Mama Guilt

It’s taken awhile for us to come face to face. I was led to believe that we would meet much sooner than this– as if you would be gripping my son’s heel as he was born. But midwives came and went, the birthing pool was filled and then packed away, and my little family nestled in our bed…and you didn’t appear. Even when we had to take him to the hospital. Or when he shivered because I forgot his blanket.  Or when I realized I’d been buckling him into his car seat incorrectly. You barely whispered a threat, still as a breeze. How funny that I thought I’d stood against the gale those times. I thought I had won. I should have known it was too easy of a victory.

I’d promised myself I wouldn’t let you catch up to me.  That I wouldn’t let you trick me out of my birthright of peacefulness. My rational self knows that I will not be able to make the world perfect for him. That he will get hurt on my watch. That he will be disappointed. That his heart will break and dissolve into tears. It’s not that I desire this for him.  But I am resigned to it in the same way I’ve come to accept those things for myself. In the same way that autumn is so bitterly beautiful, I know these things are part of being human. I was determined not to let you disfigure that very fragile beauty.

But it seems I was preparing the wrong front. You are a crafty enemy and adept at this through much practice no doubt. You let me win those easy battles, appearing weak.  You didn’t attack me with stereotypical things like not enrolling him in baby classes or letting him play on a dirty floor. You didn’t even attack my ability as a mama when I was learning to breastfeed or comfort his newborn cries.

Let me think I was a conqueror.

Instead you disguised yourself, if not as a friend, at least as something familiar that I am much less capable of defeating. In my blindness you came to me with a familiar touch. I knew the scent of you well in my Bible college days. Like then, the problem is not simply that I am doing something wrong. No. It goes much deeper than actions, things I could fix with enough will power. It’s me. My substance. My soul.

There’s not enough of it.

Or too much of it.

Or something.

You make deals with me. Do this, and you’ll be a good mama. But just as I manage to do that, you switch out the prize of winsome competence with swarthy inadequacy. I am tired of having to choose between making sure dinner doesn’t burn and being a good mama. Between shifting to be more comfortable and being a good mama. Between thinking my own thoughts and being a good mama. If I was a good mama, these things wouldn’t be a dichotomy. In a dream world, these needs would gracefully shift up and down the ladder of priorities, glowing with the serenity of angels.   But instead they slip and fall and dash their heads on the rocks below. And I always save the wrong ones. Balance is never mine.

It seems I will never be free of you. Even into the damp inkiness of night, you grab at me. Force me to wrestle with you till I have no strength left to even hold my babe.  I crumple onto the couch. (How is it only 9am?) As I limp through life, I resent what you’ve made of me. I used to be strong. I used to know how to take care of myself and have enough left over to care for others. Why has that ability deserted me now, when I need it the most, to care for the biggest Other I ever will?

It’s not always bad. There are moments, hours, even days, of piercing happiness. Where I feel reunited to an estranged part of myself. I am a favored one, blessed with much. I know this. I have a husband who has both flexible work hours and a flexible heart, never once begrudging me the comfort and care I need. My son is healthy and vivacious. Sometimes, when he’s asleep, I sneak into the bedroom just to watch him. He is always breathing and beautiful. We don’t want for anything. My life is coated in many colors of goodness.

Why then do I feel so enslaved to you? Why will you not let me go? What can I give you that will appease you? There is precious little in this barren famine-riddled place. My best intentions to try harder, to do better… they wither on the vine. There is no fruit. My emotions are thin and wan. Except for frustration. That at least looms large with ghostly eyes. Isn’t the mark of a mother her endless selflessness? All the poems and songs and books say so. I don’t have it. I try to get by with the minimum effort, as if this were some middle school science project. Perhaps then I am not really a mother at all? I so much wanted to be one of those women who takes gracefully to motherhood. Who, whether or not she planned to have children, allows it to bring out the best in her.

Instead all my worst traits are dragged out of me like entrails. I am weepy and selfish. I manipulate and grumble. All my reserves of patience and peace are gone. Even a little fussing makes me grit my teeth. Neediness sends me running to the other room. Having trouble starting a car will ruin my day. When did this become who I am?

And yet I know this is a foreign place. I do not belong here. This will not be my final resting place. You cannot fool me. There is a land where sweet goodness flows and I can look up clear. You cannot fool me. I see hope underneath.

I hope.

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Posted in Uncategorized 12 years, 3 months ago at 9:25 am.


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4 Replies

  1. Aunt K Jan 15th 2012

    And so it goes all a momma’s days. I promise you it ebbs and flows. How much we want to make life perfect and save our sons and daughters from pain it just does not work that way. Many thongs I wish I had embraced back them. I had my own mom struggles and sometimes it seems all ya could do was survive. I think I couldn’t relieved my guilt and pain by realizing perhaps some things I thought so deeply mattered really didn’t, that I could have laughed more, that I could have trusted and could gave shared more. I didn’t share here the what and how of those actions, some are each momma’s task to discern and done are for deeper discussion. But no doubt about it, a thoughtful adult person’s life has has plenty of angst, guilty or otherwise, to salve whether be it mother, sister, wife . And better save some for when baby becomes adult because then it really sucks .

  2. Aunt K Jan 15th 2012

    Haha. * things not thongs for cryin out loud. !

  3. Aunt K Jan 15th 2012

    *could have instead of couldn’t
    *some instead of done.

    I’m lousy at this, Miss Talented Quotidian, but I writing from my bed of pain – still recovering from disc problems. At least that’s my excuse this time. !love ak

  4. hollie Jan 15th 2012

    This was so beautifully honest and wonderfully written, Jana. Thank you for writing!

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