Mom Guilt and Happy Birthday Girls

3I’ve been thinking a lot these days about my girls as they celebrate their birthdays literally across the country for one and the other half a world away. I feel guilty that I can’t be there with them. They are young women now, facing challenges and the realities of life that sadly I can’t shield them from anymore. They are making their way and I have to let them go, hard to do when you’ve been the Momma Bear protecting her cubs all these years.

They are wonderful young women, intelligent, strong and brave and I am so very proud of them both. Ours has always been a pretty close relationship, occasionally contentious, sometimes in direct opposition but always originating from a place of love. I have been a very involved Mom, they were and still are my “miracles” and I have been in awe of them both since the day they were born. However, I sometimes wonder, “should I have done more to prepare them for this world, are the words of advice and encouragement I offer flawed and of no use in their world that I don’t always understand and how many mistakes did I make along the way ?”

We go to school for years, decades sometimes to perfect our skills, to obtain employment and to become experts on a variety of subjects. We have coaches and teachers and mentors that guide us through this and cheer us on as we go.  Then we get pregnant and all of a sudden the toughest job in the world becomes our reality. There is the classic ” What to Expect When You’re Expecting” to guide us through the first nine months and baby showers with funny words of advice that you don’t really understand. You think you’re prepared then all hell breaks loose, at least in my case it did. My ordered universe fell into chaos, all because of a tiny new being who emerged (all 10 lbs of her) and immediately needed enormous quantities of care and attention. I did not have a clue what to do except try to get us through each day alive. I remember thinking that first week that if I felt as horrible as I did then, for any other reason, I’d be in bed sleeping all day with someone bringing me tea and toast, possibly hospitalized. Instead I was stumbling around in my sleep-deprived daze,  and crash coursing and cramming on how to be a Mom. I had a chart, a huge flow chart I’d designed to plot all her feedings and wet diapers, sleep and wake periods, her poops. I carried it around from room to room and insisted poor Angus chart everything too. he was terrified of the raving lunatic I’d become I think in retrospect, I remember one morning over coffee he ever so gently leaned toward me, as if to softly brush my cheek and instead he reached up and pulled a sticky breast pad that was stuck to my forehead, unbeknownst to me, in my new baby stupor. ” What?”I said weepily “have I become”? He laughed and said ” everything you ever wanted to be, you’re Cateys’ Mom”.

I was obsessed with how wet her diapers were because they were so damn absorbent ( I know, bad Mom, I should have used cloth ) and I couldn’t tell precisely how wet they were. At three weeks of age I took the baby and my chart to the Dr for our first “well baby” check-up, wanting his careful analysis of how we were doing. He glanced at it briefly and said ” Sarah, really ? Are you kidding?” and tore it up. I shrieked as he threw it out and I swear I heard Angus mutter ” Thank God” under his breath. The Dr. looked me in the eye and said, ” Sarah, stop obsessing. She’s beautiful , she’s healthy and you’re doing just fine. Now relax and enjoy the baby”.

In Canada and many parts of the world today, women can achieve anything, be anything, dream anything. My daughters are fierce in their drive to educate themselves, one in Medicine and one in Math and Accounting, both careers that until a few generations ago would be unheard of for women. It was a very conscious goal of mine when they were little girls to encourage them to stretch their minds and their imaginations and to work hard and pursue these dreams. While it is a wonderful thing I fear the pressure that now lies on their young shoulders. The gruelling academics, the competitiveness of academia and the push to stay at the top or risk losing opportunities is their everyday reality. One of my girls is a Type 1 Diabetic, which in itself is a tremendous daily challenge and she said to me not long ago that she will soon have to decide on whether or not to have children because of biological imperative but that it would be a detriment to her career. Women today frequently have to push-off having children because they are competing in the workplace with men. I wasn’t a typical Mom, I did stay home even though it was not a popular thing even with my generation. There were a variety of things that affected that decision and I had the support of my husband in doing that. Our kids flourished but perhaps I made it harder for them to see themselves as working Moms?

I keep seeing these “End Mom Guilt” videos on social media. Moms sheepishly admit to the injustices they think they lodged against their children, their failures as parents. I imagine that the girls would laugh about some of it and roll their eyes over the rest. I was most definitely a mom with stresses and worries and occasional sleep deprivation that affected my everyday approach to parenting. For instance Aidan, the youngest of the two, was never a big sleeper. She essentially wanted to give up napping before she was two and she had a fierce attitude when she decided on things, hence the name meaning ” little fire”. Her first words were ” Me do”! I had to re-label nap time as quiet time, bribe her with cookies or threaten progress letters to Santa , all so I could get an hour of peace in the afternoon. She didn’t need the nap, I did.

So Happy Birthday Girls ( they’re two years and two days apart ) I love you more than these words or any words can say. In the immortal words of Robert Munsch 🙂

I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always, as long as I’m living my baby you’ll be.” 

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