Can we talk about shame for a minute?
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, especially as we rounded the corner on Mother’s day. That may seem odd, but hear me out. In the last 9 months since becoming a parent, we’ve read countless articles, bought an inordinate amount of organic baby food, followed a bunch of pediatric psychologists, physical therapists, and food and sleep experts. We’ve poured over their social media feeds, and followed advice from one resource and then the next on sleep schedules, and how to best start solid foods, and how to get your x-month old to reach x-milestone, in the hopes that we were doing the best we possibly could by our kids. Then, on the days when we didn’t, on the days when we napped too long in the evening because the afternoon was a bear, so the dreamfeed was too late and it took too long to put them back down because they awoke too much, those days, we were filled with guilt and anxiety about whether we were doing a good enough job. Guilt and shame go hand-in-hand with mothering, I find. You get way more of the good stuff, the love, the cuddles, the euphoria of holding your little ones, but the shame and the guilt…they’re there also.
You know, we use the term “pandemic parent” a lot in our house because it explains our behaviours so accurately. Here in the Albrecht Household, we still live a relatively quarantined existence, much in contrast to that just outside our door. Right around the time that vaccinations started to ramp up and the people who previously weren’t comfortable going out, and had the opportunity to stay in, were starting to go out again, we started asking ourselves questions about whether we were keeping the kids’ world too small. We’d see friends with kids out and about again, or family members having gatherings and wonder, are we doing the right thing?
We’d ask these questions, talk it out, and ultimately come to the same conclusion everytime. We are pandemic parents. They are pandemic children. And until officially stated otherwise, as far as we are concerned, we are still in a pandemic. I’ve had conversations with people who had the opportunity to parent prior to COVID, many of whom are much more comfortable, at this point, putting their kids in team sports, and having people around them. Please understand, this isn’t a judgement against them. On the contrary, I’ve watched them in wonder at how they could exist in this moment with such freedom, where we feel so confined. I’ve watched them take their own forms of calculated risks and asked how can they possibly? And then it occurred to me: We are not only pandemic parents, but we are first-time parents, who became first-time parents to premature twins in the middle of a global pandemic. So, then my mind reframed the question: how could we possibly not behave as we have been. How could we, knowing what we know, having experienced what we experienced, have made different choices? The conclusion: We couldn’t. And so, I stopped judging us for it, stopped feeling guilt about it, and realized that the decisions we were making for ourselves and our latkes were born, not of fear, but of experience. Perhaps, if we had parented prior to being quarantined for half a year during Aly’s pregnancy, our perspective would be a bit different. Perhaps, if our kids weren’t born premature and we didn’t spend two weeks in the hospital with Aly’s preeclampsia like a ticking time bomb, masked, and scared, and overwhelmed. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps. But we were, and they were, and we did.
Shame/guilt is a funny thing as a parent. You can feel like you’re doing the best you possibly can, listen to all the experts, of which there are many, for all the things, do all of the things they tell you to do, and still, you will never feel like you’ve done enough. What is that about? What kind of cruel trick is that to play on people dedicating their entire existences to raising good humans?
I’m not blind to our privilege. We’re blessed to be able to do the things we do for our kiddos and feel guilty for not being able to do more. It just leaves me to wonder if anything will ever feel like enough, or will the guilt of inadequacy always rear its head on hard days and the days you feel like other parents have something figured out that you don’t.
So here’s to all the moms and mom-figures out there that are doing the work and still feel like they do a crappy job some days. You’re doing the hardest thing in the world. In the face of unimaginable odds, you’re raising a person to take on this incredibly difficult world that happens to be an incubator for a virus right now. Here’s to you, because honestly, hard things are our everyday.