By April E. Allford
No one told me about the guilt.
That’s the second thought that came to mind when I considered tackling the task of writing about guilty pleasures. My first impulse was to take the self-deprecating satire route, my usual. I could easily spout off the typical guilty pleasures we all know and love. Hoppy craft beers. New cowboy boots. Def Leppard tickets.
Sure, drinking pints of IPA and seeing Joe Elliott sing “Pour Some Sugar On Me” live, in leather pants, still tops my list of pleasures that cause the most guilt. Especially now that I’m a mother and wife. But there’s only one way I can truly combine the most guilt I’ve ever felt with the concept of pure pleasure, and that is motherhood. To say the mom guilt struggle is real is an understatement. I can confidently report that this particular emotion is one of my biggest obstacles in reaching a manageable mommy comfort level.
Sounds complicated because it is.
Motherhood is an intricate web spun with unconditional love, divine grace, and boatloads of caffeine. Motherhood is chock-full of irony that newbies like me never fully understand until we’re knee deep in gag-inducing diapers and adorable bedtime snuggles. Becoming a mother has simultaneously been the sweetest and most challenging experience of my lifetime. I’m not a big fan of clichés, but I can say without hesitancy I never knew I could love someone so much, so fast. I know, moms say that all the time.
The struggle is all-too real though, and often terrifying for me. In just a few short years, I’ve found that while I can unconditionally love a tiny human with all of my being, I consistently question my sanity and mid-life coping skills. I know I’m not alone with my feelings, yet I sometimes wonder why I continue to struggle.
Enter perpetual mom guilt.
One minute I’m celebrating the simple fact that I safely delivered my little one to pre-k on time, without crying— neither of us. The next, I’m mentally sucker-punching myself over the nagging fear I haven’t taught my child enough about common core math and solving story problems by the age of four. The my-kid-is-smarter-than-yours pressure is very real.
Mostly I wonder why I allow the demands of rearing a child in this fast-paced world to get to me. Why can’t I pull a Taylor Swift and shake it off already? I know a lot of it is me. I overthink everything. I doubt my abilities and down-play my successes. Mostly I feel like I’m doing it wrong. Did our moms, their moms, and their moms feel the anxiety that plagues me? So many questions, and not a lot of time for answers.
Psychologists have found statistical evidence that girls and women experience both empathy and guilt to a higher degree than boys and men. That does not surprise me. That evidence may explain why I feel that when problems arise, they’re all my fault. What mostly takes me aback is that although I’ve been a mom now for more than four years, no matter how many minutes, hours, days, and months have passed, I’m still unsure if I fit into this marvelous role. Some say motherhood is always that way, especially as cute children grow into moody teenagers. There will always be pressure, problems and solution-seeking for parents. I still wonder why I see so many mothers, especially on social media, who seem as if they were born to be just that. Like it just comes so naturally and happens so perfectly. I wonder if I’m just not cut out for it.
Re-enter Mrs. Mom Guilt and all the frumpy baggage she carries with her. Think Mary Poppins, but not as chipper, put-together or cleverly firm with the children. Open her upholstered mystery bag of tricks and out pops uncertainty, indifference and piles of dirty laundry. There’s a reason behind that. Psychologists going back to the ’70s have discovered a little something called the motherhood myth. According to a study by Hare-Mustin and Broderick, 1979, the motherhood myth is a “cultural tool for manipulating mothers into excessive investment. This myth depicts mothers as universally present, nurturing and kind.”
I like to think I’m all three.
Even so, today’s Pinterest-perfect expectations can make moms like me feel less-than in our maternal roles. The aforementioned psychological study also shows that existing research indicates “women are more prone to feeling guilty than men and that this may be related to the evolutionary importance of mothering.”
All mom guilt aside, I do try to follow advice from caregiving experts and take care of myself so I can better take care of others. I have guilty pleasures that range from an ice-cold beer after a long day and summer Def Leppard concerts to hilarious mom trips with my girlfriends and date nights with the hubby. Most important of all, I’ve indulged in therapy. This is a guilty pleasure because mental health is hardly free, at least in my current insurance situation. Sitting down with a counselor to help me work through the trauma I experienced in childbirth (and yes, there’s near-death experience stuff I’m working through) and discuss my new role as a mother has been worth every penny. This, in turn, helps me to write openly for the first time in many years. And tell others about the guilt that no one really discusses.
April E. Allford is seriously doubting a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.