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!

Introversion and stay-home parenting

 Picked for the week of 24th March 🙂

I’ve always known I’m not really stay-home mom material and this vacation is just reinforcing that. Let’s pretend I put in all the standard disclaimers about loving my baby, etc, etc and get to the juicy stuff, shall we?

Staying home with a curious toddler all day is the equivalent of having a conversation that never, ever ends. Or even pauses for breath and a snack. Here’s a sample conversation when we were reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar for the 763,897th time*:

Source: Wikipedia

Chotu: Where is the caterpillar?
Amma: The caterpillar became a butterfly
C: How?
A: It made itself a little house and turned into a butterfly
C: Why a butterfly?
A: That’s what happens when a caterpillar grows up… Babies become boys and girls then men and women. Caterpillars become butterflies.
C: Who makes caterpillars?
A: A caterpillar comes from the egg
C: (thankfully doesn’t mention where eggs come from) Who makes the butterfly?
A: God makes the butterfly**.
C: What does God make?
A: God makes everyone. People, butterflies, doggies, cats, everything
C: Who makes steam engines?
A: Erm, people make steam engines
C: Why? Why not God? What if God? (totally lacking the vocabulary to express himself but making do with emotion)

Two thoughts that keep going through my head: How amazing is it that this little person can learn so much without getting exhausted? There should be some sort of cheat sheet to answering these questions. How am I even qualified to be answering these questions?

I’m completely exhausted by the time Chotu lunches and settles for a nap. I need to watch 4 episodes of 2 Broke Girls back to back before I can even get to Seinfeld. And then I need a few episodes of Seinfeld before I can function again and get a few chores done. By the time I’m done with my chores and ready to really relax, Chotu is up and it begins all over again. Introverts are not wired for such levels of intensive conversation with anyone. Even my lunches with friends end in shopping, silence, and small talk after an hour or two of extreme conversation.

So what does this mean? Am I a bad mother because I don’t have what it takes to spend 8-10 hours alone with my son each day while his dad is in office? That’s what everyone would have you believe but let’s be honest. We all know how much real work happens in an office.

How can a parent be expected to do so much more uncomplainingly? Not only does a stay-home mom have to be present for her child(ren) the entire day, there are other things to be done. Laundry, cooking, general tidying up, other chores, you know, the entire logistics of living don’t come to a standstill just because you have kids. Anyhow, I digress. That’s a different soapbox altogether.

The point I’m trying to make is that… I don’t know what point I’m trying to make. No, wait. Here it is. There’s nothing wrong with being a mother who needs a break from her kid(s) during the day. Not being able to do it all alone is not a sign of bad parenting. It’s a sign of honest parenting. We all have very finite resources and… No, that might not be the lesson. It remember it was something catchier.

Let me try again. Parents need to support each other the way The Goddess and her Hero do. The Hero makes sure I get some down time when I need it and last weekend I handled everything but Chotu-care. All men should learn from The Hero… No, that’s not it either.

This is the lesson: kids need school and play-groups. Only qualified professionals and other tiny human beings can keep toddlers occupied without going insane. Now I remember, this is the lesson:

A pox on all viral infections**!

If you’d like to read another introvert-mom’s perspective read the last post by noob mommy.

* The Hero prefers to take the genes activating approach. Peh, geek!
** We’re keeping Chotu away from school as a preventive measure because a particularly nasty viral seems to be going around there