The other morning my tween daughter and I got into an argument. It wasn’t a particularly vicious argument. It wasn’t even a particularly new argument. It was just a version of an argument that we’ve had many times before. The only thing about this argument that stood out was that this time, we were having an argument in the car on the way to school. And this time, instead of reaching a resolution, finding common ground, or just coming to a place of no-hard-feelings, she walked out of the car — with an upset look on her face, and without her usual half-smile that said both “I love you” and “don’t embarrass me.” (The tween moms reading this know the half-smile I’m talking about, right?)
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I watched her disappear into the building, head down, thumbs looped through the straps of her bookbag.
Mom guilt is the feeling that we somehow failed the people we most don’t want to fail: our kids. It is that uneasy feeling that traces a path of should-haves and what-ifs through our thoughts, and it can be hard to silence. In my experience, the only way to quiet mom guilt is to connect with my kids, spend time with them and see for myself that they’re thriving. Basically, to remind myself that mom-guilt is a feeling, not a fact.
Morning mom guilt is insidious because it doesn’t allow you that chance to connect. Morning mom guilt begins to bellow in the echo of a car door slam, when the day is already racing ahead. Morning mom guilt whispers in your ear for the length of a school day, through every work meeting, during every conference call. There’s no way to truly silence that morning mom guilt for at least six to eight hours. (If you’re lucky.)
As if the simple fact of its endlessness isn’t bad enough, morning mom guilt also intersects with one of the horrific realities of parenting in the 21st century: the world can turn upside within the space of an afternoon. School shootings, dangerous social media trends, and bullies mean that schools are no longer the safe places they once were. (I wish this thought never entered my head — but it does, because it’s our unfortunate reality. And choosing to close your eyes to a truth doesn’t make that truth go away.)
Which all means that not only is morning mom guilt enduring, but it also skims the edges of a nightmare. Some part of me can’t help but ask “what if I don’t get a chance to make this better, to be better, for the people who depend on me?”
Taken together — morning mom guilt is simply hard.
For the next six and a half hours after the argument with my tween, I felt awful. My thoughts kept returning to her expression as she walked away. The internal chastisement was incessant. I had made her day harder. As the adult, I should have known better than to engage in an argument during the eight-minute ride to school. I should have found a way to table the argument in a way that validated how she was feeling without engaging. To be honest, I should have done anything other than what I did … which was let my frustration get the better of me.
When she got home from school, our argument was still at the top of my mind. It was not, however, at the top of hers. Between when she’d walked out of my car and walked back into the house, she’d navigated the difficult world of tween friendships, tackled academic challenges, and maneuvered through a few dozen tween-specific situations that completely overshadowed a small, largely inconsequential argument with her mom.
Where I was eager to clear the air, to apologize for the way I handled things, she barely remembered it had happened. She shrugged at my apology, threw a casual apology back in my direction for her role in the argument, and launched into a significantly more important-to-her story about a scene in the cafeteria during lunch.
As it turns out, the argument that had shaped my entire day was barely a blip in hers.
The disparity makes sense. My world revolves around her (and her brother), but her world — rightly — does not revolve around me. In fact, some part of my mama heart is warmed by the fact that our argument didn’t shape her day. I’m glad she feels so secure in her relationship with me that she can walk away from me while I’m upset with her, and she knows when she comes back, she’ll be welcomed with open arms and an even more open heart. I’m glad she has that security. I hope she never loses it.
In a perfect world, I’d never be upset with my tween before school. I’d never lose my patience or let frustration get the better of me. In that perfect world, morning mom guilt would cease to exist. But the world isn’t perfect, and neither am I. Which means morning mom guilt isn’t going anywhere any time soon. Maybe that’s okay, as long as we can hold onto the truth that morning mom guilt is a feeling, not a fact or true reflection of our parenting. And the best we can do is all our kids truly need … in the morning, and all the hours thereafter.
Even when you’re famous, Mom Guilt is a thing, as these celebrity moms show.
Launch Gallery: Celebrity Moms Get Real About Overcoming Mom Guilt
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