Mothering from Under the Guilt Quilt

My generation likes to do our mothering from under the guilt quilt.

Once, in a retail galaxy far, far away, I attended a management seminar on reactive versus proactive planning. I start out with a plan to be proactive, and someone (either someone under 46 inches tall and/or with a penis) doesn’t follow instructions, or “forgets”, and I go a nuclear reactive. In my head.

Usually my external reaction is more controlled– even when it doesn’t seem that way with my people. Really, between the PTSD-Vietnam-Army-Veteran-Father, and having a mother, I swallow anger and resentment like only someone with those strong emotions coded in their DNA can. Like it’s my job.

That said I also lack patience for repeat offenders, so I can be a little emotionally slap-happy. I don’t tend to carry a grudge, if I can have the fight, tell people why I’m mad, and move on. I’m not going to continue to pick at it for months at a time.

Now, lest JB’s guffaws of disbelief wake the children: I don’t worry about it– never did I say I forget. If said issues become pathological problems then of course it gets stored as a behavior quirk. And yeah, if I’m not married to you, or otherwise related, then I have a saturation point. C’mon now.

That’s with my adult relationships, but my kids? Those stored moments of Failures, Guilt, and Inadequacies? Already there are a few that I consider to be a Big Deal: real ones representing the ugly, dirty truths that just are part of being a human, not to mention a parent. Those I store in a glass specimen jar– a la 9th grade biology.

The guilt I store on display isn’t the mild society and/or kid-created guilt– I let go of that really fast. Yes, I understand that it makes my children sad that they don’t live in a 4,000 square foot house, with a housekeeper, a nanny and a chef serving an endless buffet of cheese crackers, pizza-with-no-sauce, and ice cream. Suck it up, my darlings– you, at least, have each other. Oh, and y’all are having a carnival of a life– I’ve seen the digital evidence.

There are some moments that I have to admit that feeling guilty and ashamed of my behavior is actually the appropriate reaction. Those are the ones that make it into my jar. The ones that I try hard not to replicate. Once is a mistake, and children are a remarkably forgiving creatures. Continually repeated the same mistakes is deliberate.

I’ve had a few occasions of recent where I’ve had to sit down with one (or both) of the Small People woman up, and say a sincere, more appropriately phrased version of: “damn– I’m sorry. My behavior was extreme, unfair, and definitely not cool in the circle of life. I’m really, truly heart-breathtakingly sorry.” And it’s not because I’ve spanked them, or locked them in a closet.

My poor husband. Middle child of three brothers, borne to an only child mother, and a 1-of-4-brothers father. Marrying me, an only child with repressed emotional OCD? He probably could have found an easier mate, but she would have cost him more. Or that’s what I keep telling him.

I especially appreciate that his usual assessment is: “Stephanie, he’s fine; at least you apologized” or “they bring it upon themselves”. Now, whether he’s telling the truth? Only time will tell.