I gave up on new year’s resolutions a long time ago, but I don’t discount the value of pressing reset on undesirable habits. And January is as good a time as any, despite the somewhat arbitrary connection between a new year and “new me.”
This year my focus is building and furthering the anti-mom guilt movement (and when I say movement, I mean my own personal crusade. But I can get you a t-shirt).
To be honest, I’m already pretty good at this. After becoming a mother to one, then two daughters, I quickly learned there would be no end to the things I could feel guilty about: too much screen time, not enough whole grains, too many extracurriculars, not enough extracurriculars, I see my friends too much, I see my friends too infrequently, stay-at-home, work, take-out, homemade, dairy, non-dairy… the list, as we know, is endless and I knew there would be no peace if I didn’t put up a wall – a very THICK wall – between me and guilt.
Both my kids are adopted and when I became a mother I wanted to do everything perfectly to try and make up for what they’d missed the first few years of their lives. Everything from our first Christmas to everyday school lunches was planned and executed like a Navy Seals training exercise. Everything had to be perfect, and since I was temporarily off work, perfection became my job. June Cleaver on steroids became my job.
But none of this made us happy, and – spoiler alert – it wasn’t sustainable.
First of all, my kids didn’t give a rat’s ass about sandwiches cut into star shapes or homemade waffles. What they wanted, what they needed, was my time and attention, and both were in short supply because I was busy scouring Amazon for Bisphenol A-free plastic containers and bamboo chopsticks shaped like alligators. True story.
When I realized something had to give, not only did I let go of the guilt over not being perfect, I let go of the guilt over not even trying to be perfect. I didn’t give up entirely (though this was tempting), I simply shifted priorities, which gave me permission to examine, and ultimately reject, all the other ways guilt was creeping into my life.
To keep the guilt-free dream alive, here’s what I’m focusing on in 2019.
Banish working mom guilt forever. Working mom guilt is counter-productive to teaching my daughters about how awesome it is to have work you love and interests outside your immediate family. I’m lucky to love what I do, and my job helps pay for the things we want and need. But equally important to me is that fact I genuinely enjoy it, and I want my kids to remember what this looks like. Demonstrating a passion for my work is demonstrating respect for myself and my interests. By leaving the house with a smile on my face I’m teaching them more than I ever could by staying home, and I refuse to feel guilty about that.
Keep ignoring social media (while also binge-scrolling). I LOVE Instagram but I accept it for the fantasy world it is. Most things are posed, filtered and curated, and I accept that. In fact, that’s usually what I’m after when I’m scrolling: no drama please, just pretty pictures. My feed is like an electronic mash-up of Parenting, Bon Appetit, Animal Planet, Travel and Leisure and Cosmopolitan magazines. It’s exactly what I need it to be when I’m craving a break from reality or decide staying up way past my bedtime is a good idea. I don’t turn to social media for advice and I take what I get with a grain of salt. There are no comparisons, no envy, no guilt. Just pure enjoyment.
Accept limitations and embrace strengths. Being a domestic Goddess just isn’t in my DNA. When I suggest we try an ambitious culinary project (such as grilled cheese with bacon), my kids look at me in wonder, and with a tiny bit of fear. They know it’s 50/50 whether or not the end product will be edible, but they know we’ll have fun trying. On the other hand, I am great at holding them when they need to be held and listening when they need to be listened to.
Allow for more one-on-time for each child. Sibling Rivalry is a full-on thing at my house, and there’s nothing they compete for more than my attention. Everything from report cards to teeth brushing can turn into Game of Thrones if they’re so inclined, and it’s especially bad when I’ve been away, or at work. When you’ve got one kid with a learning disability and one who excels academically, rivalry can quickly descend into something worse. Dedicated one-on-one time outside the house, away from distractions, doesn’t eliminate the competition for my attention, but it quells the intensity. If everyone feels like they’re getting what they need (at least today) there can be peace in the land (at least temporarily.)
A lot of us accept guilt as the price of entry to motherhood but I don’t think it has to be that way. Saying no to mom guilt doesn’t mean being selfish or petulant or ignoring your kids (at least not every day, or for the whole day). It means finding a way to move through life with a minimum amount of stress and angst.
Reprioritizing the kind of mom I want to be and the kind of things I’m going to worry about was a game-changer for my mental health and my approach to motherhood. I wish the same for you in 2019.