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February 18, 2019

Dealing with False Guilt . . .

As a new mom, I remember being overwhelmed not just by feelings of love for my new born baby but also being overwhelmed by feelings of inadequacy and guilt. Would I be a good mom, would I scar my child for life? Trust me, there were many opportunities for me to feel guilty too, for instance the first time I left my baby with the nanny to run an errand. I remember going around the city like a mad woman waiting to get home to ensure that the house-help had not taken off with my baby.

I remember too the first time one of the boys got nappy rash, or when I dropped each boy to school the first day. I felt like I was abandoning them as I left them crying for me. What kind of mom was I leaving a small screaming child in the hands of a stranger? On both occasions I never went away that first day, I sat in the parking lot counting the hours until school was out.

Much older now, I realise that these feelings of guilt are not just the domain of new mothers. I struggled with it the first time I had to spank my son, the first time I let him ride the bike on his own and he fell down, the first time I watched him stumble and fail and let him learn the consequences all by himself.

I still do it now as both boys transition from childhood to pre-teen. I have also realised that these feelings are nothing but false guilt. I remember one of my friends being so overwhelmed by sleep as a new mom, she went to her best friend’s house and crawled into one of the beds and fell instantly asleep. Her friend who was a much older mom let her sleep on and did not wake her; she knew that my friend needed the rest. My friend woke up hours later feeling so bad that she had ‘abandoned’ her new baby to gratify her need for rest. Rushing home she found, surprise of surprises, her baby was fine. No great catastrophe had taken place. She learnt an important lesson; she was not her baby’s all in all.

Currently my son is going through a rough patch. As his mom, it breaks my heart to watch him navigate some of these curves and yet I know that he needs to do this on his own. Yes I step in where I must, but the reality of life is such that we cannot shield our children from all of life’s unpleasantness. The reality is that even when we would wish to, we won’t always be around to do it and so we must allow our children to develop some muscle for themselves.

I remember well the first time I watched my sons being taken advantage of by their friends. I had warned them that they needed to learn that not all the children they played with were genuine friends, some of them were more interested in their toys and stuff than in themselves and once those things were removed from the equation, they would not be around for long. Of course my sons pressed ignore. One day their ball got lost and true to form, majority of their so called friends disappeared to the next victim. They learnt quickly that in life there are sunny weather friends and all weather friends. I too learnt that there are certain journeys that my children will take on their own and I can only cheer them from the sidelines. I learnt that while I cannot control all the bumps ahead of them, I can be there to soothe the pain and listen and I do not need to feel guilty about that.


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