Eliminate Your Mommy Guilt Through Trickery And General Apathy

By: Kathy Buckworth

So you don't feel quite guilty enough about sneaking past your toddler's bedroom this morning, hoping desperately that you don't wake him up, as you're already running 10 minutes late for work. Telling your children that you will be happy to take them to the mall to buy them a new fish to replace the dead one doesn't really make you that bad a person if you don't get around to it for 3 1/2 months. Even having to ask your son which of the teachers is his teacher at his Grade 6 graduation isn't enough to make you qualify for the Mommy Dearest 2005 award. Why is it then, that we feel we are beating our children with the literal coat hanger when faced with innocuous situations like this? We need to recognize that the interactions and aversions we have with our own children mostly replicates what mothers and fathers have been dealing with for generations, in one form or another. Not enough time for this, not enough money for that. Most parents feel that they are unable to provide 100% of everything their children push them for. Why has this become a vice instead of a virtue?

Building on the "I used to walk five miles to school, uphill both ways" tales of woe that our own parents used to drag out, our generation is well armed to produce similar hardships when faced with a frustrated child or teen. "We didn't even have a VCR or a DVD player to fight over", for starters. "A cell phone? We were lucky to have one phone in our whole house, and we were not allowed to use it…ever!" "We had school sports teams, and that was it. Our only other exercise was playing kick the can until the street lights when on."

But listen closely to the complaints our children are making about their lack of technology, enrollment in expensive lessons or sports training, and the inescapable conclusion one can draw is that we have done it to ourselves. The parenting generation of the new millennium (that's us, folks) has raised the level of expectations in our children, and in ourselves to support them, to an all time high, and not it's killing us.

If you don't have your child enrolled in at least two or three different lessons per week, you are either a) lazy, b) broke, or c) totally convinced that your child will end up working at the 7-11 at any rate. If you aren't spending a minimum of 4 hours a day driving your children to their various lessons, playdates, and other grotesquely over-organized sessions (hello Kindergym for 6 month old babies), AND you don't even have the obligatory sacrificial mini-van, you are clearly a freak. Get with it Mom! This is the age of the Supermom, the Overachieving Parent, and the really really tired, grumpy, and apathetic child. Too many children are whining in arena change rooms that they don't want to play hockey anymore, that they're tired after their Yoga for Kids session and their extra math tutoring. The response they can expect to receive from their parents is "Well I'm not paying for this to listen to you whine." Umm yes we are. I'm not encouraging everyone to quit everything and sit on a couch somewhere (which brings me to another point – how can we have a child obesity epidemic at the same time as our children are being forced into more sports programs than ever before?) but children need to have unsupervised time to explore themselves, and the world.

Oh yes, the world. That's right. I forgot. In an age where 12 year olds aren't able to take a public transit bus on their own (even if they promise to take their personal cell phones and text Mom every five minutes), where exactly are children allowed to go to be on their own? The local park? Home to lurking sex offenders. The public swimming pool? Even with fourteen different floatation devices strapped to a 10 year old who has had 2 swimming lessons a week since he was 6 months old could still hurt themselves in a freak accident. Umm bike ride around the block? The sex offenders have to drive or walk to the park, you know, they're bound to go past the children. There are terrible, heinous crimes committed against children and we need to be vigilant in monitoring their activities, but we also need to train them to watch out for themselves and learn about the real world in a real way. It's not smart, or feasible, to have them scheduled or supervised 24 hours a day. You can't live with them in residence during their first year of university – no, you really can't so get that thought out of your head.

Supermoms (i.e. those Moms who go to work and are responsible for the mothering of children) receive no special dispensation or slack from either her work colleagues or her dreaded arch-nemesis, the Stay At Home Mom. Store bought cupcakes for the school bake sale? I don't think so. Missing a meeting because your child has a fever of 106? Not on, really. The backstabbing, gossip, cutthroat competition and "winning at all costs" attitude is just as prevalent on the home front as it is at the office. Attend a parent school council meeting and you'll see what I mean (try to get there on time if you can.) Even the toughest female executive can be brought to her knees by the commando leader of any school committee.

Where will it all end? How do we ever catch up? Try to follow these tips, drawn from my book "The Secret Life of Supermom: The Tricks and the Truths About Having It All".

  1. Enroll your child in lessons which suspect they will not excel at, particularly at an early age. This can only lead to more practices, higher levels, more driving, competitions out of town, fundraising, having to make friends with the other "team mothers", more driving…ugh. Move them around to different sports and arts activities when you start to see some signs of proficiency.

  2. Find a Stay At Home Mom whose entire goal in life is to be superior to someone. Let her be superior to you and take over all the tasks you don't perform at the school. This works especially well if you can find someone whose child is in your child's class and can be leaned upon for reminders of school trips, early pick up times, costumes for school plays, and other assorted activities you don't know about due to your general aversion and lack of time available to read notes in the bottom of cheesy knapsacks.

  3. No matter how tired you are, go to bed after your husband, and there will be a good chance that he will be asleep when you get there. One more night without having to attend to someone else's needs.

  4. Never talk about your children at work. Full stop. Doesn't matter if you have a female or male boss, child-ridden, or child-free. They don't want to know, and you don't need to remind them that you have distractions. For some reason its okay to talk about dogs and other inane animals…perhaps studies have shown that this indicates these people don't have much of a life outside the office.

  5. Don't make amateur mistakes like signing your kids up for swimming lessons when they're two weeks old, art classes when they only want to chew on a paint brush, not hold it, and remember that no one really needs a remedial junior kindergarten class. Or braces on their baby teeth.

  6. Under any circumstances, never attend a parenting session or book time with a "life coach". They don't know what they're talking about. They don't know your children, they don't know you, and they don't know your lifestyle. However, if you are stupid enough to part with your hard earned money (that you earned while not spending time parenting your children), you deserve to be ripped off, and you probably do need advice like "be the boss" and "let them test their limits". Earth shattering stuff.

  7. Technology is a good thing. TV is not bad. TV is great fight aversion therapy (between the 3 year old and the 5 year old over the one "good" dinky toy), great cleanliness maintenance planning (i.e. the kitchen table isn't covered in arts and crafts crap), and an auditory silencer technique (they're zoned out like zombies and not screaming at each other, or in the case of 13 year old girls, at you)

  8. He gets to spend 45 in the bathroom, you get to spend at least as much with a trashy magazine and a glass of wine. We all have our own ways of relaxing (and women know the value of a comfortable seat).

  9. Mother's Groups are scary. Women without a cause, a purpose, and a life in general, frantically trying to create one for themselves. Beware the monthly newsletter.

  10. Teachers don't give a crap whether you work or not. They have to work until mid-afternoon and they can't be expected to appreciate that others don't return home until after dark. If they say your child needs a yellow duo-tang by school the next morning, they need one. Find a drugstore and get with the program.

There are only 24 hours in the day, and you probably already spend a good portion of it wanting to see your children, feeling guilty when you don't, and even worse when you do and the thrill wears off in about 14 seconds. Dump one lesson, throw away one silly precaution (yes 11 year olds can eat whole grapes), assign two household chores to each member of your family and breathe a sigh of relief. Until you hit the office tomorrow morning, 10 minutes late.

Kathy Buckworth is the author of The Secret Life of Supermom, published April, 2005, by Sourcebooks, and a frequent contributor to parenting magazines.

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