If you are a mother and have found yourself on this path, chances are you carry a stash of it that seems to grow by the day. I know I do. It may as well be my new name. Because the doctor from hell convinced us we had to have an epidural or we wouldn’t be unable to last longer than the 30 or more hours we were already in labor, mother-guilt was born. Because we had our firstborn circumcised before we woke up to what that means, it blossomed. Because we had our children vaccinated out of ignorance, it proliferated. Because we know what yelling does–or doesn’t–do to our children yet find ourselves out of our bodies letting it rip anyway, it intensifies. Because we had to give steroids in order for our child to breathe and function, it festers. Because our marriage didn’t work and we’ve wounded the very people we vowed to shield from pain, it has ballooned to the size of a little village. Because we panicked when they got hurt and checked them for missing fingers instead of hugged them right off, there it is again. Because we are so tired doing things the natural, organic and most healing way, we are just not the warm, cuddly, sheath we know they so need, we are now starting to sell our guilt to other mothers, who are new but want to belong and are still excited that they have found a way to parent that is whole at last.
Whew. Know what I mean? I look at mothers who have “mainstream” lives and wonder if that isn’t easier. Well, no, I know it is definitely easier. They don’t worry too much about leaving the children with the help all day, or make sure the eggs are organic, or fret that their children are watching tv and are starting to talk like tv characters. They don’t mind that the milk is UHT, pasteurized, homogenized or full of antibiotics and hormones. They’re just happy their children eat, breathe, sleep and look healthy, because they are unaware how deeply everything the children take in today will manifest later on in their lives.
We, on the other hand, go out of our way to find milk, meat and produce that are healthiest, given our circumstances. We shop in so many different places to get organic vegetables, bake our own cookies to make sure they are getting healthy treats. We do the foot baths, compresses, natural this and that. We compost, plant and eat our own vegetables, read all the labels, create and stick to daily rhythms, and make an effort to buy products that do not harm the planet. We have learned to look at our children and see if they need a foot bath, a chest rub, a barefoot run and roll on the grass, a painting or drawing session, even enforced quiet time. We do all that and strive to do our best not just with them but in our own inner life because we know the best way to teach them to be good people is to be better ourselves. We cook, we clean, we try to do everything the way we know they ought to be done, trying to create a space of living, nourishing love for our children. We do our best. But of course we are mothers and so we are destined to falter.
We end up yelling anyway and doing other things to our children we never thought we could or would. We ran away and locked ourselves in the bathroom to keep from screaming at the top of our lungs. Then we came out and did it anyway. We let them swim because they begged us, when we knew in our hearts the slight chill in the wind would not be kind to them, and it wasn’t. We plodded back to their bed, not excited about giving them their fifth goodnight kiss because what we really need is to be cradled in stillness and silence– that little space at the end of the day where nobody needs anything from you(you hope).
Oh the guilt. It is guilt that comes from a love that is not always warm and healing because we have gone over the edge and overextended, thereby leaving nothing of ourselves to shore us up. When our brand of love wounds our children, no one suffers more than we do. Before you know it, they are smiling and happy again but the bitter residue of your imperfection lines your heart forever. I know that every mother, no matter how perfect you think she is, carries this pain in her mother-soul.
Conscious parenting, with the handy help of Steiner, is not easy. Because you know what you know, everything becomes a thousand times difficult. You know what media and television do to them, not just today but forever–how it agitates their nervous systems and kills their imagination–and because you know that the capacity to imagine is deeply entwined with the capacity to love, it pains you to see them in front of the tube. But this is what they do with their father and, on that score, you must let it go. Because what you know makes the deepest sense in your heart and you see how letting one thing slide today will have repercussions on their moral uprightness in adulthood, you cannot let things slide so easily. And so, when you fail to be the provider of what you know your children need, the guilt overwhelms.
That to me is the shadow of this path and overcoming–no– transforming it is every mother’s inner task. The guilt is there for a reason. It is to make us realize that we took the least ideal road and we must consciously find our way back and through to the one that actually leads somewhere. It doesn’t mean we are terrible; it shows us we are human and need to overcome certain weaknesses.
Instead of allowing the guilt to turn us into little hamsters, going fast and nowhere with the burden of it, perhaps we must learn to use the it as a catapult, to propel us towards asking ourselves more pointed questions: am I really angry about this or is there something else? Is that something a physiological or emotional issue? Our children are little mirrors and they reflect what lies dormant and deeply within us. I know mine are always making me examine myself, everyday in every possible way.
Really, it is too easy to look back on the day, week, month or year, and see only where we failed, forgetting that there is another view that would complete the picture of who you really are as a mother. How about the times you gave them foot baths, chest compresses, sang gently and rocked them, cooked their favorite meal, and the millions of ways you continue to bring them joy, the way your day is full of thoughts of, for and with them, your heart full to the brim as you carry them from millisecond to millisecond? Why can’t mothers use that lens to view themselves more often?
Let the guilt be the tool that shows us when we’ve taken a wrong turn, but let’s not allow it to block the view of everything else we are. We are much more than the mistakes we’ve made and the new ones we are still likely to make. We are all the love from which our children have sprung. They recover so quickly from our transgressions because they know it all the time. They seem to see the good in us all the time. That’s one more lesson we ought to learn from them.