Thursday, 26 April 2012

Mommy Guilt

The second we’re wheeled out of the delivery room, Mommy Guilt comes to visit us. She introduces herself, makes herself comfortable, and tells us that we had better get used to her because she’s not going anywhere.
She’s everywhere: at the playground, in the mall, and at the bottom of the sink underneath the dirty dishes. Every mom knows her and those who don’t know her feel guilty that they don’t (but surely that qualifies, right?)

We may not always notice her presence, but she is always there, ready to bring us down just when we’re starting to feel like we’ve finally got it all figured out. 

We don’t know how to get away from her, but if we’re truly honest with ourselves, do we really want to?  Mommy guilt preys on our insecurities, encourages us to doubt ourselves, and highlights all of our inadequacies. But she pushes us to work harder to benefit our children, so does she make us better moms? 

I had always planned to breastfeed my baby but when she was born, I, like many, struggled with breastfeeding.  After consulting with nurses, lactation consultants, doctors, other moms, and anyone who would listen, I still could not make breastfeeding work.  I was told that my only other option was pumping so, determined to do what I felt was best for my daughter, I rented the monstrosity of a machine and hooked myself up to it for 15 minutes, every three hours, 24 hours a day. Then, of course, I still had to feed and change the baby, and clean and sterilize the bottles and pumping supplies in time to go through the whole cycle again. After a couple weeks of this, I nearly lost my mind. Sleep when the baby sleeps? No such luck. Must pump. And I did. I was so sleep deprived, I literally couldn’t see straight, but I persevered with a goal of continuing to pump for six months. 

It eventually got easier.  I slacked off a little (ok, a lot) on the every three hour schedule, and I eventually cut back to five times per day. The six month mark came and went, and I’m still pumping.  I’d like to think that the reason I have kept up with it for all this time is purely because of the desire to provide the healthiest start in life for my daughter, but if I am really honest with myself, I think the main motivation to continue pumping is to avoid the guilt I know I would feel if I stopped.  I suppose you could argue that wanting to provide the healthiest nutrition for my daughter and feeling guilty if I did not do so are one and the same.  But I think they are actually very different motivators. One is a positive motivation based on a healthy goal, the other is negative motivation aimed at avoiding an unpleasant emotional state (guilt). So would I still be pumping if Mommy Guilt hadn’t made me do it? I’m not sure.  Am I a better mother because I have continued to pump all this time, instead of throwing in the towel?  I don’t think so.   

Formula is a perfectly healthy option (and in some cases the only option) and it has nourished generations of healthy babies. Although I am well aware that “breast is best” and fully admire breastfeeding mothers for all their hard work, I do not think that breastfeeding should be a factor in assessing one’s parenting skills. Often I wonder whether I would be a better mother if I quit pumping, because I would be less stressed, and would have more time to devote to my daughter. Still, Mommy Guilt tells me all the time that I should continue with pumping, because otherwise I will be less of a mother. I don’t actually believe this to be true, but yet I just can’t get Mommy Guilt to shut up!

So back to my original question- does Mommy Guilt make us better moms?  While I do give Mommy Guilt full credit (well, maybe half-credit) for the fact that my daughter has continued to have breast milk for more than six months, I really don’t think this has made me any better of a mom than I would have been had I simply given up breastfeeding and pumping from day one.  Being a good mom is doing so much more than the things we do to avoid guilt. It is about the pure, clean, guilt-free love we give our children, and the lessons we teach them at times when guilt is the last thing on our minds.

I do believe that Mommy Guilt has her place, (How could I not? She is peering over my shoulder as I write this, telling me that I should be pureeing carrots for baby food right now), but let’s not give her too much credit. She may be in the next room watching our every move, but she is not a mom, and at the end of the day, I think we’d be just fine without her.


  1. I've found that there are two kinds of "mommy guilt."

    The first comes from within when, for one reason or another, we choose not to follow our best instincts. For example, we may be trying to follow the advice of a well-meaning family member, friend or advice "guru" when, on the inside, it just doesn't feel right to us. Or, we may be trying to ignore our baby's signal that s/he wants something, because we are in the middle of a good TV show or nap (we've all done this on some level, even if it is only for a few seconds or minutes!). That kind of guilt keeps us in touch with our instincts and guides us on the right path, reminding us that we are the ones who know our babies best and that our maternal instincts are intact. It tells us not to fight what we know.

    The other, way-less-helpful kind of guilt is that which is inflicted on us from the outside, by the "maddening crowd" who would tell us that if we aren't co-sleeping, putting a baby in the crib, responding to their cries, letting them cry it out, breastfeeding, or insert-latest-trend-here-ing, we are somehow shortchanging our babies. This kind of guilt is not productive and only confuses us... but is nearly impossible to avoid these days! The Internet has connected us mummies and allowed us to find support in one another but, alas, has also been the creator of many would-be "experts" and external pressures.

    We as moms could look out for each other by accepting and supporting one another, respecting each others' decisions and understanding that every baby is different, as is every family.

  2. Chritstine Z, I could not agree more!

  3. Thanks for the comment, Christine. Well said. I totally agree!


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