Raising a Feminist // Guilt of Solo Motherhood
Elisha Pidcock's latest instalment of her feminist parenting column, Raising a Feminist.
"I am the worst mom ever," I think to myself as my child cries at the dinner table over her uneaten Spider Man Spaghetti-O's, pleading with me to let her sit in front of the tv while she eats.
It has been a long day between working two part-time jobs and planning for my upcoming Ethological Research project at Uni. I feel very alone and lost in this moment. I think that motherhood is increasingly difficult, that doing it alone makes it even more difficult, and that I just want to give the best life possible to my child; but in this moment the best seems like a magical concept that is unattainable.
"I am the worst mom ever," I think to myself as my child cries because it is 9 pm and she is still not asleep because she wants to squeeze every moment in with her very busy mother that she can get. I know that her sleep schedule is crucial to her development. I blame myself for not knowing how I can end all the fussing right away so she can get the full 10-12 hours of sleep she needs to develop well and stay healthy. I blame myself for being so busy that she feels the need to fight sleep, just so she can spend more time with me.
"I am the worst mom ever," I think to myself as my child cries because she does not want me to wash her hair. She hates the feeling of water in her eyes and she is afraid of the shampoo that stings her eyes. I blame myself because I have tried every tactic I can to make hair-washing seem luxurious and fun, but I still can't get her to like it. I start to think about what other people will think if I do not get her hair cleaned and brushed perfectly: that I don't take care of my child. I cry with my little girl, even though every parenting article and book I've read says that crying when your toddler is having a tantrum will only make it worse. I cry because I know that the expectation of me is to have a perfectly groomed child. In this moment, it seems that is the only way that people will know how loved and taken care of she is, but she still screams like a banshee every time I touch her head with a hairbrush.
"I am the worst mom ever," I think to myself as my child refuses to put shoes on because she does not want to go to daycare. "I want to stay home with you, Mama." She says despite the fact that I have to be at work (or class) in 30 minutes and we are nowhere close to getting out the door yet. I lose my temper because managing my own time is hard enough without having to manage the whims of my very strong-willed child. I feel instantly guilty because I know that my frustration is not with her, but with my own lack of experience in getting my child to stick to a routine that I have trouble adhering to myself.
"I am the worst mom ever," I think to myself as my child has a tantrum because she does not want to go inside even though it is starting to rain. She tells me she needs to practice riding her bike so that her legs can get strong and she can be fast! When I tell her, we have to go inside because it is pouring with rain now she says, "I don't feel the rain. Five more minutes, pwease!" I feel guilty because I wish that I had more time to play with her. I wish that I could will the rain to stop and appease my distraught child, but I know that I cannot. I cry because I wish that I had someone to help me wrangle her in. I cry against my better judgment, and I know that I am a bad mom because I should be able to handle my emotions so that I can help her handle hers.
"I am the worst mom ever," I think to myself as my child tells me that she misses her daddy. I explain to her that she'll see daddy again soon, and that it's okay to miss daddy, but that we are all happier because mommy and daddy are not together anymore. "But you used to live together: when I was a baby. Remember?" I blink back tears because, yes, I do remember. I remember how unhappy we were by the end. I remember the fights and the yelling and the crying. I blink back tears because I don't know how to explain to her, in a way that she'll understand, that our marriage had grown terribly dysfunctional. I feel guilty because I did not want my child to be the child of divorced parents, even though I know that divorce was the healthiest option for all three of us. I feel guilty because I did not choose a better mate; because I pictured a happy little family with a husband who would always love and respect me and would always be there to help me raise our daughter. Later, when I am alone, I cry unabashed ugly cries because when I had my baby I did not think I would eventually end up being a single parent and being a single parent is heartbreakingly difficult. I know that I am a bad mother because I could not give my child the nuclear family that I feel so much pressure give her.
"I am the worst mom ever," I think to myself as I, alone with my thoughts, have returned to my empty home while my daughter is having her custody days with her father. I feel guilty because I cannot spend every moment with my little girl anymore. I feel lonely and lost and I miss my baby. I rethink all of my decisions. I question, for a moment, whether it was right to leave and not stick it out so that my child could have both her parents every day.
"I am the worst mom ever," I think to myself as I realise that questioning my decision to leave is misguided, and unwise. I feel guilty for even thinking that sticking it out in a dysfunctional, unhappy marriage, with a man that did not respect me and could not be kind to me, could possibly be better than raising my daughter alone. I cry because I cannot bear the thought of my daughter ending up with a man who treats her the way her father treated me because that was the only relationship model she grew up seeing. I know that I am a bad mother because a good mother would know that raising my daughter alone, with a strong and independent mother to look up to, is exponentially better than raising her in a dysfunctional family unit.
"I am not the worst mom ever," I think to myself as I realise that my idea of a 'good mom' is a perfectionist ideal that I place upon myself because of society's expectations of mothers. I know that I am a good mom because I love my child more than anything, and I would do whatever it takes to give her a happy life. Despite this, I feel guilty because I do not put her needs before my own, rather I see my needs as of equal importance to hers. I feel guilty despite the fact that I know that my needs are just as important as hers, because you cannot take care of another human if you are not taking care of yourself. 'You cannot pour from an empty cup.' In, this moment I realise that there is no such thing as the 'best mom ever'. To our children, each and every one of us are the 'best mom ever.' If we are continually trying our best, we are the best moms ever. If we continue to show our children all the love that we carry in our hearts for them, we are the best moms ever. This doesn't mean doing what makes our kids happy 100% of the time. Sometimes love means doing what is right for them and for us even if our kids can't see or understand it at the time. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: There’s no way to get everything right and “right” is relative.
I don't know the right things to do all the time. Sometimes I lose my temper. Sometimes I want to cry like a baby right along with my toddler. Sometimes I question if I am good enough for my daughter. I have motherly doubts and fears. I feel mom guilt and I'm willing to bet you, Mama reading this now, feel it too. Being a mother is an immensely difficult task. Society holds us to a standard of perfection that is unattainable and unrealistic; a standard that has us thinking we have to do everything ourselves; that it has to be a certain way, or we haven't done it right. Know that if you have ever thought, "I am the worst mom ever." You're most likely a kick-ass mom. We all question ourselves at one time or another, but what is most important is that we keep trying, every day, to do what is best for our families: no matter what that may look like to society. If you have ever held your child as they cry, and cried along with them because you feel overwhelmed, you are a wonderful mom. If you have ever questioned whether you are good enough for your child, know that you are, and you always will be the best mother your child could have, because they are a literal piece of you. Their little eggs were inside your body when you were still just a little fetus growing in your own mama's belly. You and your children were meant for each other, and they are safe and loved because of you. That makes you the best mom ever, each and every one of you. So go hug your screaming child, and know that this moment will pass; that even though you think you're 'the worst,' you are doing a fantastic job.