If I do a quick calculation, over the course of the last few days I’ve probably spent a total of 30 minutes with my son. This, of course, makes me feel terribly guilty. As a mother, I feel not only neglectful but distressed and sad.
I missed out on getting my son ready for Halloween and seeing his face light up in delight while trick or treating and sorting through candy. I have no clue what is going on right now in his life—what playdates he’s been too, or what he’s been eating. And I have no idea when he started to use the word ‘bummer’ so often, all because I have not been around. I’ve not been a good mother to him in recent weeks.
The problem boils down to the fact I am one person, who can only be in one place at one time. My daughter Rowan has been hospitalized a number of times in the last couple of weeks, and recently was admitted for three nights. I had to be with her. I needed to be with her during all the tests, to speak with the doctors, to hold her hand and rub her back when she was doubled over in pain that even morphine couldn’t make go away. I needed to make sure she had clean sheets, was drinking fluids and to try to keep her fear to a minimum by distracting her with movies and drawing during the moments she wasn’t in pain.
There are no worse words than hearing one of your children cry out, ‘Please Mommy! Make the pain stop! Make it stop!’ Even if, one day, she yells at me, ‘I hate you!’ nothing will ever compare to those gut-wrenching horrifying words…because I couldn’t make the pain stop, even though I prayed and prayed.
But what I could do was to be there for her, nearly 24/7, with only short bursts of time out of her hospital room, while her father filled in and we switched off. I would only leave her when I couldn’t stand up anymore, dizzy with exhaustion, having not eaten for almost two days, the stress giving me my own mini panic attacks and sore muscles.
I have been seeing my son in ten-minute bursts when I race home for a change of clothes, a power nap, or a 30-second shower.
I can feel that he’s mad at me, though at four-years old, he can’t verbalize why. And four-year olds don’t understand what it’s like to be a mother juggling all her waking hours between two kids. Four year olds just want to know that their mothers are there. But my priority was being with my daughter , because my son wasn’t in the hospital.
It didn’t matter that I knew he was in great hands with his father, nana, and nanny at home, I still felt incredibly guilty for not being able to spend quality time with him.
During those short bursts I was with him, I felt incredibly exhausted and unable to engage—a zombie after 18-hour stretches in a hospital watching my daughter writhe in pain—in short, I felt like a horrible mother to my son. He would show me artwork he had made at school and I would have to rally to show my excitement, and tell him how great it was and how I was going to keep it forever and forever, even though I felt like I needed toothpicks to hold my eyes open.
Of course, you may be thinking, naturally I needed to be with my daughter, and this time apart won’t scar him for life. And I know, in my brain, this is all true. But my heart has trouble following this rationality.
I recently cried to my friend that my heart ached for all I was missing, for the uneven way I’ve had to parcel my time. During my hospital visits, sometimes I even forgot, as awful as it may sound, that I had another littler person that I needed to tend too.
My friend, who has four children, tried to cheer me up. ‘I always feel that I’m neglecting one of my children at any given time,’ she said.
Could this be true? Do parents of more than one children, even if their children are perfectly healthy, feel that they are neglecting one of their children, at any given time?
I think about mothers who have children who excel at some sport, and need to spend hours and hours of their weeks taking them to practices and games. Do they feel neglectful, perhaps, their other children who are at home, while they are concentrating on only one child and their successes? Yes, possibly, I think this is true.
At the hospital, there were many other mothers there with sick children. Did they also have other children at home? Did they feel like neglectful moms too? Were they ‘prioritizing’ their children, as I was, choosing the one who needed me, at that point, the most? I bow down to these mothers. They are heroes.
My experience over the last couple weeks, especially the last week, has shown me, for a fact, that mom guilt never ends. Every mom I know only has the ability to be in one place at one time.
My daughter is back at home, yet I still feel that she’s my priority until she feels all better—and I’m not sure when that will be, even though she is most definitely on the mend.
Every mother knows that parenting is hard. But when you want to parent all your children equally, and you simply can’t, it’s probably the most painful thing to wrap your mind around. Parents of more than one? I would love for you to weigh in. This may have been an extraordinary phase in my life, which I know will end, but do we all feel that we are neglecting at least one of our children, at any given time?
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