Mom Guilt

Do you remember the park where you had your first kiss, the lake where you first dove from the dock, the parking lot where your dad first let you drive the car? Certain places spark memories. See these places again and you’re right back to that time in your life when you felt something that left an indelible mark in your heart.

For me, many of my “firsts” didn’t occur in the state where I currently reside, so I don’t have those happy triggers. But what I do have is a memory of what happened repeatedly – for years, even. As I leave my driveway and pass my neighbor’s homes, I’m reminded of the chronic mom guilt I so often felt as I slid by, in my vehicle alone, or with my husband on our way to a date or other place where kids weren’t welcome. Sitting in the front seat, mentally wringing my hands, I uttered my concern to my husband. Not able to comprehend why I wasn’t excited about getting out of the house without little people in the backseat asking for another fruit rollup, he always said the same thing: “They’ll be fine.” I know, I know…they looked fine when they waved us goodbye in their jammies, grandma behind them smiling reassuringly. Or when the teenage babysitter had already engaged them in building a fort out of couch cushions. They would be fine, yes, but sometimes it irritated me to hear that. Really? They’ll be fine without their mom? I know their bedtime routine. I know which one will take advantage of my absence by only pretending to brush his teeth. I know which one will hide a flashlight under her sheets and read long after it’s time for lights out. But a new restaurant was on the horizon and my husband deserved my undivided attention. I needed to decide that yes, they’ll be fine – and they always were.

Growing up in the 70’s and 80’s, my mom was a devoted housewife. She kept that house sparkling clean and was always home. Rare was the evening when she went out and it was unheard of for us to come home from school to an empty house. The tacit rule was: If my kids are home, so am I. That belief stuck and I raised my kids in much the same way. Blessed to have a teacher’s schedule, I was home when they were, our vacations coinciding. But before they were old enough to go to school, even though I cut my hours in half so I could be with them from noon on, I still felt guilty leaving them with competent and loving people in the mornings.

I heard an interview with the pop artist Pink recently who said it so well:

“Mom guilt shades a lot of my decisions. Men [seem to be] better at walking out the door and shutting if off and doing what they do. I leave my heart behind.”

Yes! Is one method better than the other? No, I’m not saying that, only that I can relate to those maternal tugs about leaving my kids at home.

I began a book club when my second one was still in diapers. For 12 years, I only missed two meetings. 12 meetings a year for 12 years… I remember having mom guilt when I’d leave, the kitchen still a mess from dinner, homework that needed to get finished…but I’d leave anyway, knowing that I needed that night of intellectual stimulation with other women who sought the same. One night I expressed my guilt to a mom whose boys were older. “Trust me, they will never remember those nights you were gone; only the nights you were there.” That helped a lot. It’s true. I’ve checked with my kids, all in their 20s now.

“Do you remember those nights when I went to book club?” Nope. “So you were fine, then?” They laugh a little, “Yes, mom. We were fine.”

My hope is that we can do away with the guilt. I’m not advocating we all take off as soon as our partners come home at night. We all know that there’s often many responsibilities at home and we’re usually both needed and wanted.

But sometimes, we need to have a girl’s night – without the guilt. The bottom line is that both can be true: we can feel a little guilty leaving them, but they’ll also be fine. Now, if you want to tell your husband that he’s absolutely right – the kids will be fine…that’s up to you. I have a feeling that if you do, you might find yourself heading out to a few more date nights, leaving those kiddos waving goodbye in the window.

Both may be true.

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