Guilt, and Everything After.

Am I the only person out there that walks through her days with this constant load of guilt? I swear it’s why my back hurts all the time. My personal sack of guilt is so heavy that during the few moments of the week when it lifts, I think I should step on the scale. I literally walk through town with my shoulders drooping. I often have to remind myself that no, whatever I am doing at that moment is fine, so strong is the feeling that I should be doing something else.

I’m not working.
I’m not doing math flashcards with my kids.
I’m not filling their day with happy memories.
I’m not calling my mom.
I’m not emailing my best friend.
I’m not planning the birthday party.
I’m not checking to make sure the vacation will go just so.
I’m not writing my blog post.
I’m not pitching that new editor.
I’m not organizing the pantry.
I’m not walking the dog.
I’m not training the dog.
I’m not reading with Rory.
I’m not building elaborate Lego robots with Sam.
I’m not savoring every charming moment of Wyatt.
I’m not spending any alone time with Lily.
I’m not working on my book proposal.
I’m not riding my bike.
I’m not putting the bathing towels in the dryer.
I’m not spending time with my husband.
I’m not getting a new box of Kleenex for the bed in the guest room.
I am not making a scrapbook or sorting online photos.

You can see why this is a problem. Even if I manage to be doing any one of these things (and most of the time I am not), I am not doing the rest. I tend to spend a lot of time meditating on how very much I suck. Now, I get that the commenter instinct right now is to go tell me no, no, you do plenty! You do lots! It’s all good! Please don’t. ( And if I should happen to be someone you know personally, resist. Seriously.) I know that. I get it. Blah, blah. I don’t really feel this guilt intellectually, and so I don’t need anyone to point out that it’s silly. (Seriously.)

I recognize that I am doing just fine, broadly speaking. I want to meditate on why I do this to myself. Every so often, I get a moment when the guilt lifts, usually when I have checked off a pile on my to do list, and sometimes just when a good song comes on the radio and I am singing along in the car. (Sadly, I think that is partly because when you are driving the car, you are affirmatively not supposed to be doing anything else) the load lifts. I am happy, I am good, I am rolling (or singing) along. Why don’t I just choose to feel that way all the time? After all, this is really about me and my personal emotional reactions to my situation. No one is making me feel any of the above. No one ever–well, rarely–says to me, hey, you really should be doing such and such. And if they do, I’m unusually capable of blowing them off, so much so that I often tell people that I never get any of that unsolicited and annoying parenting advice people complain about. I think I actually don’t listen. So why is this my reaction of choice?

What’s really going on that I need to dump on myself this way? I think I feel empty, and thus like I should be doing something that I’m not because, in the broader sense, there’s nothing going on. For years–decades even–I have always had one single, overarching goal that so clearly trumped all others that I always knew which of the many tasks at hand I should apply myself to. I should finish the project, draft the thesis, apply to law school, make the Law Review, get the job, get another job, get married, have baby, get another job, have another baby, write book, move, move…and so on. And then, of course, adopt Rory. And that’s all done. And I won’t be embarking on any of those again soon. I don’t want to move, I like the husband and jobs I have, and I have pretty clearly Peter Principal-ed myself into more children than I can actually handle. There can be no overarching goals of that kind. And one key thing about those goals is that they came with external deadlines, particularly once launched. Even “write book” had a co-author and thus more specific requirements than are usual. And now, for the first time since childhood, I don’t have any of that, and I don’t know what to do with myself.

I think the mature answer would be to learn to live in the present and enjoy the day to day process of living rather than planning my life and indulging in the artificial sense of busy importance created by looming deadlines, trips and events. And I plan to work on that. (Oh, great, look how I put that. I’m going to work on that! Can I have charts and a list to check off whether I’m properly living one moment at a time? Ummm…) But I’m also going to go ahead and let myself get sucked back into the world of the major project, albeit on terms that will require at least some of that above described maturity. I’m going to get back on the book proposal I’ve been juggling for some time, complete it right, and resolve the looming agent question.

The thing about that project is that with no external deadlines and no joint practitioners, it’s going to require something different from me–it’s going to require me to put first something that, in fact, most of my external world doesn’t see as an important thing at all, but rather as the one thing I can easily do tomorrow. That isn’t going to be easy. The book project is specific to me, of course–but this guilt, and this blankness–I think that’s not. I see at least a few fellow adoptive parents dealing with it (you know who you are)–this what do I do now moment, when the urgency of creating the family and bonding into it has slowed down, and there’s only day to day living to be done. I see fellow parents with a last baby heading off to all-day-school in the same boat. I think we all like our projects, and I think, for everyone, there comes a time when you find you need to begin defining your projects, goals and rewards on your own terms. I’m there.

Comments

  1. Anonymous says:

    It took me forever to ask the question. How does the voice in my head determine what it is I should be doing? After all, if I am folding clothes I should be paying attention to someone and if I am paying attention to someone I should be folding clothes. I finally realized that is the magic tool of the guilt voice. You are always supposed to be doing whatever it is you are not. Maybe the only answer is to dedicate whatever task you are doing at that moment to the glory of God. Whatever it is do it with a joyful heart and a willing spirit. What you do may not matter as much as the spirit in which you do what is at hand.

  2. Love Letters To China says:

    What an amazing post! I feel very much like you described. I never seem to get anything done, but have a mile long list of "to do's". My guilt is way up there on the scale. I struggle each day to find myself. This job of Stay At Home Mom is one of the hardest I think I will ever have. Thank you for pointing out there are many other women feeling the same way as I do.

  3. Stefanie says:

    Oooooh. You had to mention the photos. I'm buried underneath months of pictures of my kids. This morning it dawned on me that if 1000 of these pictures disappeared, no one would notice. But me.
    I think we as women set the bar too high for ourselves… we're supposed to help everyone, fix everyone, love everyone, feed everyone and wipe everyones noses and hineys. And then, in all that extra time we have on ourselves, take care of ourselves as well.
    I'm into downsizing, baby! Keeping it simple because I HAVE to (out of necessity), has brought much needed relief :)

  4. I so get this. I sooooo get this. And I am not an adoptive mom, so maybe this is just the female condition? Ugh.

    The work is NEVER done, therefore, how can you ever feel as though you have done enough? Even if I accomplish everything on my actual, literal list, I STILL think I could have/should have done more, better, faster.

    I believe God does not intend for us to live under the pile. I used to be better at this than I currently am. I am rambling. Why? Because I am in the midst of multitasking, of course.

    OK, done with the mini-rant. Off to "accomplish" something. LOL

  5. Thanks for the fabulous post. After years of school, baby one, more school, job, baby two, certifications, new house… I struggle with day to day living. It's almost as if without having an overcommitted schedule I can't define my days. I've decided that this season of life is about being a professional wife and mother. Life is good until the list of "should be" shows up. My answer to the guilt? Take it to the Father and ask Him to reveal to me what's really important. It's still an everyday battle but He provides the peace and direction I need.
    Thanks again for the thought provoking post. I think you've touched on a common problem for us moms.
    Mommy guilt, the gift that keeps on giving!
    God's blessings,
    Sarah :D

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