I have six children — four biological, two adopted. The oldest is 38 and the youngest is 17, so I’ve been in this mothering role for a long time and have a lot of experience. I’m a pretty good mom. I fed them healthy food and sewed them clothes. I signed them up for the activities that interested them and chauffeured them ‘round to all those classes and lessons. I taught them all to play the piano and drive a car and clean a bathroom. I attended countless soccer and baseball and basketball games, gymnastics and track meets, recitals, concerts and award ceremonies. I homeschooled them when needed and volunteered in all their classrooms. I hosted birthday parties and sleepovers and playdates. I took them camping and to Grandma’s house across the country. I took them out of the country, to broaden their perspectives. I took them to church every week and taught them the gospel that I love every day. I sent them on missions and to college. Though I have three college degrees, I ran a home daycare rather than pursue a career, so I could be home with them. Though I never felt suited to a domestic role, I loved my kids fiercely and actively and served them wholeheartedly. Though my marriage was never good, we worked together well for the good of the kids.
To balance out that picture of “success”, you should know that I was also too impatient and too unhappy. I didn’t take proper care of my own needs for too many years. Most of my mistakes were more personal than maternal, but my children paid a price, nonetheless. That is probably true for all of us. Our mistakes in any arena of our lives all stem from the personal.
There were challenges, as in every family. Some of my children were willful toddlers, one quite hyper. One was a “dream” teenager; some were difficult in a “standard” way, some more so. There was drug abuse, a suicide attempt, a baby born out of wedlock, identity issues. But no one landed in jail. Everyone survived.
I’m proud of my grown children for the responsible, caring adults they have become, for the good parenting some of them are now engaged in. For the most part, they are smart, contributing members of society and most of them are pretty happy. But a majority of them are no longer active in the LDS church – or any religious path. And the youngest two really don’t like me and make sure to let me know it regularly. Of course, this could be because they are not yet old enough to appreciate their parents, but it feels more personal to me. We’ll see.
The problem is that I feel like a failure in my role as a mother. I am fairly certain this thought is a lie, and I resist it as such. But MotherGuilt is a persistent worm, fed by well-meaning sermons and perfectionism and a tendency to compare and contrast. And sometimes by my own kids’ heartless judgments. Mostly though, by my own heartless self-judgment.
I did the best I could. I really did. But hindsight affords a much clearer view of the mistakes I made. My biggest mistake? Trusting outside voices to influence my life choices more than I trusted my internal Knower. Allowing men – men I sustain and respect — to dictate what my womanly role is, to tell me how to be a mother. I am certainly not an unquestioning follower, but hindsight also clarifies the realization that we are all influenced by our culture far more than we care to admit.
I think it’s time we women defined our own roles. Trusted our own inner Knowing, separated – as much as possible – from the influences of our culture. The Truth is in there. We just need to dig it out and write it on a banner and proclaim with gratitude and power: THIS is who I am.
You may be wondering what this rather militant exhortation has to do with MotherGuilt. You tell me. If you are a mother, do you ever feel like a failure? If you are not a mother, do you ever feel the same? How can we more accurately and faithfully navigate our way through the cultural miasma of our lives, especially the male-directed culture of the church? How can we banish the lies of our own “failures”?
What do you think?