How Do You Plead?
by Katy Bergen
At the age of five, I adopted my first child, Andre Dick. He was a Cabbage Patch Kid, and I loved every sweet smelling inch of him. Andre was an easy-going child. If I left him outside on the lawn chair for two days, he didn’t shed a tear. If I forgot to feed Andre breakfast, no problem, he wasn’t hungry anyhow. Parenting was so easy when I created the reality. When I was playing mommy, I felt only one emotion, joy. Then I became a mommy, and I was surprised to find that the joy of parenting was often overshadowed by the guilt of parenting.
At 31 weeks pregnant, I began experiencing signs of premature labor. That is also when I began experiencing the first signs of guilt (chest pain and looping thoughts). Was I to blame? Had my excessive intake of caffeine and Snickers bars brought on the early contractions and eventually a placental abruption? Probably not, but you couldn’t have told me that. A few weeks after baby number one’s arrival, I developed thrush and decided to stop nursing. The guilt I felt was almost unbearable. I knew I would be tired and hormonal during those first few months, but I could not recall anyone telling me that I would feel guilty about pretty much everything. I began to question all my motherly instincts, and I longed for the guilt free days when I was a mom to Andre Dick.
Not long after the birth of my first child, I had a second, and then a third. This upped the guilt ante tenfold. In the beginning, most of my parental decisions were made out of fear of doing something that would harm my children's psyche. Believe it or not, life has a funny way of taking over, and soon my fear was replaced with coping. Needless to say, I’ve become quite good at managing my guilt during daylight hours, but at night as I lay in the silence of my own thoughts, the guilt hits me like a 2 x 4 to the gut. My chest tightens and my breath becomes shallow. Replays of the day’s events unfold in my mind. They are haunting, and they are real. Watching the slow motion snippets of missed opportunities to teach, learn, praise, and love my children tug at my heartstrings. Suddenly, the urge to press my lips against their cold, buttery cheeks becomes so overwhelming that I leap from my bed and race to their sides. I inhale their sweetness, whisper “I love you,” and make a vow to live the next day with an enhanced sense of the present. Because only then will I truly value the joy they bring to my life.
A new day dawns, and my vow holds true for all of thirty minutes.
“We don’t want cereal,” stomp my three children, “We want pancakes!”
“I’m sorry, but we can’t make pancakes this morning. Would you like a bagel instead?” I ask.
“Boom. Stomp. Slam. Pout. Stomp. Flop. Moan. Shout.”
“I’ll take that as a no,” I mumble.
It’s tough to live in the present when everyone around you is having a mental breakdown because there is not enough milk to make pancakes. I search for the joy. I reach for the joy. I beg for the joy, but the joy is not there. So I throw my hands up to God, and briefly contemplate sending them all to school on an empty belly, but instead I toast the children waffles because of their similarity to pancakes and because I know that the smell of syrup will snap my children out of their funk. I know, I know. I’ve just reinforced bad behavior. Nowhere in any parenting book does it say: If your children are acting like buttheads, give them what they want or something that closely resembles it. As I plate their waffles, I begin to realize that my immediate need to extinguish the whining has robbed my children of an important life lesson. When pancakes are not a breakfast option, falling on the floor and wailing like a banshee is not acceptable behavior. And I feel guilty about that.
Guilt is a heavy load to bear, and it doesn’t seem to be getting any lighter. Each day my intentions are good: listen to my children as they speak to me, watch them as they dance (even if it is directly in front of the television), model patience and kindness, and PLAY. But everyday real life gets in the way, and I find myself struggling to keep my head above water. You’re a working mom, I remind myself. Being a mom is hard work. You’re doing the best you can. Sometimes the self-talk helps, but sometimes the self-talk turns grim, and I think, I wonder if I’ll ever have the patience, discipline, and enthusiasm that my mom had. My children deserve so much better. Will parenting ever get easier? I’m just so tired. I know what you are thinking: Would you like some cheese with that whine? No thanks. I’m lactose intolerant, and anyhow, I don’t need cheese because I take comfort in knowing that I’m not the only mom who’s had those same dark thoughts. I’m sure if Claire Huckstable and Carol Brady were real moms and not just television moms, they, too, would have those thoughts.
I never imagined that I’d be a guilt ridden mother, but I also never imagined that it was possible to love something as much as I love my children, not even Andre Dick. Motherhood is full of the unexpected, and for me it was that gnawing emotion called guilt. It festers and boils and shows its ugly little head late at night when the world is quiet. The only remedy is to let the guilt serve a purpose, and for me it is the motivation I need to change the things that weigh heavily on my heart because that is where the joy lives.