Oh, Motherhood, How Do You Guilt Me? Let Me Count The Ways…

If motherhood had a middle name it would surely be guilt.

Rarely a moment goes by since “Mom” became my name that I’m not left with some nagging guilt about something.

How about for poops and giggles we take a look at this week alone and see what guilts have come my way, shall we?

  • Did I make my kids go to school, even though they really didn’t want to? (Guilty)
  • Did I tell the children the school day would “fly by” and they would be home “before they knew it” even though the real person it would “fly by” for and “end before they knew it” was me?  (Guilty)
  • Did I have very few healthy and nutritious snack and lunch items on hand for the kids to pack in their lunch? (Guilty)
  • Did I completely forget that the kids might need to pack their lunch? (Guilty)
  • Did I then act all disgusted and tell the kids I didn’t know they would want to pack their lunch (instead of buy it) and then make  encourage them to pack their own? (Guilty)
  • Did I run out the DAY BEFORE SCHOOL STARTED and buy them their school supplies?  (Guilty)
  • Have I yet to buy them any new clothes or shoes for school? (Guilty)
  • Did I buy them some stuff they didn’t need even though we are trying to watch our spending after a summer of indulgent spending on who- knows- what? (Guilty)
  • Did I make one child  go out for a sport that he really was not at all physically conditioned or mentally prepared for? (Guilty)
  • Did I tell another one that from this point forward he was going to have to practice his music lesson EVERY DAY before he could play any video games? (Guilty)
  • Did I actually tell one who would Not. Stop. Talking. to “Please shut it” so I could have some peace and quiet? (Guilty)
  • Did I make one cry by telling her that I would be at her school this week so she might see me, but I would not be helping her class? (Guilty)

*Sigh*  It seems like somehow opening this GUILTY door at motherhood has made me more aware of guilt in to other parts of my life, too.  For instance:

  • Did I enjoy my new-found ability to run a few miles so much that I nearly made the dog have a heat-stroke because whether he likes it or not I’ve tagged him as my running partner? (Guilty)
  • Did I gossip with my friends at all this week? (Guilty)
  • Did we miss church because husband’s work schedule has just made us TOO TIRED to go? (Guilty)
  • Did I get irritated with Husband about his work schedule only to find that perhaps the issues he was dealing with at work were more important (once I stopped to listen) than my own? (Guilty)
  • Have I said, written, or thought anything that wasn’t very nice or that may have landed wrong on other people? (Guilty)
  • Have I woken up every day with a TO DO list in mind only to find that at the end of the day sometimes NOT ONE of the things on the list got done? (Guilty)
  • And that I wouldn’t even be able to explain to anyone else–let alone myself–what in the Sam Hill I did with all my time instead? (Guilty, GUILTY, GUILTY!)

I’m pretty sure I’m not alone here, right?  And it doesn’t seem to be limited to any one group of moms, either.   Biological.  Adoptive.  Working.  Stay-at-home.  Brand new.  Empty Nester.  We all share it, don’t we?

So what is it we’re meant to do with all this guilt?    And why does it haunt us?   And is it all bad?

Today I seem to be more sacked with guilt than usual and in realizing this, I was reminded of something I learned about the role of guilt in our lives a couple of years ago.  At that time, I was part of a team that launched a parish-wide catechism at our church.  It was in gathering research for my part of a catechetical  presentation, that I had a revelation about guilt and it’s role in our lives.  I was researching the order of the Catholic Mass and I needed to be able to explain some things about it to a group of people who would likely be quite varied in age, so it needed to be both simple and somewhat catchy.  My A-ha moment came when I realized that the order of every Mass requires all participants to recite the Confiteor (“I confess to Almighty God and to you my brothers and sisters, that I have greatly sinned…”) and immediately follow it with the Gloria where we sing our praises to God.

Sadly, prior to my having to do the research, I’d never really held those two parts together.   I’d always kind of hurried along through my “public confessions”, and then reveled (singing louder than those around me, because that makes me more holy, right?) in belting out my Gloria.  But in holding these two things together:  our sins and our praises, I got to thinking about guilt and how it works in my life.  And I made the startling discovery that guilt is not really all bad (like for instance when we are “guilted” into giving our time, our money, etc. to a worthy cause) nor was it all good (like when we are “guilted” by someone’s hurtful comments or mean-spirited remarks).

So if guilt is not good or bad, then what is it?

And it came to me that perhaps guilt is simply an invitation.  

I believe that in our moments of guilt, God is inviting us to take a moment, look into our hearts where God has written, observe our actions, and ask, “Am I on the right path here?”  And in that moment, very often we will *know* if we are, or if we aren’t.

That’s why sometimes guilt is just there, looming, even though we are certain we are doing the right thing (like sending our kids to school even though they don’t want to go).  In moments like that, I believe our guilt is intended to give us strength.  To remind us that not only are we doing the right thing but, most importantly, that God is right there in our decision with us.

But sometimes?

Sometimes the invitation of guilt comes in the form of your soul mate allowing you to”tear into him” as he drags his tired body home after a long day of work, only for you to  realize later that perhaps the things he was dealing with that day were just a *touch* more important than the fact that you didn’t get to watch The Big Bang Theory because you had to put the kids to bed by yourself…again.   This type of guilt is an invitation, too.   An invitation to remember to tread lightly with those we love.  To remember that sometimes it’s a good idea to put others first.   Especially if they mean so much to us.

In realizing this (and in the need to present it to a group of all ages) I came up with a little trick for remembering that God uses guilt as an invitation to draw us closer to Him.  It’s kind of cutesy, but it works for me:

G = Giving

U = Up

I = “I”

L = Looking

T = Towards

Y = You (God)

Keeping this in mind, my guilt can actually fuel my day.  I am either being reminded of God’s presence, or I’m being gently asked to change my ways.  As a result, I now often consider guilt to be food for my journey.  And I very often, (just like in the order of the Mass), find myself afterwards thanking God for sending me an “invitation” to draw me closer.

Even if it sometimes stings a little.

And now, tying this all to back motherhood, it just occurred to me that it makes perfect sense that my call to  motherhood is when I became the most aware of guilt in my life.

Because, after all, it was the long/lonely/scary/grueling/loving/rewarding/awesome call to motherhood that made me most realize just how much I need Him.


To Everything There Is a Season

My kids are back in school, so it’s time for me to turn my attention to my “other children.”  (This blog and our Golden Retriever who is kindly warming my feet).    And since figuring out where to start is often one of the toughest parts of the battle for writing, I’ve decided I’m going to start with a list to get us warmed up for another season of blogging.  These are some of the things I’ve learned, pondered and/or questioned at any given point this summer.

In no particular order, here they are:

1.  I’m no spring chicken.  The much-anticipated 4-0 is awaiting me at the tail end of this year (December 29th if you’d like to mark your calendars :)) and thoughts of my own mortality have been oddly comforting as I approach this infamous milestone.   I hope to write more about my thoughts on this in the days and weeks ahead,  so I’ll stop with that in an effort to not steal any “thunder” from anything I may want to say on this matter down the road, but for now let me share with you what is to many people a newsflash as they hit this 4-0 milestone:  Some day I will be dead.  And the humor of it, of course, is that in fact this shouldn’t really be a newsflash at all.   Still,  there’s something about this particular milestone–at least in America–(Something tells me not all cultures around the globe have as much of a hang-up about this particular age.  Hmm…but do all cultures have a “mid-life number”?  I’ll have to look into that…)  that forces most of us to really begin to personalize this reality.  I think many of us to tend to think and say from an early age that “all people die someday.”  But there’s something about 40 (in America) that makes us suddenly sit upright, gasp inward and say for the first time, “Oh, wait!  You mean ME, too?”

2.  Sometimes distance is good for a relationship.  I think you all know by now that I’m a stay-at-home mom.  I have been since the moment my oldest son was placed in my arms 12 years and 4 months ago.  Sometimes when I say this, mothers who work outside the home feel guilty about all the things they (think they’ve) missed by not staying home every moment of the day with their kids.  And sometimes it makes people downright irritated to  think about how “easy” I’ve got it that I’ve gotten to lounge around all day for the last 12 years (and 4 months).  While I’m currently happy with my “career” choice, I would like to enlighten everyone with a dose of reality here.  I spent my days of summer at home with three children (two “tween” boys and a grade-school aged daughter) while my husband worked 12 – 14 hour days (this equals three meals a day, every day, without Dad).  My kids have been in school for a day and a half now and I can honestly say that I have never loved them more.  Something about getting to say goodbye to them in the morning and hello again to them in the evening has brought us all a bit closer.

3.   God can handle some distance.   The Christian God is a Triune God — Father, Son and Spirit –two of these three God-persons are familial (family like).  To me, this means that our relationship with God is often going to be like our relationships with other family members.  Sometimes we’re head over heels, sometimes we’re just not feeling it.  I think what matters most is not that we never leave, but that we come back, otherwise the story of the Prodigal Son would have far less meaning.  After all, isn’t it the son who never leaves who is the most bitter in the end?

4. Talking about God is not the same as talking to God.  Duh.  I know.  This really shouldn’t be much of a newsflash, but the truth is it is highly tempting for me to talk a lot about God.  To think a lot about God.  To talk and think about how God interacts in my life.  And in yours.  I make these observations often.  But I seem to have stopped the flow from observation to action.  The appropriate action after making these observations, it seems, would be to say, “Thank you”  or “I love you” or “You amaze me.”  But I confess that I find those words or any similar words that would indicate an active relationship with God have been less present over this past summer than they have in months and years past.  Still, somehow it’s all good.  (And if that seems like a contradiction see #4).

5.  My dog is an amazing spiritual advisor.  I am fortunate enough to have in my life a competent, wise and well-seasoned spiritual advisor (shout out to Sister B here! :)), but I can’t be on the phone with her every minute of every hour (and trust me, I’ve tried!)  In her absence, my dog has stepped up to this challenge.  Now I love my dog very much and he’s very special to me but I bet he’s really no more special in the spiritual arena than your own dog.  Wanna know how to take in the world around you using all your senses?  Observe your dog.  Wanna know how to live in the moment?  Observe your dog.  Wanna know how to forgive?  Observe your dog.  Wanna know how to trust?  Observe your dog.  Wanna know how to let go?  Observe your dog.  If you spend enough time observing your dog, you may very likely find some wisdom to apply to your own personal journey (but you should be able to skip the monthly de-wormer and flea dip!)

6.  If you try to give all of yourself to God, the hardest part of all is not to take any of it back.  Perhaps some of you remember my attempt to “give up myself for Lent” last spring.  How’s that workin’ for me, you ask?  Well…probably about as well as you’d imagine.  It’s a daily struggle and I think in many ways I’ve failed.  Miserably.  Still, I smile at my valiant attempt and I’ve learned much along the way.  I trust that God knew all along this is how it would turn out, and perhaps in my zeal for A New Life of Joy, God is simply trying to tell me there were parts of me he wasn’t done with yet.   I’m OK with that.

These thoughts and many more are what kept my summer busy, though I wasn’t writing them down.  Instead, I tried to enjoy the time with my kids at home (plus, it was just really hard to get anything done with them here!) and I trust that anything that was important to me then, will come back to my memory to share with you in the near future.

I hope you enjoyed your summer, too, and I’m glad to be back sorting through the muck and miracles of my life in print.

Most of all, in case I never said it earlier, I appreciate so much that you’ve taken the time to share (and comment on) it with me!