Tuesday, June 21, 2011

"Guilt Suck" is now an official phrase

Quick! Both the kids are asleep! Write a thoughtful, poignant blog post now!

Four years ago, I read Laura Shanley's Unassisted Childbirth while preparing to go head-first into this unknown world of motherhood. Early, in the book Shanley states,

We can retain our self-conscious personalities while at the same time becoming aware of our inner selves. Tod o this we must first rid ourselves of the unnatural emotions of fear, shame, and guilt, for they are like clouds preventing us from seeing who we are and what we're capable of doing. This can be accomplished through love, forgiveness, and understanding. Ture religions was designed to eliminate these undesirable emotions and reunite the separated self-counscious ego with its inner self. Most organized religions today fail to do eithr one. They not only perpetuate beliefs in fear, shame, and guilt, rather than alleviate them; they also encourage dependence on external authority rather than internal authority. Shanley, Unassisted Childbirth, pp. 8-9

Over the past few years, those three: fear, shame, and guilt, have come to my mind as I have gone about my life.

When I first read this book, I was 100% onboard with the eliminating fear aspect. I was preparing for my own unassisted birth and fear was the big monster I was fighting. I was regularly faced with "What if... what if... what if..." And when the big day came, I was not afraid those entire 44 hours of labor.

And I think I did a good job of keeping that up: Without fear, I blogged openly about that birth. And I crept into a new stage: No shame.

About a month after Margaret's birth, the upset comments and emails about my birth nudity came pouring in. Eight months later, I was standing in front of Facebook headquarters with signs and responding to reporters and newspapers with questions all summing into one: Have you no shame?

To which, I replied, "Nope!" And good riddance, too!

And the shame was not limited to shame about my body and how I use it. I was supposed to be ashamed about my mothering: "You're not going to be one of those mothers who is nursing her 3 year old on her front porch, are you?" I was supposed to be ashamed of the state of my house (it's not messy, it's full of awesome). And things I've written on my blog or posted- but what I wrote was how I was feeling at that time and I'm not going to rewrite my history, and who reads old posts, anyway?

But through all of this, I held on to guilt. "Guilt is important," I reasoned, "because if I don't feel guilty about something I've done, they how will I know to change?" I couched guilt under he guise of being god-fearing and having "godly sorrow." Guilt was something I thought I needed, something that was even noble. But now I look at that question and ask myself, "If I feel guilty about something I've done, how will I have the energy to change?" Guilt sucks away energy. It disempowers. It sucks me into a hole and then I feel guilty for being in that hole and get sucked down further. It's the hole of guilt suck. And when I get in that hole, I'm not using my energy to make reparations for wrongs or rubbing the toes I've stepped on, I'm sucked in the guilt and it just keeps going.

So I've been making a conscious effort to not feel guilty. I try to remind myself that when my kids are "acting up" it's because they physically can't act a different way at that moment: perhaps they are sleep deprived, or their blood sugar is low, or I haven't shown them a better way of handling the situation, or whatever: their brain isn't firing the way it could. A friend of mine told me the other day, "You know how kids are doing their best for their situation? When does that stop? We're still doing that as adults!" And suddenly so much guilt went away.

Yes, I could feel guilty about those Oreos I ate yesterday and how I just really wanted to get away from my kids at that time. I can get into the guilt suck, but will that change how things went down? Will it change how I handle a similar situation in the future? No. I'll just be in guilt suck. The tears happened, the sugar crash happened, and that's over and no more guilt.

So now, years later, I think I'm on board with Shanley's list of emotions to eschew. I'm going to try to not give into the temptation to shame and guilt myself and my kids. It's tempting, especially since it's so easy to fall back onto old habits.

And oh crap- the baby is stirring, so naptime is over and I have to end here. I hope this made sense and is somewhat coherent. The sun is high; have no more fear, guilt or shame! Have a beautiful solstice, my friends!


  1. Good for you! I'm totally on board with losing the guilt. Guilt is a useless, society imposed emotion. Unless you have truly done something wrong and harmful it has no place in mothering.

  2. what olivia said! i gave up guilt many years ago. i do the best i can in any given situation and i'm okay with that...even when my best is crappy. i have taught my kids the same and while my lack of being able to motivate them via guilt (i know, double standard) is annoying, it shows me i have at least that THIS priciple well!

  3. TopHat, this post is full of all kinds of awesome, too!


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