Last Saturday I attended Illuminated Baby’s first discussion group moderated by local parenting columnist and Buddhist Bethany Saltman (www.bethanysaltman.com). While the conversation meandered over a number of topics, it kept coming back to this idea of how, as mothers, we set ourselves up for disappointment, frustration, and shame by having expectations of how things will go, getting hung up on what kind of mother we think we should be (or what kind of kid we thought we’d have). We learned that, from a Buddhist perspective, one way to divert the raging shame spiral is mindfulness (which is complicated and a life’s work in and of itself, but sorta boils down to this): just accepting and appreciating who you really are, who your child is, and what the moment is.
It interested me that, at some point, each of us expressed feeling guilty or conflicted over our non-mom jobs and how they affect us and our families — it’s time not spent with your kid, you can’t find enough time for housework, many hours away working makes personal time away feel indulgent, etc. This issue — that of the working mom vs. stay-at-home mom — is deep, and universal. Recently the Working Mother Research Institute released a report called “What Moms Choose” that presents statistics like “Fifty-five percent of stay-at-home mothers feel guilty for not contributing to family income” and “Fifty-one percent of working mothers feel guilty about not spending enough time with their children.” For any mother who has spent any sort of time talking with other moms, none of the information is startling, but a lot of it is sad. Like how both working and stay-at-home moms feel most judged about the cleanliness of their house. Basically, there’s a big emphasis on the guilt, with pervasive undertones of inadequacy.
The report was covered by Motherlode, the New York Times parenting blog, and it inspired a lot of interesting, well-written comments, mostly from moms (and a few single dads) who relate to the sentiments laid out in the report. One resonated with me: “It’s just the sense that I could do better that overwhelms me.” Couldn’t have said it better myself. But now I find myself thinking, Is it that you really can do better, or just that you fear someone somewhere thinks you should be doing it better? If what you find is the former, than you do better. If it’s the latter, you let it go. And then there you are, in that moment, doing the best you can. And who can feel guilty about that?