The Guilt We Cling To

Photo by h.koppdelaney, via Flickr

No one has ever criticized me for being a work-from-home mom. Not even once.

And yet I go through a periodic…cyclical, perhaps?…festival of self-loathing. My house isn’t clean enough. My kids’ personal habits and academic/physical/fill-in-the-blank achievements aren’t enough. My flower beds aren’t pretty enough. My life is a long series of “should-have”‘s, and if only I had more…. (time, talent, time, money, time, are you sensing a theme?).

There is a segment of modern American society that clings to the idea that women should be little June Cleavers who do nothing except play with, nourish and nurture their children, even though that has always been an idealized, unrealistic picture. But it’s not a big segment. We’re constantly being reminded to put on our own “oxygen mask” first.

Why, then, do so many of us cling to this guilt that regards our efforts as not good enough? This sense of guilt that clouds any personal or professional fulfillment, enjoyment, or success? Is this another way we pervert our children’s inherent selfishness–that because they see themselves as the center of the universe, we feel we must do the same?

I’ve always regarded this side of myself as a necessary evil, a built-in check on my own selfish tendencies. Because I love what I do. Difficult it may be, filled with setbacks, littered with rejection, with what often seems like fruitless pursuit of an unattainable goal. And yet I could and would happily spend every waking moment in that pursuit, if real-life commitments, to husband, to children, didn’t force me to redirect. And all the publishing success in the world would be empty without the richness of the life I’ve been given.

So I’ve made peace with the guilt, allowed it space to roost and nest and put down roots.

But I’m beginning to wonder. Guilt might make me redirect my actions, but it doesn’t free up mental space for living in the moment and enjoying the things that are most important. Guilt just takes up all the vacated regions and stuffs them full of a different sort of pathological hangup.

I don’t have all this worked out. Conclusions are frequently the hardest part of blog posts to write. I tend to see life as process, and processes don’t lend themselves to neat packages tied up in a pithy, memorable parting shot. So for today I just send these thoughts out into the world, to see if they resonate with others.