The Physical Manifestation of Mom Guilt


About a week ago, I broke my toe by walking into the corner of a wall. When people ask how I did it, and I tell them, their response largely has been, “You need a better story.” What follows is not necessarily a better story but the more involved one. The truer one.

I did not break my toe because of the poor placement of the corner of my toddler son’s room. Despite my knowledge, I insisted my husband single-handedly move the dresser further back into the room to create a more open entryway. But that space could have been the size of a runway accommodating a 747 landing. I still would have walked right into the wall.

No, I did not break my toe because of the narrow walking space. I rushed out of the room and bashed my foot right into mom guilt.

Since giving birth to my son a little over a year ago, I have gotten better at leaving him for longer and further outings. The first excursions were to Target for that addictive seasonal popcorn or a stick of deodorant. Another initial outing was a quick sushi dinner.

At Target, my phone was at the ready for emergency texts or calls. I had to stay focused and grab those canisters of caramel-drizzled amazingness. Anyone who has ever been to Target understands how challenging it is to go there for the singular thing you seek and then leave solely with that thing!

My phone was on the table at the restaurant, just in case (I had never been one of those people). There was no time to order drinks first and leisurely peruse the menu. Appetizers were pretty much out of the question. Instead, as a server approached, I habitually exclaimed, “I think we’re ready to order.” I don’t even know if that was always true for the others at the table!

Over time, I felt more comfortable leaving my son. I even got into a routine of going to certain places without him. Isn’t food shopping without a child delightful? What about that first post-baby/sans-baby trip to the movies? We began to go to restaurants that required cooking time for their food. I even started to linger over the occasional glass of wine or starter salad.

A regular jaunt has become an exercise class a few mornings a week. And I love it. Working out my post-baby body has been a revelation. There are new pains, but there are also new abilities. I have also really enjoyed socializing with people I’ve met in class. I’ve appreciated the potential for friendships not based on having similarly-aged children.

As a responsible new mom who lives in the suburbs, when I leave the house, I always make sure I have everything I need: car keys, driver’s license, stocked diaper bag, and extra diapers and wipes shoved in the seat pocket of my car. I make sure I have snacks and water.

And, of course, I always have some mom guilt with me – and I don’t need to remember to re-stock this. It’s on auto-subscribe. It’s an Amazon dash button that I don’t need to push.

No matter where I am without my baby, I feel that I am somehow not the perfect mom I want to be. This is because I am away from him and don’t necessarily have to be. It doesn’t matter if people tell me to do things for myself or that if I’m happy, he’s happy. I feel bad like I’m doing something wrong.

I find myself explaining to people I’m sure don’t care that right after food shopping, I’m running home to my son. Right after the exercise class, I’m rushing to pick him up for his music class. I was at dinner, but he had already gone to sleep. I’m sure the woman loading her car next to mine at Stop and Shop did not care. And I’m sure her kid had his or her fair share of time away from her and turned out fine.

On the morning I broke my toe, I had rushed home from my exercise class to take my son to the above-mentioned music class. I parked my car in the garage and ran into the house for the changing of the guard. The goal was to quickly see him so he knew I was home. A second goal was to use the bathroom before I began a morning of activities that would not afford me many opportunities to pee alone.

These warring impulses drove me to run into his room, wave, and quickly turn and run right out so I could be back in two minutes. I did not want to waste a second. If I could never pee again so that I could be more available to him, then I would.

And this craziness is what drove me right into the wall. Intellectually, I know that my mom guilt is irrational.

I also know it’s great for my son to be around different people. He should come to love and trust the select, wonderful few who make my solo supermarket trips and exercise classes possible. I also know this will pave the way for him to separate from me further. This will help him bond with teachers and make friends when he goes to preschool and kindergarten and beyond. My professional training validates all of this.

The irony of this situation is that by rushing around so as not to deprive my son of time with me, I ended up doing that very thing. My trip to the emergency room decreased our time together. It was diminished by the doctor’s instructions to rest my foot and not carry my son around for at least a few days.

I spent a couple of days letting others carry my son up and down the stairs, to and from the changing table, high chair, and his various play areas. I sat on the couch with my foot up, snuggled under a blanket. And I didn’t feel guilty for the first time in a long time.

How do you manage the feelings of mom guilt?


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