When I think about the emotions I experienced when I was a new mother, I remember feeling joy, excitement, wonder, and . . . guilt. Yes, guilt. If you are a parent, especially a mother, guilt is more than likely one of the primary motivators for many of your actions—it has been for me. Even as I write this, I am remembering all of the things I felt guilty about when my children were young. Here are just a few:
- Working late.
- Traveling for work.
- Picking up my children late from school/day-care because of work.
- Sending my daughter to an all-day summer camp (every summer) that she nick-named “torture” because I had to work.
Okay, you probably get the gist of it. Work has often been the source of much of my guilt as a mother. I began my career when my daughter was 6 months old. I was excited about starting a new career—who am I kidding—I was excited to have a job (I took six unpaid months off to stay home with her—but that’s another story). When I started working, I did my best to spend time with her, even taking most of my lunch breaks at her daycare just so I could see her. Even with that, I still missed some milestones. When she was nearing the one year mark, I remember reading the corresponding “12 Months” chapter in What to Expect the First Year, which stated: Your child should be able to identify body parts when prompted. I thought to myself, “Oh crap, I never taught them to her!” So, I sat her on my lap, and with some trepidation, asked her to point to her nose . . which she promptly did. I quickly followed it up with her eyes, hair, mouth, face, hands, and feet. I was stunned as each body part was readily, and eagerly, identified, and for a split second, I thought to myself “My daughter is a GENIUS!” That is, until I realized that the daycare must have taught them to her. I then struggled with the realization that my baby—the center of my world—could know things that I had never taught her and that there was a good chance that I wouldn’t even know what she had learned . . . hence, the guilt.
There are lots of other things I’ve felt guilty about regarding my children—some will more than likely get their own entry—but this was the first, and therefore one of the most devastating. I spent the next few weeks trying to teach her everything the “book” said she should know. I was determined to make sure that everything she was going to learn would be from me, and only me. This lasted a couple of weeks, until I realized that I was being completely impractical—as well as slightly neurotic. I slowly learned to accept that I couldn’t control every last detail of my daughter’s life, and that the best I could do was to be there for her so that she could teach me what she had learned—something that she still does each day. So, my advice to my daughter is to not let herself feel guilty about the things she isn’t doing—especially when it’s not in her control to do so—because in the end, it’s possible that she may inadvertently do something even better.