- Chapter 3
1. You must be willing to let some things go.Mommy Guilt-Free Principle No. 1: You must be willing to let some things go
By the time we bring home the bacon and fry it, clean the kitchen, put away the laundry, help with homework, and tuck the kids in, all most moms want to do is crawl into bed alone—to sleep. Let's not forget the bills, the miscellaneous phone calls, and, of course, our spouses. Reading about it is exhausting, let alone accomplishing all these things. Human beings were not designed to toil endlessly. We eventually become sloppy, inefficient, and grouchy. This is why so many of us continually make that oh-so-short leap from asking our children to do something to screaming at them—and from screaming to a nice bout of Mommy Guilt. Yelling at the children was named by two-thirds of Mommy Guilt survey respondents as a prime cause of regular guilt. While no mother is so perfect that the occasional tantrum never bubbles up from her soul, it is possible to eliminate yelling entirely as a parenting style. (We'll show you how in Part 2 of this book.)
The point is this, if you found out you had only six months to live, would you spend that time defending the carpet against spots? Or would you spend it enjoying your family? We'd guess that filling your ears with the laughter of your children would take priority over rubbing out the chocolate stain on the living room carpet. Still, a serious illness notwithstanding, it is never easy to prioritize things in your life. After all, if everything on your list weren't already some kind of a priority, it wouldn't be on your list at all. Yet mastering the "letting go of things" is one of your premier tools for fending off Mommy Guilt. This alone can lead to such contentment with your parenting work that you float through most of your days feeling like you're doing a darn good job of it all. Furthermore, this feeling can be used as a flotation device to help everyone in the family feel happier and more content.
The safety guidepost: You, as a parent, are responsible for providing a safe environment in which your child can grow and learn. The first trick to helping you prioritize is to ask yourself this question, "In what way would my child be harmed if I didn't do this task right now?" If the answer is, "not much to not at all," you've just found an item that can easily be dropped down the priority totem pole.
Housework is an ideal example. In our survey for this book, 59 percent
of participants reported feelings of guilt over not keeping up with the
housework. So please, hear this: It is perfectly fine for your house to
look as though children live in it—even when guests drop by! You can have
toys on the floor, snacks out on the table, and shoes piled up near the
door. While we've got loads of advice in Chapter 8 on managing specific
housework tasks, for the sake of example, let's use a housework situation
to show Mommy Guilt-Free Principle No. 1 by applying the safety guidepost.
Mommy Guilt Scenario for Mommy Guilt-Free Principle No. 1
You had completed a top-to-bottom cleaning of your family room last
night at 11 P.M. It is now 7 A.M. and in the twenty minutes your children
have been awake, they have had ample time to destroy the room. You see
empty food containers on the couch. They dragged a box of toys up from
the basement and dumped its contents on the floor, thereby mixing up several
box games. Something brown and sticky is now on the wall (chocolate?).
To complicate matters, friends are dropping by later this morning, something
that both you and your children have been looking forward to for days.
You had planned on using your time in the morning to prepare a picnic meal.
Mommy Guilt-Free Scenario for Mommy Guilt-Free Principle No. 1
All of that pride was forgotten by the morning. It is now 7 A.M. and in the twenty minutes your children have been awake, they had ample time to destroy the room. You see empty food containers on the couch. They dumped the toy box on the floor, and you spot a brown sticky mess on the wall. You are tempted to start yelling, but instead you take three deep breaths to calm yourself. You make a mental note that next time they have a play date, you will set up activities for them to do that will help ease them through their excited waiting period without digressing into destruction. You would like to make the kids clean the room again, so that your friends don't think you live like pigs, but you realize that yesterday's cleaning took a couple hours and if you don't get cracking on making the food, you won't have a picnic to take with you.
So, you ask yourself, is any of this mess harmful? The brown goo seems
iffy so you prioritize cleaning that yourself. The toys are not in the
walking path, so you opt to let them stay out—they'll be dumped out as
soon as your guests arrive anyway. Your kids can certainly carry their
own food containers to the dishwasher. Game plan in place, you step in
front of the TV, turn it off and say, "Remember how nice this room looked
last night? We need to fix some things before our guests arrive."
Mommy Guilt-Free Principle No. 2: Parenting is not a competitive sport
Ever been to the park with your child where all the parents are sitting around telling each other when their kids started walking, or talking, or when they got their first tooth? Who cares! It is human nature to want to compare and contrast but please don't do it over the developmental milestones of your kids. If your child is happy and your healthcare professional has no concerns, great! Take the pressure off yourself and, more important, off your children to hit their developmental milestones as if they were speed trials. Faster truly isn't better. Take it from us. Among our seven offspring, we've covered the full developmental spectrum: eleven-month-old first talker and eighteen-month-old first talker, nine-month-old walker and nineteen-month-old walker, first teeth at four months and first teeth at thirteen months. You know what? All seven kids are perfectly healthy, happy, productive members of society.
It doesn't serve your family's best interest to use peer pressure on your children in an attempt to speed their development only to try and ban peer pressure from their lives when they are teenagers. If you have any concerns about your child's development, ask your pediatrician, your child's teacher, or consider using one of the resources for developmental screenings referred to in the Emergency Guilt-Relief Guide (Appendix C). Should your child be a late bloomer, we ask you to consider these astute words of wisdom, "So what?" No matter the circumstance, from genius to struggling, your children will find their own developmental pace and you will go along with them.
Now, we don't want to minimize the emotional difficulties of parenting a child who needs extra assistance—in fact, we've dedicated Chapter 15 to the topic. But all children—in fact, all people—face difficulties. All of us have areas where we excel and where we don't. Unless you're parenting an alien child from the planet Orak, there will always be a kid in this world who has achieved something faster, higher, bigger, whatever—and one who hasn't. As one wise Mommy Guilt survey respondent put it: Don't get caught up in the competition with other parents. That's really the source of so much guilt. Enjoy your children and let them be individuals. Childhood shouldn't be a race. The parent who succeeds is the one who has the happy child.
The germination of this area of parental angst begins during the baby
months when parents are eagerly looking for any sign that they've given
birth to the next Einstein. Walking is the classic example. Let us clue
you in on a little secret—walking is not the sign of intelligence you're
searching for. A child who walks at nine months isn't necessarily a genius
or a future Olympian. Let's take a look at Mommy Guilt-Free Principle No.
2, from both the Mommy Guilt and Mommy Guilt-Free perspectives, using walking
as our example.
Mommy Guilt Scenario for Mommy Guilt-Free Principle No. 2
Mommy Guilt-Free Scenario for Mommy Guilt-Free Principle No. 2
Mommy Guilt-Free Principle No. 3: Look toward the future and at the big picture
All of us want the best for our children—to raise smart, kind-hearted, responsible, loving, hardworking, independent people. These are all desirable attributes, so how do we go about instilling them in our children? We do it by keeping these goals in front of us through years of parenting decisions and by the choices we make in modeling these behaviors ourselves. Simply put, when we look at the future and the big picture, we see this type of person. In every critical situation, ask yourself one question, "How will this help guide my child to become that wonderful person I foresee?"
By the same token, looking toward the future also includes you. Parenting is just one of your roles. As your kids grow older, parenting will vary in its consumption of your time. By having a passion in your life beyond your family, you can increase the joy in your life, generally, and your enjoyment of your family, specifically. We are programmed these days to think the reverse—that time spent away from the family is stolen time and that we should feel guilty about it. But you are your children's primary role model. It is important for kids to learn that to live happy lives, people must regularly engage in activities that make them happy. Children must see that different people enjoy doing different things. If they see you doing something you love, they too are likely to find a beloved hobby, sport, or other activity for themselves. You've now demonstrated for your family an ethic that life is to be enjoyed. Let's illustrate Mommy Guilt-Free Principle No. 3 with a story that is easy for busy parents to relate to.
Mommy Guilt-Free Scenario for Mommy Guilt-Free Principle No. 3
Mommy Guilt-Free Principle No. 4: Learn when and how to live in the moment, rather than in the future
Contrary to being the opposite of Mommy Guilt-Free Principle No. 3, this is its complement. This is the concept of being able to put aside all those to-do lists, stop rushing about, and just be with your children in the here and now. This is especially important because kids themselves live in the here and now. Only adults sit and plan their next meal while eating the current one. Our children give us the best reason in the world to forget about all the grown-up complications in our lives and enjoy the moment. Get on that swing at the park! Go ride the mini-train with your toddler! Play a board game with your preteen. Once you have "let go" of the unfolded laundry waiting in the dryer, you can fully engage with your child while playing. The clothes will wait quietly and patiently until you can get to them.
The here-and-now principle is one that takes a lot of practice. How often do you find yourself thinking about your to-do list while taking care of the kids' needs (getting them dressed, spooning out their macaroni-and-cheese)? Or maybe you find yourself trying to finish a task while your child is chasing you around the house, screaming for you, or attached to your leg? Chances are good that if you just give your child your total, complete, undivided attention—that is, stop what you're doing for ten minutes—he will move onto his separate pursuits with a smile on his face. Our kids really don't need us for very long in a day or, sadly, for very many years in a lifetime. Put down the telephone, laundry, or car keys and play for a little while. Listen to their favorite story for the hundredth time. Play with their dolls. Sing them a song. We guarantee that you will both feel better in a few minutes, your child will stop whining, you will get everything done, and, quite probably, you will have engaged in the best moment of your entire day.
Mommy Guilt Scenario for Mommy Guilt-Free Principle No. 4
Mommy Guilt-Free Scenario for Mommy Guilt-Free Principle No. 4
Mommy Guilt-Free Principle No. 5: Get used to saying yes more often
and being able to defend your no
I began testing myself, my husband, and my older children. If "no" was given as an answer, the person who said it (self included) had to come up with why. Oftentimes, we found that "no" was being used as a quick, yet unjustified, answer. When everyone saw how ridiculous this was, we all began to say yes more often. We also began to enjoy each other's company more.
Mommy Guilt Scenario for Mommy Guilt-Free Principle No. 5
Mommy Guilt-Free Scenario for Mommy Guilt-Free Principle No. 5
Mommy Guilt-Free Principle No. 6: Laugh a lot, especially with your
Be careful to learn the difference between laughing with them and laughing at them. Laughing when a child misspeaks a word and makes a funny sound, for instance, can be wonderful as long as the child is laughing, too. However, if your child doesn't think it's funny, then it's not funny. Children can't tolerate being teased very well and sometimes parents have a hard time stopping once they begin teasing because they miss the cues that tell them the fun is over. While we must teach our children how to find the funny side of life, we have to show them good-natured humor that doesn't make another person the butt of the joke. If you don't find yourself laughing daily with your kids (though most Mommy Guilt survey participants report that they do), you need to work on Mommy Guilt-Free Principle No. 6 a bit. Many arguments can be squelched with laughter.
My girls were in a lot of trouble for fighting with each other for about
the hundredth time that day. I had them both sitting on the couch listening
to my lecture about sisters getting along when my toddler son decided to
join us. As I finished talking with one of the girls, he chimed in by repeating
what I had just said. It sounded so funny out of his little two-year-old
mouth that we all began to laugh. The horror of the moment was over and
we all learned something from him. Laughter can be a great cure for a wide
variety of ailments. Let's see how you can put Mommy Guilt-Free Principle
No. 6 to work for you with this common morning-time story:
Mommy Guilt Scenario for Mommy Guilt-Free Principle No. 6
Mommy Guilt-Free Scenario for Mommy Guilt-Free Principle No. 6
Mommy Guilt-Free Principle No. 7: Set aside time to have fun as a family
Having fun as a family is more than just laughing together. It's playing together, eating together, doing planned activities together—enjoying each other's company in a variety of ways. Sometimes, it's the one thing we look forward to all week long.
Life is busy these days, no matter who you are and what you do. We work
longer hours than ever before. We have hundreds of choices of things to
do with our so-called free time. If we don't plan family time together,
chances are pretty good that we won't get that time. It doesn't need to
be elaborate. Have dinner together at least twice a week. Plan a monthly
family outing—anything from a picnic in your own backyard to a family weekend
away. Follow your children's lead on this one. They often have great ideas
on fun and easy things to do together. Have a family card house–building
night. Play board games. Turn your TV room into a mini theater; rent a
favorite movie, make popcorn, and curl up together. The only guideline
is to find an activity that all of you will enjoy doing and that won't
be hard to do if you are following Mommy Guilt-Free Principles No. 6 and
7. Thanks to the interest of her daughter, the family of one of the authors
of this book rock climbs together.
It's a sport that all of us can do at our own level and still do it together. We take turns cheering each other on and challenging each other. We do it because it's fun, but it has also built a new trust among us.
Click here to read Sample Chapter
1 of Mommy Guilt.
© 2005 Julie Bort, Aviva Pflock, and Devra Renner.
Excerpt from Mommy Guilt: Learn to Worry Less, Focus on What Matters Most, and Raise Happier Kids (AMACOM Books, April 2005), Julie Bort, Aviva Pflock, Devra Renner. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.