Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Guilt is to motherhood...

--> grapes are to wine. (Fay Weldon)

When I think of motherhood in the abstract, I think of love, joy, and tenderness. Yet too often the feeling that has defined my short time as a mother is guilt.  Which in turn, makes me feel even more guilty. 

Why is motherhood laced with guilt? 

Motherhood is more than a relationship between mother and child, it’s also the foundation of a community between women.  While the companionship between mothers gives women much needed support for the difficulties of motherhood, it is also the source of guilt.  Guilt when I can’t do for my child what other mothers do for theirs.  But also guilt when I can do something for my little one that another mother can’t.

I had a perfectly healthy pregnancy and a natural, intervention-free delivery.  This is something I rejoice in, for which I thank the Lord, yet when I think about it, I also experience a twinge of guilt because there are so many women who suffer complicated pregnancies and births. 

Breastfeeding also came easy to me and Lucia, and seven months in we have still escaped even the slightest issue.  Other mothers have asked me for advice or recounted their difficulties and I’m ashamed to tell them that I had no problems.  I don’t want to be the salt in their wounds, perhaps reminding them that they were unable to nourish their child as well as they had intended.  I know how it is to be on the receiving end, to wonder why motherhood doesn’t come as naturally to me, if there is something innately wrong with my ability to mother.

I feel guilt that I sometimes desire to escape from my daughter, to have a few minutes wholly to myself.  Sometimes, when she cries, I want to just leave the apartment and walk away until I can’t walk any further.  It doesn’t help that I don’t do these things, that I hold her and comfort her until she stops crying, just the thought is enough to make me feel guilty. 

I know that I am a good mother.  I love my daughter greatly and care for her needs.  I cannot control what other mothers can do for their children and I can only concentrate on doing my best with mine.  I remind myself of these truths when the guilt becomes overwhelming, but I can’t help wonder if there is a greater solution to maternal guilt. 

Would changing societal perceptions and expectations of motherhood lessen the prevalence of maternal guilt?


  1. I think we feel guilty because it's sometimes easier than being a mother.

  2. Great topic! I think the guilt will always exist to some extent. For me,
    the terrible guilt over being unable to produce enough breast milk was
    all about how my body couldn't do one of the most basic functions that (seemingly)
    all mammals do in order to feed their young. I can honestly say that the societal aspect didn't bother me much, as
    the majority of people recognize that some mothers have to supplement or
    even use formula full-time for legitimate reasons - I think I had a more difficult time accepting the necessity of formula than anyone else.
    Along the "my body failed me" line, it was eventually a great comfort to recall that these things don't even always work out the way that "nature intended" within the animal kingdom, but we are people and have the intellect and resources to work around these issues the majority of the time, for which I am ultimately grateful.

    To address the other issue of whether I feel guilty about things I've had a relatively easy time with that many others struggle though: I'm guilty of it too occasionally. For example, I have (so far, I know better than to take it for granted) had no difficulty in conceiving and carrying healthy children to term, and can't help feeling a little bad about how easy that has been for me, when a great many people are not blessed with the same experience. The thing is, some things come more easily or difficult to each of us, but we all still have our cross to carry, and it's important to remember that when we compare ourselves to others.

    Finally, as for my own personal guilt over the shortcomings that I can control as a mother: I think it's there to help us strive to be the best mothers that we can be. At the very least, I know that such thoughts help spur me on toward being a better mother.

  3. As a Catholic, I constantly feel guilty that I don't feel an innate "pull" to be a mother. I know a lot of women experience this and talk about it like it's just something that happens and will happen. But I figure, I am 27 and so far have not heard any "tick tick tick" of my so-called biological clock. This scares me about when I will have children. It makes me feel like I won't love them as much or they will frustrate me or I will regret it or something. I know that's not entirely on topic, but it's a woman guilt. I think guilt might be a woman thing in general and wanting to provide only intensifies it.

  4. I know exactly what you mean about feeling guilty about wanting to escape for a few mins. I feel guilty that I don't interact enough with Cupcakes - especially now that she can play independently a lot.

    We also had almost no problems breastfeeding (although I got clogged ducts a few times - HEKKA PAINFUL!)

    Sweet post. :)

    For Love of Cupcakes

  5. Thanks, Jamie! Yeah, I feel like Lucia isn't getting enough of my attention because she's an easy baby and doesn't demand attention. But I also know that I have to give her some space to learn to play on her own.

  6. I don't think that your desire (or lack thereof) to be a mother will have any affect on how great of a mother you will be once you do have children. I know several people who don't like babies or children and they've all said that it's completely different with your own (not that you said you don't like babies or kids, I was just reminded of that by what you said). And yes, I agree, women seem to carry guilt around much more than men!

  7. Awesome comments! I feel like you got where I was coming from. I didn't think of guilt as a good thing that pushed me to be a better mother, but I think that is a great way to look at it! Guilt related to breastfeeding and (not) being able to conceive seems to be such a big topic, and it breaks my heart.

  8. I'm not sure exactly what you mean. Are you saying that it's sometimes easier not to do something and feel guilty about it than to actually do it?

  9. Oh I hear ya!! I also feel guilty for having no issues breastfeeding, it wasn't even a little painful. I also often feel guilty for letting Theodore play on his own for awhile while I blog/read/talk on the phone/etc. This morning he was content to play for almost an hour when I did some things on the computer. I often feel like a bad mother, but I remind myself that I'm right there with him, talking to him, and he would often rather play by himself. Sometimes he'll take toys away from me or turn his back on me when he's playing! Independent little man I have! :) (Take that everyone who says attachment parenting makes clingy babies...! :) )


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