I grew up in a largely Italian Catholic family, which means I am very familiar with guilt. I was immersed in it from birth. I’ve heard such things as “I thought I raised you better than that” or “How do you think that makes me feel?” used thousands of times, and almost always over small issues like not calling elderly relatives enough or wearing too much eye shadow in seventh grade. No issue was too small for guilt. If you’ve seen the show Everybody loves Raymond, you have an idea of of what my mother and grandmother could be like. In fact after one episode dealing with parental guilt, I called my mom during a commercial break, knowing that she was watching too, thinking that we would share a laugh, but her response was “What? I don’t use guilt! Don’t you think it hurts me when you say I use guilt?” Sigh…
Something happened after I had kids which changed my response to my mom. I knew I did not want to do that with my kids and by having kids, I was suddenly much more busy that I didn’t have the time or energy to deal with my mom’s issues. After my first child, I felt guilt in anything I could be denying her or doing wrong. Would skipped rice cereal have lifelong consequences? Would dropping out of gymnastics screw her up? The list went on and on. Once I had my second child, the guilt I felt with my first child, also diminished because I had even less time and energy than I did before. I made decisions based on what worked best for our family and stopped spending needless time mulling over what I could be doing wrong or what I should be doing instead.
This doesn’t mean I’ve developed an immunity to guilt, I still feel it in relation to my kids, but don’t most moms? I was with my son at a park one recent morning and he gravitated toward a group a young children with their nannies. The nannies were speaking to the children exclusively in Spanish and while not all the kids understood, many of them did. I couldn’t stop myself from thinking that if my children had a Spanish-speaking nanny, they could potentially be fluent in Spanish. Was I denying my children something by being a stay at home mom?
The guilt I feel doesn’t seem to be at the abnormal levels it was when I grew up. My goal is to raise my children without leaning heavily on the guilt crutch. I want my children to do right because it is what they believe to be right, not because I’ve indirectly questioned their family loyalty. This doesn’t mean I won’t balk at heavy eyeshadow in seventh grade, but maybe I’ll keep my thoughts to myself.