Women, especially we mothers, can be our own harshest critics. And when we don’t live up to our own very high expectations, we experience one of the most destructive feelings—guilt. We take the blame. We carry the responsibility. And we always find fault. With ourselves and with our performance as mothers.
I remember the first time I left my infant son he was 5 weeks old. But this was not the first opportunity I had to feel guilty. After only 5 weeks, 5 painful, solitary weeks, I weaned him from the breast. Breastfeeding was an experience that I did not enjoy and was glad to have finished.
Did I feel guilty about this? Hell, no. And try as some people might, I wasn’t going to feel guilty. My feelings of love and attachment to our son were going to transcend others’ expectations of what the perfect mother did for her child in the early 1980s.
Not guilty! Rule number 1. Know enough about yourself so you know when you should do what you think is best for both you and the child. Jeremy was (and is) one of the most important people in my life. Someone for whom I want only the best. But the best for me was not found in breast feeding. And Jeremy didn’t seem to mind, either. (And by the way, he never had even one ear infection, seldom got colds, and has no shortage of self-confidence). That doesn’t mean that mothers shouldn’t breast feed. But they shouldn’t feel guilty if they do not or cannot.
I weaned him from my breast as I went off to continue my training as a surgeon. This was my next opportunity to feel guilty. My husband and I were both very busy and very much committed to our work, to each other and to our son. So how did we cope? We hired full time, live-in help. A parental extender.
Did I feel guilty about this? Not at all. I found that having another set of hands and another heart to help us love our child brought a new dimension to our lives. I was able to go to work and focus fully knowing he was in kind, loving hands. Having someone who lived with us during the week, we were able to get to know this person who became part of our lives even after she was no longer caring for our children and caring for us.
Not guilty! Rule number 2. You don’t have to be there all the time to be a good mother. There are many others, family, friends, and even fathers, who can augment your presence and “mother” and care for your infant. And I believe that the infant and child have richer life’s experiences for the gift of more people who are part of his/her life. We have been so fortunate to have three wonderful women over the past 31 years to help care for our kids—Pam, Aline and Sonia. All of whom we owe a great debt of gratitude and have remained close to us in friendship to us and the kids.
So from the start, within a month or two of my son’s birth, I had to face situations in which many women find their first pangs of guilt. I chose not to feel guilty. And I hope that you do, too. Instead, spend your energies finding other gifts to give your child, such as the authentic you who has enough inner integrity to bring out the best in those whom you love.