Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Not guilty as charged

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, 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.


Mona Buonanotte said...

I'm trying, I'm reeeeeally tryin'. Hard to break an old habit.

Y'know, I read this post at BitchPhD first and got nearly 3/4 the way through before it dawned on me that it was you. I don't know WHAT that says about my analytical skills...that they suck, perhaps....

Susanne said...

You know, I have been wondering if I'm the only mom not feeling guilty all the time. Not that I'm doing everything perfect, it's just that I don't give myself a hard time about mistakes. And I don't think that I'm the only person in the world influencing my son.

This said I have to confess that I'm sharing parenting duties with my husband and mother-in-law. And that's a good thing, because without me-time I'm really cranky. (Maybe then I would feel guilty because of the crankiness...)

The Absent Minded Housewife said...

Nope Susanne, you aren't the only one.

I don't feel guilty. Not in the least. I think it's healthy modeling to do my own thing as long as there is balance.

I've been the subject of scorn and frustration from guilty mothers for not "realizing your guilt." Um what? I'm sane, you're not. Deal!

Feral Mom said...

I'll try, but you know what they can take the girl out of the Catholic Church, but you can't take the Catholic Church out of the girl, not without some kind of specialized surgical glove, at least. I'll keep flagellating myself, though, in the hopes of beating it out. Whoo!

Feral Mom said...

I'll try, but you know what they can take the girl out of the Catholic Church, but you can't take the Catholic Church out of the girl, not without some kind of specialized surgical glove, at least. I'll keep flagellating myself, though, in the hopes of beating it out. Whoo!

Anonymous said...

I admire and am envious of all of y'all who can exist with so little guilt. I'm fully aware that my guilt is waaay, waaay, waaay beyond normal, and not at all healthy. I agree with you (Orange) that the guilt I engage in is a tremendous energy suck, and it benefits no one.

Though I hasten to add that my guilt doesn't center around mothering. I don't have to rationalize "me time" at all: I think it's absolutely necessary for me to be a good mama, or even a good person. So no way, Madame Orange--you're not a selfish bitch and not short on heart. You're doing exactly what you should do; I will even go so far as to say it's your responsibility. I'm envious of your trips. If I could take trips without the boys, I totally would.

Anyway I blame all my ridiculous, unhealthy guilt on the Southern Baptists. While I'm at it I'll direct all my wrath their way, too. And I won't feel bad about any of it, no I won't.

E. said...

None of my guilt centers around my kid, partly because my full-time job is relatively flexible and allows me to spend more time with my son than most parents who work full-time. (Having summers off helps a lot.) But mostly because I think it's healthy for kids to have more than one person to rely on and relate to. And I am absolutely of the opinion that what makes a mom feel happy and sane ends up being good for her kid or kids.

I'm glad to hear you take trips away from your family, and glad you don't feel guilty about it. I think we'd probably all be happier if more moms made a point of fostering their own interior lives (as you so eloquently phrase it).