Calling all Moms out there, I have a serious question. Do you walk around with a weight on your chest because you feel like you’re doing EVERYTHING wrong and screwing your children up for life? In case you’re new here, I am not a mom (well I am a dog mom but not a real live person mom). I am currently helping out with my much younger brother and sister and I can’t help but worry I am failing in every way.
All through college (and for a short period after) I nannied for a living. Many mornings as I stood packing lunches, braiding hair and reading stories before whisking the children off to school I thought about my own younger brother (my younger sister wasn’t even born yet part of the time). I yearned to be making him healthy lunches and teaching him to cartwheel and shuttling him to sports practice. I always felt a twinge of guilt like I was subbing as someone else’s big sister while he was so far away I only saw him a few times a year.
I truly love the children I babysat through college. I still have the chance to watch them on occasion and it warms my heart to see how they have grown. During my very formative college years those kids were like my family away from my family and a big part of me grew up with them. Sure there were days I thought “I shouldn’t have been so grumpy this morning” or “I should have just read one more story instead of making us rush out the door to preschool” but I never felt guilty in a way that preoccupied my mind throughout the day.
Gigi is three and Dylan is nine. When Dylan was born and I held him for the first time (at age 16) it was an entirely different feeling than the “big sister” feeling I have for my younger brother Peyton (age 20) whom I grew up terrorizing and playing beanie babies with. There is something about the super large “I’m technically old enough to be your Mom” age gap that changes the relationship. I am actually CLOSER to my Dad’s age (he’s 20 years older than me) than to my younger sister Gigi’s age (22 years younger than me). When I care for Dylan and Gigi either because of love or because of some biological instinct I feel an enormous urge to nurture and protect them. I feel like it is my responsibility to ensure they are eating properly, getting enough mental stimulation, exercising and sheltered from the cruelness of the world. When I was nannying there was someone else to set those boundaries and meet those needs; I was simply a tool in carrying out a specific method of child rearing. I did my best to love each child with all of my heart, to teach them all I could and to be kind but if I fell short some days it was okay because they had a whole network of people to step in and be better than me.
I cannot imagine a love stronger than the love I feel for Dylan and Gigi and with that love comes a guilt that weighs on me constantly.
I worry that I am too strict when I set steadfast rules or reprimand them. I worry I’m not teaching them when I let them run around like wild little things. I worry I seem mean when I don’t let them watch television or play games; I worry I am letting their sweet, tender brains rot when I turn on the T.V. while I cook dinner or take a shower. I feel guilty for letting them have too many sweets and guilty when I don’t let them have ice cream because they didn’t finish their vegetables. I wonder if I’m giving my little sister a complex when I ask her to stop singing for a moment so I can hear my little brother speak. When I’m on my phone or laptop I worry I’m neglecting them, when I “helicopter parent” I worry I’m crushing their independence and imagination. The list goes on and on.
Though I am not a mom I can’t help but imagine this is how it must feel to be a mom. Mothers must constantly be fretting over the human life they’ve been given to raise into a decent adult. I’ve all but decided I am too much of an over thinker and too high strung to ever have children of my own.
The more I think about this sort of “never good enough guilt” I wonder if it is a guilt all women feel that just intensifies when you take on a motherly role (maybe men feel it too but I’m not exploring that right now). I know I feel a similar (though lesser) guilt in my daily life as a friend, daughter and girlfriend. Every day there is a little voice inside me whispering that “I am not being good enough” to the people I love. I should be calling my Mom more, I should be better at texting back my friends, I should do more little things to surprise Jordan, I should take my dog to the dog park more often, I should be a friendlier coworker and a more thoughtful friend. Just a few weeks back I sat crying in the bathtub to Jordan over all the ways I thought I was failing as a friend. Here’s the kicker, not a single friend had expressed that they were mad or disappointed with me. I just felt guilty.
Am I just out of this world neurotic?
Please tell me I’m not the only one drowning in these feelings of inadequacy. Do you too get that creeping dread that you are failing the people you hold most dearly? Though I cannot cease my perpetual worrying I have to comfort myself with the idea that worrying at all means I’m doing something right. At the very least my anxiety over the matter shows that I care and because I care I am trying. Every day I try to be a good big sister, I try to be a good girlfriend, I try to be a good daughter, niece, friend and even a good dog mom.
Giving myself the grace not to be perfect…
I am not a perfectionist in most arenas. Yet, when I think about my relationships I can see I hold myself to an unachievable standard of perfection. I can’t be the perfect sister, girlfriend or daughter and pressuring myself to be her is absurd. Today I want to try and give myself the grace to fall short. Whether you’re a Mom or a girlfriend or a wife or a daughter or a friend feeling guilty about what you are and what you aren’t I think you should allow yourself a bit of humanity too. Take a deep breath, close your eyes if you need to and force yourself into child’s pose to rid yourself of the daily anxieties that suffocate you.