Mommy Guilt – My story

The last time I wrote about Mommy guilt Nitya left a very sweet comment and wanted to hear a little more about these questions I ended with.

So if it’s not my child who’s asking for my every single waking moment and it’s never been the norm anyway, why am I so darn upset about it? Am I trying to prove something? Why? To whom? To what end?

I wanted to do a more objectively researched post but I didn’t have the time to finish it so I’m going to share my story in hopes that it answers some of those questions. Nitya, I hope you’re reading. 🙂

I look at my mommy guilt as three phases.

Phase One: An overly open mind

When I first got married, I received detailed advice on how to conduct myself as a wife and daughter-in-law from no less than five or six women from both my family as well as The Hero’s. (My mother-in-law was obviously not among them). My MIL was frequently held up as a shining example of a career woman who never let her successful career stand in the way of what is “truly important” – personally handing coffee to guests, packing dabbas for her family, and running her home efficiently. Delivering a hundred babies a month and saving women’s lives be damned, the dabbas are what’s important! Let’s just say I still tried to meet all those expectations for a while. Let me rephrase that. I at least had the decency to feel guilty that I was not meeting all these expectations.

I still remember the moment the switch flipped. I was nine months pregnant and a guy in the lift very sanctimonious told me to make sure I banked my kid’s cord blood. I was furious at his sheer audacity. The more I thought about it the more evident it became that every single person around me wanted me to live a certain way and follow their advice because they “meant well”.

All of these people were so supremely confident about my life while I was always so unsure. I used to take that as a reason to listen with an open mind. Once the switch flipped, I’ve taken that as the precise reason not to listen with an open mind. I’d always been a feminist but let’s just say that was the moment I stopped being just theoretical about it.

Phase Two: An overly closed mind

As a born-again feminist*, I had all the answers just like all my nemeses. I was sure mommy guilt was an external pressure created to make women feel bad about themselves. The expectations to cook, clean, and run a home were definitely external too. The pressure to be likable was classic HBR study and so on. People stopped messing with me. I was assertive. I did what I wanted to. I was on a roll. There was just one problem. I had traded one set of unrealistic expectations for another.

I just am a domestic, sort of maternal, unambitious (career-wise) feminist. I always knew at an intellectual level that the terms aren’t mutually incompatible but I always imagined I would passionately argue the right to choose not to be ambitious in an abstract, airy way not personally out of experience.

So my Mommy Guilt evolution was all upside down. I started off trying to deny it all and ended up admitting to myself, sobbing quite dramatically, that I need to take care of home and child and keep my bed-sheets stored a certain way in order to feel complete. I then neatly walked into the every single minute trap leading to a new state of imbalance.

First world problems they might be, but they are still problems.

Phase Three: Searching for balance

I then took a break from work and everything but Chotu for three months and I finally figured out what’s important to me. (As always, I have intellectually grasped all the answers but my emotions are still playing catch-up).

One, I don’t want societal guilt. I don’t want feminist guilt either. I want no guilt. It’s important to me to cook at least one meal for Chotu everyday and spend X hours a day with him on weekdays and Y hours a day on weekends. Sunday afternoon pakoras are a bonus. This is too much for people who think I’d be better off redirecting my energy from housework to career. It’s too little for people who think I’m neglecting my child. It’s ok. It’s just right for us.

Two, even if I do manage to win a lot of approval (not likely) there will be no room left in life for anything beyond work and family. Personally serving coffee to every visitor takes its toll. Can I imagine shutting down Simbly Bored** for the next fifteen or so years until Chotu leaves for college?

Three, I’m loving and maternal and homely but I’m not overly likable. Screw it!

Source: Pinterest
Source: Pinterest. I <3 Tina Fey

@Nitya and anyone else reading. What’s your story?

* This experience with feminism is personal to me. Please do NOT extrapolate from one data point to conclude that all feminists are whatever-mental-model-you-would-like-to-reinforce.

** Conservatively, I spend about 15-20 hours a week maintaining this blog. A part-time job!

12 Replies to “Mommy Guilt – My story”

  1. I think becoming a parent is a milestone in self realization. Happened to me too after my first child. After the whole world tried to tell me how I was supposed to behave like a mother, I finally found my voice and closed my ears. By the time my 2nd kid arrived, it was clear that no one can advise me 😀 It was such a lovely experience!! Am sure a lot of people don’t approve of me, but they refrain from expressing it. And frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn! (One of the disapprovals being that I don’t give a damn!)

    1. It’s so ironic that we don’t give a damn that they want us to give a damn 🙂

      I think I now understand why second kids are easier than the first. We find our feet as parents and that makes all the difference. Well, that and the fact that our hips have already adapted to popping out babies 😛

      1. LOL 🙂 Yes, the body has already adapted to the hormones too. Also the fact that after we finally cross over to the parents side, we realize how much of what all the parents of our society have been telling us really does not hold ground. Like how parents “sacrifice” for their kids and how we owe them eternal gratitude and all such BS. Parenthood actually help me overcome a lot of Daughter-Guilt that ways. You can imagine how much of that I had being a non-conforming Indian daughter.

  2. I feel guilty that I don’t have mommy guilt! I am not super ambitious but I love my escape to work. And then I feel guilt about it 🙁

    1. Oh dear! I understand the guilt over lack of guilt. So meta but so real. Sometimes I think of ron’s dialogue from harry potter “one person can’t feel all that, they’d explode!” 😀

  3. Can’t tell you how guilty I feel over what I am doing or not doing for my child. Almost all of it comes from my own. The fact that I will return to full time work from being a stay at home mom to my little one just kills me. I think it’s one of the weirdest things to happen – I got my old job back and they were willing to sort out my visa, wait till it happens, gave me a promotion, overlooked the fact that I have been out of touch for almost 4 years by the time I resume work – guess what I do hearing this? Burst into tears at how I am going to leave my baby in daycare and go back to work. 🙁 Don’t know if it’s mommy guilt or the desire to be with my daughter – but haven’t seen this happen to my husband, definitely not to this extent.

    1. First off, you must be really awesome at your work if they want you back so badly! Congrats on that! 🙂

      I haven’t seen The Hero get very emotional about all this either. Even though he’s a very loving and hands on dad, he’s still more rational about these things. Maybe it’s because we’re conditioned to believe our careers are optional while theirs are mandatory? Who knows? As I keep telling The Hero, I yam like this only, please to adjust!

      Thanks for sharing your story Kavs, it feels nice to write about something so intensely personal and then get more stories back. I always doubt myself when I write these over-sharing posts and I’m so tempted to delete them in the first few minutes after posting but the comments make it so worth it… Good luck with your old/new job! 🙂

      1. I know what you mean – but then we are a sisterhood, aren’t we? 🙂 can’t tell you how much all these stories from my virtual “sisters” have helped.
        Thanks for your kind words. Not sure if I deserve it, but I am really touched that somebody thought I be given a second chance 🙂

        1. Amen to the virtual sisterhood! I don’t have a sister and I always envied anyone who has one but if not real, at least virtual! 🙂

  4. Thank God you wrote about it!!! I have been caught up in this debate way too may times, in my head. though I’m not a mom, i always think what if i feel differently. how will i justify myself? Do I want to become a mom and just leave everything I have? As of today, the answer is no, but what if 10 years down the line, I feel I should have had kids? What do I do then?

    1. So glad you liked the post! Not having kids is as big a decision as choosing to have them. Mommy guilt often begins even before we decide to become mothers. Sheryl Sandberg writes about this in Lean In.

      I guess I look at it this way… Even if you do change your mind, you can try to adopt a child if you really want to be a parent and you’re unable to have a biological baby. But if you are unsure and have a baby and you don’t change your mind after the baby is born, it’s so unfair to everyone concerned, especially to a baby who never asked to be born. That’s why I get so annoyed by people who claim “you regret the kids you didn’t have more than the ones you did”. Umm… no, I don’t think so. It takes such self righteousness to assume everyone wants to be a parent!

      Went off on a bit of a tangent there, heh! Sorry! I’m in the category of women who didn’t know 100% “since the beginning” that she wanted to be a mom. Things took a lot of thought for me. So I feel quite passionately.

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