In a previous post on the MIRCI conference, I wrote:
Guilt sucks. At least half of the talks mentioned the devastating effects of mother guilt — not only is it a tool of control of the kyriarchy (or “the dominant cultural discourse”) by keeping the focus on “what’s wrong with me” not “the prescription of the ‘good mother’ is wrong”, it makes us worse parents. We overcompensate out of guilt, we lose our autonomy and authenticity because of guilt, and we snap from the stress of feeling guilty. Drop the guilt.
And so, of course, as soon as I got back home, the universe decided to test me on the topic. I’m not going to go into the details right now, not least because everything is still very much in flux, but the Boychick has been having difficulties in preschool that came to a peak on his first session back after my return. And oh, did the guilt come on in force.
I had left him.
I let his sleep disregulate.
I exposed him to “adult language”.
I broke my child, and he would never “succeed” at school, and it would be all my fault, forever and ever and ever amen.
What good did this guilt do me? Did it help me identify areas to change? Did it grant me the courage to make the changes I needed? Did it help me accept the situation as it was so I was free to move on?
No. It made me want to grab my child and climb in a dark hole where no one could get at us, and sob in his sweet soft curls, his long limbs curled in my lap, my eyes squeezed closed and streaming salty tears. It froze me. And I had to let it go before I could move, before I could talk, before I could plan for any action but that, that impossible urge to run and flee and hide and burrow and board off the world.
Even now it threatens to overwhelm — your selfishness is responsible for all his problems, it whispers, seeking to slip in wherever it can, my culture’s beliefs borrowing my brain’s voice to torment and tie me down — and must be ignored, set aside, even — radical notion! — forgiven if I’m to help my walking heart as he deserves.
It’s this strange game we play: we are blamed, so we blame ourselves, carry this guilt, wield it before us — “See, I’m doing my job, I know it’s my fault, don’t blame me more, I’m not a Bad Mom, I know I’ve done bad, but I’ll try harder, do better, beat myself for it, don’t hurt me more!” — so as to stop it being wielded against us. It doesn’t work, of course, but in many ways it is worse when we dare to declare “No, I won’t take this on, I did not mold my child, he is who he is and I’ll help him as I can but I am not his creator or his owner or his personal omnipotent god and there is only so much I can do.” Then, we are told, we don’t care, our blasé ‘tude proof of our culpability, our unfulfilled responsibility, our negligence and negative influence. And to try that as a mother with a mood disorder? Then, the voice smirks, the culture accuses, I must be delusional. Obviously I have damaged him. Obviously I am bad, wrong, unworthy, unable to parent without causing pain.
And maybe some small part of that is true. Maybe some of how he is is because of how I am. Maybe his life is harder because mine isn’t easy. But guilt? Doesn’t ease either of our burdens, doesn’t help us move, doesn’t help us grow. Guilt would have us hide away, deny us the sun and air and freedom we need, both of us, to thrive in our own unique ways.
I have my difficulties. So, as much as it breaks my heart to know but as has always been inevitable, does my child. And we are both beautiful and perfectly imperfect exactly as we are.
Guilt? Would only get in our way. And we’ve got too much to do to let it.