For a little five letter word, it sure carries a hell of a lot.
As a mother, I’ve always joked that when the baby comes out, the guilt sets in. But the guilt I felt for so many years was no joke.
It started before my daughter was born, actually. Guilt about eating that hotdog (nitrates!), getting angry (negative energy!) or doing that workout (that heartrate!). Then, when she was born, there was guilt over going back to work too soon. Not working enough to support her. Taking her out when it was too cold. Not getting her out enough. Raising my voice. Not paying enough attention to her. Not taking her enough places. Giving her too much. Letting her eat junk. Making her eat broccoli. So many sentences started with, “I feel so bad…”
It was a dark angry pit, this guilt, that threatened at any moment to swallow me whole. When I look back, I realize it also sucked so much of my energy; energy that could have been better spent on all the joy in my life (I am resisting the guilt over that right now as I write this). While I had taken my mother’s sage advice to enjoy my baby every second and at every age, I found that I was doing so in the shadow of a big, dark monster.
On an intellectual level, I knew that guilt was common, especially among women, and that it wasn’t a useful emotion. Yet it kept creeping back. Sometimes I managed to escape it, but more often than not I obsessively sought it out, like a narcissist lover I knew would take everything I had and give me nothing in return. I’d roll around with it, perversely enjoying its sting, until I felt empty, then I’d try to get back to the business of loving myself. It was hard work.
Until I made choices that would make the best of us feel guilty. Choices that affect my daughter to this day. Choices that caused regret, frustration, and self hate the whole time I was making them. And the guilt. That monster grew bigger and bigger until it took up my entire life. I had a choice: get eaten alive, or get out.
At that point in my life (the end of my second marriage), it was suddenly as clear as day: make room for what matters, and move away from what doesn’t serve me - and more importantly, what doesn’t serve my daughter. And the first thing I moved away from - other than my husband - was that monster. Now a small g guilt, it began to recede into the far reaches of my consciousness, barely a whisper. I hear it occasionally, but it doesn’t fool me. I learned that guilt is an indulgence that’s highly overrated. It left me unsatisfied, frustrated, and empty. It calls sometimes, and I think about answering. But in the end, I decline the call.
And it feels so good.