I feel guilt about everything. I’ve done a lot of soul work these past several years, but this quarantine has definitely forced me to come to terms with some bad psychology that I, apparently, hadn’t dealt with.
It’s Mom Guilt.
In my early years as a mom, I obsessed over giving my children even more than the best I could give; I spent countless nights staying up late crafting Pinterest ideas for birthday parties and holidays. I really, honestly, and truly felt that if I was doing that, I was giving my kids the life they deserved.
What my divorce and the years that followed showed me was that I was giving my kids the life I thought they wanted – but I was giving them the life *I wanted* growing up. When we scrubbed down to basics during and right after the divorce, I struggled a lot with Mom Guilt. We had ripped our kids from their sheltered, protected worlds and thrust them into new homes, new schools, and new dynamics. My ex-husband and I both struggled with it, trying to buy their way into pacification, and knowing that with every nighttime sobbing tuck-in that what they really wanted was their lives back to normalcy — not just a new toy.
Being a single mom, I cut that out pretty quickly. I also knew from my own upbringing that with more “things” doesn’t come more joy or contentment. But the guilt hasn’t left me. On one hand, my children have been able to see their mom transform from a woman who lived solely to please others and was not happy. They have since seen a mom who works hard for every penny, gives them everything they need (and sometimes the things they want), and who is grounded and more content.
I didn’t want to bring back the materialism. That was one of the things that died in the fire of our marriage. I cared deeply about having a large, open home with a meticulously manicured lawn, gourmet dinners, and beach trips with matching outfits and precious memories ingrained in beautiful sunset gallery photos. I came to a point where I had to decide what being a “good mother” was — was it being present, showing my children that love is built in moments not “things” and showing them the value of hard work to earn things we enjoy?
I chose that. I stopped seeing that former way of life as my goal, and I shifted my perspective into something else — even though I know they were experiencing other things at their Dad’s (to which, I admit, I was jealous I couldn’t, and oddly didn’t want, to give).
But I’ve given them reality. Not a cruel, harsh one, mind you, but one that I hope doesn’t expect an Amazon box a day after they have asked for something. One that shows them their privilege and that while we may not have as much as others or as we would have in our other life, that we are deeply blessed and are obligated to serve our neighbors who are less fortunate. I’m trying.
And yet . . . during this pandemic, several past demons have raised their ugly heads with my Mom Guilt being Offender #1. This shared, prolonged global experience of quarantine and social distancing is traumatic. And, as someone who is well-versed in trauma, I know it when I see it. The struggle to get out of bed, the exhaustion by 4 p.m., the short tempers, the vivid dreams, the fatigue of trying to figure out simply what that day and the next will hold – that is trauma. And thankfully, I know it. So some days, I shower, fix my hair, and may put on a little makeup. And some days, I don’t do any of those things, order takeout food, and park myself in front of the TV to numb out all the things that I fear would break me if I let myself feel them fully.
I know that trauma recovery comes in phases, and that those phases aren’t always linear. You may cycle through denial, anger, and depression, and sometimes you come out at acceptance – but a lot of times? You find yourself vacillating through the entire cycle all over again, sometimes in moments, hours, or days.
And yet I still feel guilty. I feel guilt that I want to give better homeschooling for my kids, but neither they nor I have the mental bandwidth to sustain it. I feel guilty when I need to lock the door to the bathroom for a quick bath and glass of wine to just be alone. I feel guilty when they want to play and all I want to do is be alone. For as many conversations as we have about all this that is happening in our lives, I feel guilty because I still feel like they are processing this alone.
The good thing about my experience with trauma is I’ve learned not view it through such a myopic lens. Yes, these are things I feel, and they are valid. But I’ve learned enough to know that my feelings stem from a lot of places—some of those are hurtful places that are still healing. So I counter my self-talk with another: My kids are warm, healthy, and safe. My kids still have good meals prepared, and they still get to pick snacks in the house, not just what is available (most of the time). My kids have three parents who love them and tell them that eighty thousand times a day and who set up campsites in the backyard and watch their favorite old movies with them every night. They have game nights all the time and have signs on their door to tell others when they need space and when they don’t.
And yet? I still feel Mom Guilt.
I have succumbed to it every single day during this quarantine. It’s the same Pinterest-Mom guilt I felt when I got divorced that tells me that I have to make everything perfect for them even though the world we have known around us is collapsing.