Good mothering returns

by tamarjacobson

Quote of the day:

We are driven for some bizarre reason by guilt. Joe Scarborough on Morning Joe, responding about "The highs and lows of modern parenthood" with the author of: All Joy and No Fun

A couple of mornings ago I remembered that it has been one year since I started writing this blog, and realized I have written only nine posts since I began last February. With snow falling and school canceled, I had time to greet the day slowly by preparing myself breakfast and turning on the television to see the last fifteen minutes of Morning Joe.  Jennifer Senior happened to be talking about her book: "All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood." What a coincidence, I thought to myself. What are the odds of my remembering a blogaversary about the guilt of being a good parent, just as school is canceled, I have time to catch the last section of the morning news show exactly at the moment they are all discussing guilt and parenthood? Even on a morning show, the host describes how, as a parent, he is driven by guilt. I was amused by how he called it bizarre.

"Why would it be bizarre?" I thought to myself. After all, there are so many guilt inducing sources! As a parent, I constantly judge myself based on my son's accomplishments or happiness. I have been working with parents and guardians of children for over forty years, and have observed them doing the same. It seems we take credit for our children's successes, and feel like failures when they fail. Of course, we have influenced our children's emotional development. I have no doubt about that. But, when they become adults, are our children never to become their own person? At which point do they own their accomplishments and happiness, joys and sorrows? When can I say, "This has nothing to do with me – it belongs to him?" Am I to blame forever?

I think of my poor mother. At age ninety seven, bed-ridden and fragile. Recently, when my older brother tragically died, she lay in her bed sleeping away the days and nights, waking only now and then telling a tale about a small boy lost in a crowd, needing ointment for a rash. I sat by her bedside for hours as she described her anxiety about that small boy, and I promised to take care of him for her. As we pinned up a photograph of my late brother on the wall by her bed, close to her pillow, she looked up at it and stroked it lovingly. And then she said, "I should have gone there, rented a flat and helped him through those last months." Even as I gently tried to convince her that it was impossible for her to do that, and only natural she would feel that way about her ailing son, I could tell my words were of little comfort.

There is no rational or logical thought about parenting. We always feel responsible for our children's well-being – even if we are 97 with a 70-year-old son. Sometimes I rage at those self-help parenting guides with authors so completely sure about what is the exact right way to parent. For, all they do is reinforce the belief that no one knows how to parent correctly. They feed into our insecurities about our most important relationships. I constantly wonder how I can help teachers understand that they have enormous power to empower parents instead of judge and criticize them. Parents would benefit greatly if only we tried to understand how guilty they feel – how unsure they are about what is the right thing to do for their children. Parents really do need our support for them to love their children subjectively, unconditionally, and emotionally. 

A year ago at The Good Mother: Dedicated to Carrie