The week before Mother’s Day this year, I told some girlfriends that the ubiquitous mom guilt articles and posts peppering the internet just don’t resonate with me anymore. There was definitely a time when I read that stuff voraciously (and usually through sleep-encrusted eyes at 3:00am). I silently agonized along with the authors about whether working moms can or can’t do it all, and what doing it all even means. I swiped through self-deprecating social media posts written by other “bad moms” who had to work late and miss putting their babies to bed. Again.
But now, as the mom of a 6-year-old, fretting over not being able to do it all is simply not in my repertoire. And this is not because I think I’m a perfect parent, or that I have the working mom thing nailed, or that I feel good about my parenting choices all the time. It’s also not because I think it’s funny and fun to be that stereotypical frazzled, wine-swilling mom who just doesn’t care about those dang kids anymore! (“Braydenn, stop hitting your brother with that lightsaber! [glug glug].”)
No. It’s because I don’t think being a great parent has anything to do with making every single choice to do all the things for your child, to get to all of the events, all of the time. I think being a good parent sometimes involves saying I can’t be there and why. And maybe the why is that you have to work, and maybe it’s that you have something else you need to do for your sanity, and maybe it’s just that you don’t feel like it. And maybe it’s all of the above.
Of course, we all want our children to have the world, and we work hard to give them every advantage. Our job as parents is to care for and nurture our kids—to teach them, provide for them, and make them feel safe and loved. But I don’t think our job is to make them feel that they are the center of the universe, especially as they get older.
I spend a lot of time these days thinking about my son as an autonomous human (as opposed to a cute little doll-like extension of my husband and me). I think about the community he lives in, and the privileges he has. And I think about the dangers of raising a boy who thinks that the women closest to him should do everything he wants, all the time. Or that they should feel guilty if they don’t.
I’ve realized that the mom guilt I used to feel was mostly about my own sense of self-worth, successfulness, and accomplishment—and not so much about any impact that missing bedtime or a soccer game might actually have on my son. Now my old feelings strike me as self-indulgent, and disconnected from how I want to approach parenting.
For me, part of being a good mom is managing my son’s expectations. And that involves sometimes saying no, to other people and to him. I don’t think always exchanging my own needs for my son’s would make me a better mom. That’s not reality; at least it’s not a reality I want him to experience or to expect. Of anyone.
Bekah Page-Gourley is an attorney and contributing writer for LittleGuide Detroit. She lives with her husband, Jason, and son Isaac, in Lafayette Park, Detroit. They love experiencing the city’s growth, hosting visitors and talking about Detroit’s virtues with anyone who will listen. Bekah and her family love going to Detroit City Football Club and Tigers games, Eastern Market, the Riverfront, and Downtown.