You know the feeling. You’re talking to a friend who tells you that her children are allowed 24.5 minutes of “screen time” per day, no exceptions. Your mind automatically rewinds to that time last week when you were sick as a dog and plunked your own kids in front of the T.V. for time periods that would make the “experts” gasp in disapproval. Or worse, those times too numerous to count that you weren’t even sick, but you really needed to accomplish some tasks, and T.V. was the ready-and-available babysitter mutually agreeable to both parties.
Another friend mentions that her children eat only organic food, and you happen to know that she packs lunches for them whose menus would not be out of place on the pages of Southern Living. You then remember with a twinge of embarrassment the lunch you threw together under pressure yesterday before your daughter ran out the door: peanut butter and jelly sandwich, potato chips, Capri Sun, and a sugary, trans fat-laden cookie.
Still another friend details to you at length the roaring successes of her extensive family chore charts, the effectiveness of her discipline policies, and the fact that her children have been cured forever of whining and know lots of Bible verses by heart. And you’re left laying your head on your pillow that night feeling like an inadequate parent.
All of these factors contribute to a debilitating condition known as Mommy Guilt. Those who suffer from it carry around with them an uncomfortable sense that they’re not doing enough…or they’re doing too much…based on artificial standards.
Where do these standards that we set for ourselves, and by extension, our families, come from? Most of the time, if we’re honest with ourselves, they’re formed by what we see in others. “If so-and-so operates in a particular way, at a particular level, then shouldn’t I? And if I’m not, why aren’t I?”
The comparison game is the first step down the slippery guilt slope. There’s nothing wrong with adopting good, helpful ideas set forth by friends, parenting books, and the endless parade of bloggers and parenting web sites. But sometimes, all of the advice, the ideas, the mantras and conventional wisdom serve to create a toxic stew of insecurity for average moms desperately looking for a step-by-step guide with all the right answers.
My logical husband is fond of reminding me that he spent an inordinate amount of time watching T.V. and playing video games as a kid, and he “didn’t turn into a freak.” (To his credit, he graduated valedictorian of both his high school and college classes and turned out to be a well-adjusted person, so he does have a point.) But I’ve also noticed that dads don’t seem to struggle with Mommy Guilt near as much as mommies do.
I give my children Fruit Loops for dinner sometimes because they didn’t like what I made. (Because granted, sometimes I don’t like it either.) I skip the bedtime story because I’m tired. My craft skills are deficient. I am too strict and not strict enough. I misplace my priorities on a regular basis. I am a work-in-progress that needs refining.
But if I look too closely at how everyone else is living, I think my head might just overheat and explode. Seven years into this mommy thing, I can only do the best I can, with the Lord’s help. Not necessarily what Suzy Homemaker is doing, or the panel of experts on the Today Show, or even what I’m reading on all these wonderful blogs that I’ve discovered this summer. As Popeye the Sailor Man sang in that weird and delightful movie from 1980, “I am what I am!”
And a little high fructose corn syrup never hurt anyone.