I wasn’t a cheerleader, but I don’t have anything against them. I mean, I might find them a tad annoying, but just when they overdo their performance beyond the average person’s tolerance level for perkiness.
It only takes a quick scroll through any popular parenting blog site to find cheerleaders of another squad than your local high school baton-twirlers. Mommy bloggers ’round the Internet are stepping up to the social game, rooting for fellow beleaguered moms in the trenches with empowering posts that chant for us to bring on the solidarity, sister:
Good job, mama! Hang in there, mama! You’ve put up with your whiny, messy, unswervingly disobedient children all day, mama, so when bedtime rolls around, treat yourself to a glass or four of your best $7 Cabernet and binge watch the heck out of a season of “Gilmore Girls.”
One major impetus for this maternity pep rally is retaliation against those who shame other moms for any and all possible reasons, making them feel awful and look like sad sacks of child-rearing-failing crap.
To me, there’s a difference between playing Sanctimommy and feeling a personal sense of mom guilt. We all judge ourselves for falling short of expectations, especially when comparing our lives to other mothers’ social media personas.
My problem with mom guilt – besides disliking the victimhood mentality propagated by our current anti-shaming culture – is how we respond to it.
When facing the glum reality of a parenting fail, we diffuse, deflect, ignore, reject, feign indifference and jokingly call ourselves a “bad mom,” and/or blame our own poor decisions on our kids’ despicable nature. Admit our fault and change the behavior? Not so much.
Shocking as it may sound, I think a little guilt over our serious mistakes is a good thing. Guilt is a powerful motivator. Rather than guilt of the shame variety – which breeds self-pity, self-loathing, and way too much thinking about “self” – guilt in the form of conviction can spur change for the better. It compels us to think about our actions and pursue progress.
An important clarification: I’m not talking about the kind of guilt mothers might feel because they work outside the home. You should not feel remorse about the jobs you must fulfill to serve your family. Also not on the table for the guilt discussion: decisions about how you feed your baby, where/how you educate your child, or any other issue that is a matter of style or personal choice, NOT a moral offense.
The guilt I’m addressing can perhaps best be explained in the words of Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart describing his test for obscenity: “I know it when I see it.” You know that aspect of mothering you totally screw up over and over again, and can see its harmful effects in the lives of your children? There’s your good guilt.
For me, it’s yelling at my kids. While I don’t swear at or verbally abuse them, I sometimes blow up in fine toddler tantrum fashion and holler like a baller arguing a no-foul call.
Sure, there are times when a certain level of vocal amplification is needed. Certainly, most if not all moms make this same mistake. But that doesn’t make it right. I know I need to knock it off and find other ways to express my frustration.
In an effort to break this habit, I’ve recruited a friend to hold me accountable and ask me once in awhile how I’m doing with controlling my anger toward my kids. I’m also considering starting some type of reward system, like an adult version of a good choice/bad choice marble jar. Though at the rate I’m going, it’ll be a long frickin’ time before I earn that pedicure.
Whatever steps we take to correct our flaws, the process of changing our behavior will require a great deal of grace, prayer, and patience – with our children, and with ourselves.
Because of course we’re going to fail. Of course we’ll fall short, feel terrible about the consequences of our actions, want to drown our sorrows in a carton of Ben & Jerry’s. And that’s OK. Not because the wrong behavior is OK, but because we are all works in progress. We all need Someone who will continually forgive us, pick us up, and give us strength to try again.
Instead of waving imaginary pom-poms and imparting a closing cheer, I’m issuing a challenge to all of us growth-aspiring moms:
Get off your butt, mama. Quit slacking and start striving. Not for perfection – because we all know that’s impossible, and who can say what a perfect parent looks like anyways? – but for transformation. You’ve been given a gift – your precious, obnoxious children – and they deserve any amount of effort you put into making a change and becoming a better parent.
This is the charge set forth, from one guilty mama to another.