Last week, I was in New Zealand for a family function and had the good fortune of being able to catch up with some friends I hadn’t seen for a while. I’d known most of them before we all had children, we’d maintained our relationships, and our children were now also friends, picking up where they’d last left off. It was really nice, and made meet ups fun – adult and child playdates!
On one such ‘playdate’, a mom told me she had to leave early because she was going to watch the movie Bad Moms 2. “What’s the movie about?” another mom asked. “Who cares?” she replied, “Just getting out of the house is great, I know… I’m a bad mom.” We all laughed, knowing exactly what she meant, and for those who watched the original Bad Moms movie, her sarcasm was very clear.
However, her statement made me wonder why she felt she was ‘bad’ for wanting to get out of the house and why we all seemed to instinctively understand this. Just the previous day, another friend confided that she was going back to work ‘just’ a year after her baby was born. “Am I a bad mom?” she asked me. “No,” was my (obvious) reply. High living expenses aside, she’s not the stay-at-home type and we both knew it, yet she obviously felt she needed to ask the question to get another ‘mom validation.’
I sort of understand the validation need. Just this week, after we arrived back from New Zealand, I was due to attend the Shanghai Melbourne Cup – an event I had earlier bought tickets for. I felt guilty about going given I’d have to leave the kids at home to recover from jet lag. “Am I a bad mom?” I asked a friend once I got to the event. “Are you kidding?” she said, “You just spent the whole week with them.” It was exactly what I wanted to hear, and I got further validation from a friend’s (adult) child who said, “Happy mummy, happy kids.” She pointed to her mother and continued with, “When she’s happy, we all are.” Wow, straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak.
So, what gives us this mommy guilt or the perception that when we do things for ourselves we are bad moms? Whether we are a working, stay-at-home or partially working mother, we all have it. Research reveals it is based on the misbelief that if you're a mother, you are supposed to do everything, which you obviously can’t, hence the guilt. Renner and Aviva Pflock co-authors of Mommy Guilt, surveyed more than 1,300 moms about what made them feel most guilty. Yelling, not wanting to play more, wishing you were free and working, all ranked highly. The book focuses on overcoming these feelings, and with respect to ‘wishing you were free,’ all experts agree with scheduling ‘me time’ and keeping it sacred. Whether it’s writing or exercising, this can actually make you a nicer mommy. So why wouldn't we all do things for ourselves without feeling guilty? How ‘dare’ I have fun without the kids?
There is another side to mommy-guilt recovery though – a side which the original Bad Moms movie reveals. It is realizing you are not perfect, and don’t have to be. A blog I read recently encapsulates this well, “When I accept that I’m not perfect, I can get on with the important business of loving my kids as an imperfect mom,” says the writer.
“I can teach them at an early age not to expect perfection from imperfect people, including themselves. And I can model for them how to make amends when that imperfection leads to hurt, as it inevitably will.”
This was a really good reminder for me, because while I doubt any of us think we are perfect, we nonetheless seem to sometimes have unrealistic expectations of ourselves.
Like now, I’m meant to be cooking dinner, writing this, catering to homework needs and also producing a brochure for a charity thing. Instead, I’ve locked myself in my room while the kids are playing downstairs. Dinner can wait, and I realize that nobody will die if it’s a little late. Really, because it’s not like I’m a bad mom or anything.
[Images via mamachallenge.com, You Tube, Getty Images]
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