Cross-posted at Bitch Ph.D.
I almost feel guilty about faking the date and time stamp on this post. I was enlisted into the Bitch Army for a Wednesday gig, but I'm kinda busy this Wednesday, so I'm horning in on No Nym's Tuesday. The topic at hand is guilt, and I excel at rationalization, so...no guilt.
My son, Ben, recently asked me why I take trips away from home without him and my husband. I’ve had five such trips in his six years, ranging from a three-day weekend to a week’s vacation. Every last one of them was completely optional and recreational, so it’s not as if I were traveling for business (I’m a stay-at-home mom and freelance editor) or for family obligations. Faced with a questioning child, I suspect that many women would instinctively feel that much-ballyhooed female/maternal guilt about taking time for themselves.
But that guilt thing is not my cup o’ tea. My friend DoctorMama recently blogged about feeling guilty, and the comments thread indicates that she’s far from alone. There was just one commenter who spoke my language: “I don’t think I ever feel too guilty about things I have or have not done. I'm pretty good at justifying my reasoning. I just look at everything as one step at a time and that there's no point in getting worked up over things you can't change.” Turns out that particular commenter is a man. Of course! What woman would think that way? Oh, right—me.
Now, I drafted this post before discovering that he wasn’t a she, which leads me in an entirely different direction. It doesn’t seem to me that men struggle as much with this ilk of guilt—what say you, gentlemen? Do the tropes of Catholic guilt and Jewish guilt weigh equally on men and women, or are women particularly susceptible to berating themselves? Is it just that women are more comfortable openly expressing their regrets, while men subsume their guilty feelings? Or is the patriarchy to blame for encouraging women to blame themselves for this, that, and the other thing? (Discuss.)
In addition to having traveled like a (modestly) footloose single woman, I also exhibit a stark degree of parental slackitude on evenings and weekends when my husband is home from work. A full day (or five of them) in close proximity to a small child, while rewarding, can grow wearying.
But I don’t feel guilty about taking these vacations and daily breathers. By getting to wallow in “me time,” I recharge my drained batteries and lessen the amount of time I sit around feeling put upon by childrearing/household/freelance responsibilities. Goodness, I’d have plenty to feel guilty about if I never got a break—feeling oppressed by a pretty decent life that just didn’t happen to spoil me rotten? I might feel guilty about that. But I feel much more content knowing that I can get a breather when I need one, that my own interests and interior life are deemed important by my spouse.
I can also rationalize the “me time” thus: My husband’s a fabulous dad who finds 24-hours-a-day one-on-one time with the kid to be much less draining than I do, as he doesn’t have to do it all the time and he’s innately far more patient than I. Ben really does seem to depend on his mom and dad equally—when he’s injured or scared, he evinces no preference for one parent over the other. What better grounding can you give a child than a close relationship with two loving adults? Plus, one of those loving adults would tend to be crankier if she didn’t get to nourish her inner self along the way. (As you see, I am adept at piling justifications upon rationalizations as needed.)
So maybe I’m just a selfish bitch who doesn’t have enough heart to dedicate her all to her child and spouse. But in a person who is essentially good and decent (i.e., this doesn’t apply to that scumbag Joe Francis), I think guilt is nothing but a tremendous energy suck. I encourage you all to take a couple of the things you feel guilty about and rationalize away the guilt. Go ahead—we’ll wait. Did you do it? Do you feel the burden lightening? I hope you do.