Guilty Un-Guilt

I went to a conference for work a couple months ago. It was in a city a couple hours away so we were put up in the Embassy Suites for two nights. It was quite a fun trip, despite it being a “working” trip. My co-workers and I (3 other fun girls) road tripped it in a company van, went out to eat on the company, enjoyed the free food, drinks and massages the hotel had to offer, and got to attend the Crisis Prevention Conference put on by our boss. It was very relaxing.

Of course I did have to sneak off every few hours to my room to pump milk for my 4month old I left at home with Daddy and Didi (David’s mom). And I did so happily.  Both the pumping and leaving Brynn at home.

Yes, you read that right. I was happy to leave my precious, happy, smiling, joy-inducing 4month old baby girl at home for two nights and 2.5 days. I looked forward to it for days before and enjoyed every minute of it.  I got two nights of completely uninterrupted sleep in a giant bed all to myself. I didn’t get any spit up or snot rubbed on me.  I didn’t change one poopy diaper.  I didn’t have to plan my wardrobe based on if it would be easy to nurse in public. I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

That is until the guilty un-guilt started.

At one point during the conference my boss introduced us to the attendees so they would know who they could ask for extra copies of their slide print-outs and who to complain to when the coffee ran out. When she got to me she said “This is Kiley. She left her brand-new baby at home to come help out.” This elicited many “awws” and I smiled and waved.  At the break, people kept coming up to me saying “Oh honey, I’m sorry you had to leave your baby! We appreciate you being here.” And “I remember trips like these, feeling guilty the whole time for having to leave my babies” and “Oh my goodness, I can’t believe you left a baby that young! Who is watching her??” I started responding with “Oh it’s ok, it’s a nice break.” And “She goes to daycare during the day anyway and my husband is loving some extra daddy-daughter time at night.”  But those responses were usually met with confused and concerned faces so I just started smiling and saying “Let me know if I can answer any questions for you.”  One lady actually asked me “Don’t you feel guilty? I would feel so guilty.” With my face reddening I politely said something along the lines like “gotta do what you gotta do” while thinking “Well I didn’t feel guilty until now. Thanks.”   At lunch, one of my coworkers said “Dang, maybe you should pretend to feel guilty…I think most moms do when they leave their kids.”

And then I started feeling guilty. I still didn’t feel guilty for enjoying myself and leaving her at home, but I felt guilty for not feeling guilty.  Apparently being a good mom is feeling guilty for wanting to sleep without a baby monitor by your head. Apparently being a good mom is feeling guilty for enjoying your work and the little perks that come with the job.  Apparently being a good mom is feeling guilty for trusting other people to take good care of your baby.  Apparently, guilt is a quality of a good mom.

Except I don’t believe that.

I’m not sure why we as moms/parents think it necessary to give each other unsolicited “advice,” or share experiences in ways that are blatantly judgey or just passive aggressive “you need to do this if you want to be a good parent.”  Even the statement “Enjoy every minute now because they grow so fast” bothers me now because when you don’t (not if…when) it implies you are not doing your duty as a parent. It makes you feel like you are being ungrateful for one of the best things in your life, even if your heart is in actuality bursting with love and gratitude but your mind is not “enjoying” the wailing at 3am.  As I’m learning, motherhood is hard enough without the self-doubt that can creep in when someone questions something you are or are not doing. Hard enough without the shrinking feeling that can spring on you when someone says “well my baby never did that,” or “if you try this, that probably won’t happen.” God did not leave us very many specific instructions on parenting, so let’s stop trying to force our own Parenting Ten (or 100) Commandments on each other.

I personally think I’ve done a pretty good job as a mom so far ( I know I know “wait until they are two blah blah blah”).  I work full time and enjoy working. I am starting grad school in the fall so I will also be a full time student and am already reading my textbooks because I am so excited to be learning again. And I don’t feel guilty. I don’t feel guilty that I’ll probably wean Brynn from exclusively breastfeeding before she is a year old. I don’t feel guilty that I don’t enjoy breastfeeding and pumping. I don’t feel guilty that I get annoyed when Brynn pinches me, even though I know it’s not on purpose. I don’t feel guilty for not liking poopy diapers. I don’t feel guilty that it took us awhile to let her “cry it out.” Or that we sleep trained “wrong” because we both had to get up at 630 to go to work and just wanted some sleep.  I don’t feel guilty for putting her in daycare even though “you can’t trust any daycares.”   And you know what?

I don’t think I should feel guilty.

You know why? Because while at work I log in to the daycare cam and smile when I see Brynn trying to get the other babies to play with her. Because walking in to the daycare at 4:30 and seeing her light up when she sees me is the highlight of my day.  Because she will grow up knowing work and school are viable options for a woman/mom. Because it doesn’t matter how I feed my baby, she is fed. Because I change her diapers even though I don’t enjoy it.  Because she sleeps. Because I thank God every single day for this little person I don’t deserve to be a parent to.  Because when I got home from that  work trip, the first thing I did was go in Brynn’s room, pick her up and bask in the evident love and affection she has for me. I looked at her smiling and giggling, reaching her hands out to caress my face as she bounced back and forth in excitement because her Mama was home. Because she loves her Mama. Because she knows her Mama loves her. And I will not feel guilty about that.

One MiniMe to the Next

When you announce to people you are going to be giving birth in the next 9 months, they suddenly become very interested in your life. I’m not talking about just family and close friends; no, I’m talking everyone. Questions people would never dream of asking become ok and your answers become almost like “rights” people have since they know you in some capacity. “How are you feeling” aka “Have you been throwing up daily/ do you have hemorrhoids from being constipated yet?” somehow slips into conversations about work or casually over dinner. “Were you trying, or was it a surprise” aka “Were you and your husband intentionally having sex to procreate, or was it just a night of passion that now you will always remember because a baby was conceived?” is asked by grandma, grocery store cashiers, aunts, co-workers, siblings, someone you went to college with whom you haven’t spoken to literally in years; as if the most intimate thing between you and your spouse is now an acceptable discussion topic. And if you decline to answer, there are looks of indignation and outrage at your insensitivity to their God and American given right to know! There are others, such as “ Are you going to quit your job” that can have different meanings depending on who is asking: “Are you going to embrace your womanly duty and devote every waking moment to the child you are bringing into the world like you should?” or “Are you seriously giving up your career and dreams for someone who is just going to take take take from you?” or maybe they really are just curious. All these types of questions (and plenty more…) are ones that no matter how many times you answer them, are still a little uncomfortable to answer and you may fumble over words, making the whole experience that much more awkward, but you do it with a smile on your face because people are excited for you, and that’s just how pregnancy goes. At least this has been my experience thus far in the 19 weeks I’ve been pregnant. So when people asked me the one question I knew a sure answer to, I was relieved; “Do you want a boy or a girl?” My immediate response every time? “A boy.” “Why?” they ask. “Because I’m terrified of having a girl.”

Now the irony to this is that this question, although seemingly innocent enough is really the only one on the list that actually matters. Who cares if you get morning sickness, or don’t. It is no one’s business how your child was conceived and really at this point, it doesn’t matter because you are having a kid whether it was “planned” or not. It is also really no one else’s concern if you are going to quit your job or keep working – you are the parent so it’s your decision and responsibility to do what’s right for your family. However, this question that asks “Do you want the responsibility of raising a boy or a girl in the current society” is one that should give us pause, or at least cause us as soon-to-be parents to think beyond what color we prefer to decorate with. Not that our preference has anything to do with the outcome (in most cases), but really this should make us think even more. It should make us want to prepare as best as possible for the challenges and joys that will inevitably come with each gender.

As David and I sat in the ultrasound room and heard our tech accidentally say “Her arms are covering her face” then watched in amazement as she pointed out the proof that inside my belly is in fact a tiny little girl with tiny little hands and a tiny little heart- my normal sized heart skipped a beat in a moment of fear and I said “how sure are you??” When she said “I am 99.99999% sure you are having a girl,” I looked at David and saw reflected in his eyes what I was suddenly feeling: pure joy.

I had walked into the room with the feeling we would be having a girl precisely because for years I have always said, “If I’m having kids, I want all boys.” I had always said this because I am not a “girly girl,” I was so bad at ballet as a kid my parents took me out and put me in soccer. I had my mom take me to the hair cut store so I could get all my hair chopped off so I didn’t have to worry about putting clips or bows in it, and so it wouldn’t get in my face while I kicked butt in soccer. My friends were primarily boys through elementary school and to them I am eternally grateful for teaching me to make fart noises with my hands. I cared none for school dances in middle school, but prided myself in winning the Constitution Team competition and tutoring elementary school kids. I couldn’t stand the girls in high school who obsessed in the mirror over their make up or boys and instead chose to spend my time being a straight A student who also played field hockey. I didn’t go on a date until college, and that was fine with me. I didn’t kiss anyone until I was 18, something that was again, fine with me. I knew I didn’t need a boyfriend. I knew I could be successful and happy on my own because I WAS successful and happy. In college I continued to get A’s, make friends and enjoy life. I liked myself. I told myself I didn’t need to get married, and probably wouldn’t. I did a semester in the mountains because I love to learn and love to backpack. I climbed half dome in Yosemite. I taught the other girls how to poop in the woods. I was told my confidence was intimidating, and I was proud of that. I did meet a boy, but we were equals. Best friends. I did fall in love, and I said “I love you” first. I knew what I wanted and wasn’t afraid to tell him. I did leave him for a semester to study at Oxford University- by myself. I did get married, but our marriage is one of equality and love, not based on roles or expectations based on our titles of “wife” and “husband.” We went to China for a year leaving friends and family behind. And loved it. We both work full time now and enjoy working. David does the dishes and laundry more than I do. I can barely cook. David is kind and caring and asks my opinion about things and genuinely wants to know. We have fun together. We respect each other. As equals. I still like myself and still have a level of self-confidence bordering on pride. I may curl my hair now, and wear make up occasionally. I may be pregnant, but do not use it as an excuse to get people to cater to my beck and call, nor use it as an excuse to shirk my duties of being half of a 2 person marriage. I will not be quitting my job when the baby is born. I will be going camping in a few weeks and am extremely excited. I still find bodily functions hilarious and am not ashamed of this fact. I can currently feel my baby kicking me and while I think it is incredible, it creeps me out a little as well. I am not a typical wife, and definitely not a typical woman. All this had caused me previously to think: what would I know about being Mom to a girl? About being the most influential female figure in her life? I am nothing like what society defines a “girl.”

But I realized in the split second after hearing “It’s a girl” all of this is exactly why I am equipped to raise a girl. All of this is precisely why when I left the ultrasound room, I was no longer terrified of raising a girl but extremely proud and excited to have the opportunity to teach my daughter how to be a strong, independent, intelligent woman. I do know how to be a girl. The exact kind of girl I want my daughter to be. Just like my mom. All of this is why I can’t wait for our daughter to be born.

And so to you daughter I say this: When you are an infant I will dress you how I want to dress you. But once you can talk and tell me your preference, I will take you to ballet, or I will take you to roller hockey. I will buy you a Barbie doll or hot wheels- or both. I will let you wear ruffle socks with cargo shorts and a t shirt but I will also let you wear skirts and headbands. I will take you to get your hair chopped off, or I will braid your long locks and put bows at the ends of each braid. I will be at your softball games, or at your soccer games, or at your tennis match, or at your fencing match, or swim meet, or chess game, or your American football game. I will never tell you that you can’t do something because it’s not “girly.” I will tell you I love you more than you want to hear it. I will allow you to do things on your own- and as much as I won’t want to, I will allow you to fail. I will allow you to fall down and scrape your knees, but I will also be there to put a band-aid on it until you can do it yourself. I will not let you win at games. I will tell you when you are good at something and encourage you to keep working at things if you can’t quite get it. I will demonstrate self-confidence and self-like so you will love yourself and be confident in who you are. I will remind you over and over that God’s opinion is the only one that matters- not the other girls or boys at school. I will go prom dress shopping with you or support your decision to boycott prom. I will not talk down about my body or myself because I know you will be taking cues from me on how to view yourself. I will laugh with you. I will laugh at you. I will make you do chores. I will take you on mom-daughter lunch dates to Carl’s Jr and laugh at the regulars we see every time we go in. I will be there when you call me crying from college and tell you to go outside because you will love the sun as much as me. I will lovingly use sarcasm with you, but if it hurts your feelings I will be sensitive. I will go wedding dress shopping with you and laugh if the dress looks ridiculous. I will also go apartment hunting with you if you live by yourself or never get married. I will tell you that you are worth it. I will tell you that you can do it. I will push you to be the very best you can. I will feel sad when you study abroad or live in a foreign country but will encourage you to have life experiences. I will not coddle you. I will instill in you strength and power. I will not shelter you from the world, but instead introduce the world to you and tell it to get ready.

How do I know these things will work? Because I remember all the things my mom did and still does. I saw how she carried herself as I grew up and still carries herself: with confidence and self-assurance. I remember the things she said to me, the things she did for me, and the things she taught me by example. These are those things. And now those things are manifested in my very character.

So yes little one, I was terrified that I wouldn’t know how to be Mom to a “girl.” But I know now I can raise a girl who will turn into a Godly woman your father and I will be proud of. Because I am a woman and I will show you.

-KH-