Today is Lucy’s 18 month milestone. And even as I’m typing this, I feel a lump in my throat and a knot in my stomach. But as she prepares to leave infancy behind, I, too, am doing my best to leave the heavy weight of Mom Guilt in the past.
Lucy’s been an independent child from the start. She didn’t suffer through separation anxiety when we first left her with one of her Abuelas at only a few months old. She didn’t cry when she had her first sleepover with her cousin a couple of months after her first birthday. And she has, on all accounts, led the way for me in her development, taking my hand and showing me to the bathroom to let me know it’s time to potty train or refusing to allow me to feed her because she’s perfectly capable of holding onto a fork and spoon.
Yes, when it comes to children, my pediatrician insists that I’ve hit the proverbial jackpot – and often cautions me not to say it too loudly around other frustrated mothers who could use another hour or two of sleep. So why is it that I still feel like I’m getting away with something whenever I set aside time for myself? Why do I feel this lingering weight in the pit of my stomach when I sit down to work for a few hours? Surely, it can’t be Lucy’s disapproval driving that guilt because she happily waves me goodbye when it comes time to part ways.
The answer is clear, though I’m reticent to admit it. It’s me. This is my doing. I’m the one who’s decided to carry some sort of shame for having this incredibly freeing experience of motherhood. Maybe it’s my Cuban heritage. Maybe it’s my Catholic upbringing. Maybe it’s the fact that I was told I’d have to suffer and give up my whole life and anything that defines me the minute my child was born. But seeing as to how the truth is so far from that, it’s been almost a shocking experience to realize that I’m the only one holding myself back.
Circumstances are incredibly different from the times when my grandmother had to raise her two children. It’s no longer expected (at least in my household) for a woman to give up her career and life aspirations because she’s now gained a role as a mother. Days after Lucy was born, my husband encouraged me to continue following my goals. As easily as she took her first breath, my family stepped forward excitedly to offer any support. And it’s been an eye-opening experience to see how everyone has rallied around me from the minute I shared the news of my pregnancy.
So why the Mom Guilt? Why the pressure to feel some twinge of awful so that it’s somehow OK to have a little bit of time as myself, outside of motherhood? Because sometimes it’s just as hard to allow happiness and balance into our lives as it is to find it. Sometimes it’s just as difficult to accept support and help. Because, on some level, I had programmed myself to think that it was supposed to be an experience of martyrdom. And while I sincerely admire those who came before me and had to do it that way, being appreciative of what I have and accepting the support and assistance that’s been given to me is also a way of honoring the sacrifices of those women who had to pave the way.
So now, I have a work week schedule that allows me to follow and fulfill my career goals. I have a regular exercise routine that allows me to feel both physically and mentally fit. I have the freedom to set up a monthly girls night, if I should so desperately need a cocktail and conversation. And when my husband sets up a date night, I happily accept and enjoy our time together. And I do my best to keep the guilt at bay if it should rear its ugly head.
Because I know that Lucy is taken care of. I know that I’m with her every morning and afternoon. I know that I tuck her into bed every night. I know that I feed her well and care for her when she’s feeling sick. I know that she enjoys our weekly family nights out. I know that she is well dressed and groomed to her little heart’s content. I know that she’s happy and healthy. And I know that I’m putting my best effort into taking care of her. And sometimes, that means taking care of me.