenely like the poster-mama attachment parent that you strive to be. Rainbows and sunshine all around.

And then there’s that 0.01 per cent that spills over.

It happened to me.

I watched my little one pulling at the cords, poking in the electric sockets, playing with the buttons on the electric heater, taking the iPhone cord and putting it into the electric socket. Again and again with the “No”. Repeat and repeat again. Try to reason with the very tired little person. Try to reason with the voice in my head. There must be a way to make him understand. And then again, as he jabs the iPhone cord into the plug of the heater, there is that moment—ever so brief and minute—where I wonder whether a sufficiently shocking, booming yell, might actually work. Even though in my mama loving heart I know it won’t. But in my tiredness, in my frustration, in my exasperation, I yell.

And not just the kind of shocked and worried “don’t touch that!” kind of yell that parents let out occasionally. But a firm, I’m-really-angry-at-you kind of yell.

And then: there it is.

As soon as it happens, there’s the reason that my heart knew in advance it would be so, so wrong to give that sort of yell.

Is this how he sees me now? Photo by Leisha Sagan.
Is this how he sees me now? Photo by Leisha Sagan.

The look on my little one’s face.

His expression.

Shock. Disbelief. Sadness. Disappointment. Fear. All in the same expression. Like he didn’t know me, and couldn’t believe that the person who had just given that yell was his gentle mama.

His expression matched the feeling in my heart.

That look is the reason that I can’t ever imagine giving that kind of yell ever again. I just broke his heart. I just changed the way he looked at me, in that moment, with that yell, entirely.

I am pretty sure that I am the worst mama ever right now.

It’s called mama guilt.

And so I snuggled him in bed, giving him all the milk he wants, all the snuggles and cuddles. And long after he fell asleep I continued to cuddle him, kiss his sweet head, hope that in the morning all is forgotten. Hope that he will look at me again with wonder and amazement and adoration and love.

Hope that I am still the same person in his eyes.

I’m not sure that I’m the same person in my own eyes.

I tested myself. In that brief moment, I used my little person as a test. I wondered, “Will this work?” even though I knew in my heart that it was not the right method to use with little person. That I would break his heart, and my own. And I did it anyways.

Mama guilt.

We all have it about something. Whether it’s a yell, a moment that we waited, a moment that we stalled or took to ourselves for our own sanity, a moment that we ignored our child for whatever reason. There’s a moment (or many moments) of guilt. Wondering, is this the moment that I just ruined my child? If I had done something different, would my child be different? Would they be the same? Am I ruining their life? Am I over-protective? Over-bearing? Do I do too much of this, or that? Or not enough? What could I have done differently?

I know that that one moment, that yell that I gave him, was not the right thing to do. I broke my small person’s heart a little bit in that moment. And so I broke my own heart. Parenting most certainly is not without many mistakes, many trials. We’re all lucky to just get through it. And with parenting blogs, books, v-logs, Facebook groups, Tweeting, Instagram—and yes, even columns—about parenting, it’s a wonder that we get through it at all. For all the help we can seek through social media, there’s also enough to make us constantly question ourselves. Am I doing this right? Should I practice attachment-parenting or co-sleeping or buy all my food in glass jars as opposed to plastic, or only buy wooden toys or not buy toys at all or or or or or…

Add this to our own inner voice that makes us constantly question our parenting style, and whether or not we’re ruining our child’s life from the minute they’re born, and it’s enough to make anyone go crazy.

It really is amazing any of us survive parenthood. And that we get our kids through it all in one piece.

In the morning, I’ll look for a sign in my little one’s eyes that he still thinks I’m the most amazing person in existence. I’m not ready yet to have it otherwise. I’ll listen to my own heart from now on, to my own instincts, and not anything or anyone else. I have enough mama guilt in my own heart to hold up a classroom full of other mamas. I’m just trying to get through this one day, one minute at a time.

Editor’s note: If you would like to respond to this or any article on TheIndependent.ca, or if you would like to address an issue we haven’t yet covered, we welcome letters to the editor and consider each of them for publication in our Letters section. You can email yours to: justin at theindependent dot ca. Not all letters will be printed, but all will be read.


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