There is this old expression, “Don’t lose sight of the forest for the trees” that I can’t help but think a lot about these days. I’ve always interpreted this to mean that when we zero in on one aspect of our lives, it is sometimes hard to remember that there is a bigger picture.
I am expert level at engrossing myself in the minutiae of day to day and I am constantly trying to remind myself that things look very different on the other side of things. But it is hard.
I’ve always been the type of person who tries to live with no regret. To make good choices, be a good human being and thereby have no guilt for choices or risks I’ve taken. Because regardless of each outcome, I think that’s how we evolve into the people that we are meant to be.
So what really bugs me now is that where my kid is concerned, no matter what I do, no matter what choice, I can’t escape this nagging perpetual guilt. This sinking feeling that I’m fucking it all up, doing it all wrong. I’ve read so many blogs and articles over the years written by other parents who lament the never-ending shame cycle that we inflict on ourselves, regarding even the smallest parenting choices.
“Should I have let my two year old wear the rain boots to school? Am I stifling her creativity? Am I making her less confident in her own choices by controlling her?”
“Is she going to confuse my exhaustion for lameness?”
“Is she going to always like Andrew more than me because he is the fun one?”
“Am I a bad mother for attempting to have a successful career and parent at the same time? Should I be focusing more on home?”
I ask myself, how have I got this far in my life and my career and never once got stuck on concepts that seem to paralyze me now as a parent?
When I was pregnant the first time, I envisioned myself as a strong mother able to balance work and home life. I tried to manifest a future where I really could do it all. It never occurred to me was that one of my biggest obstacles would be my own limitations in the form of grace, patience and an unhealthy aversion to giving up control.
Today, I am a far cry from the twenty something who used to roll her hungover eyes at families at brunch or groan in audible disgust at moms wielding double-wide strollers across city sidewalks. But although age, time and motherhood has softened me, I still regard myself as a bit of a rebel mom and I try my best to parent a bit out of the spectrum when it comes to traditional gender roles and stereotypes. My daughter will find her identity on her own. Not through pink frilly dresses, baby dolls or other princess dreck forced upon her before she is old enough to understand what a belly button is. On the flip side, I try not to project too much of my tom-boyishness on her, often yielding to her desire to wear pink nail polish or her black dress shoes to school. But somehow I even begin to question that choice as well. Am I projecting too much?
Recently we found ourselves in a parenting conundrum. Our daughter’s full-time nanny (and not coincidentally my best friend), decided that as much as she loved being an “auntie” for these last two years, she really needs to refocus on her passions and find her way back to living her artistic career pursuits. Obviously we were all pretty bummed, but supportive of her decision, as we love her dearly and want her to achieve all of her goals. So what now?
At first, we decided that one year of daycare couldn’t possibly be that bad, at least until our daughter is old enough to attend a pre-pre-school program. I immediately started my search, touring and losing money in deposits for programs I thought would be right for her, but quickly realized otherwise. Being totally honest here, it was harder on all of us than we thought. Now by no means is this an anti-daycare post, as there are many fabulous centers out there that help children thrive. And for a lot of families, it is truly a lifesaver when you have a home/life dynamic that requires that the parent or parents both work full-time jobs.
But considering our daughters young age and how different the daily routine, it was obvious from the very start that this was no ideal situation. Here was a kid that was used to being the center of the universe, filled with hugs, tickles and kisses all day. Used to going for rides in her “Auntie’s” jeep to the beach, to pet farm animals, to play at the library. Suddenly this kid was confined to the same place all day with seven other toddlers. Without knowing a single person. Adaptation, as it turns out, is not one of her strong suits. So the guilt began. Morning drop offs resulted in tears all around. Asking about her day on the afternoon ride home would always yield the same answer.
“How was your day, bug?”
“I know you were crying babe. But I came back! Did you have fun with your friends?”
“No. I crying.”
Cue the arrow straight through my heart. Ouch. Guilt fucking city.
Then the behavior problems.
Now it’s truly hard to say that her behavior was a result of the change, considering she is at that prime asshole toddler age, but it was a pretty dramatic difference, pretty quickly. Sleeping problems, temper tantrums. Overall miserableness. Rough stuff.
And honestly, we wouldn’t have been sure of the root of it, but after we invited our daughter’s former nanny over for a day to hang with her, it was as though magic happy dust was sprinkled back on our kid and she was good again. The extra love and attention meant everything.
The real truth about daycare is that no matter how many bells and whistles, no matter how clean or how many stars they have on Yelp, they will never be a replacement for you. I know of many wonderful daycare providers who are great support systems for working families. Caregivers that wipe away tears and give extra snuggles throughout the day. Many of my working parent friends have caregivers like this and they have very much become like part of their family! Like how our “Auntie Sarah” was to us.
But I’m also aware of people who work in care centers, because it is a job and they like kids. Are they going to treat your children as their own? Meh. To that point, have you ever met more than one 19-year-old caregiver that was sweet, nurturing and not completely self-involved? I doubt it. They are like unicorns. And if you do find one of them, you grab on tight to that kid and pay the crap out of them for providing care for your child.
And now, even though we’ve found a wonderful care center and our daughter has finally adjusted nicely and made friends, I still feel this vacuous hole eating at me from the inside out.
What is that?
Now, do you want to hear the worst guilt nugget yet? The fucking crème de la crème of masochistic thoughts that plague me fairly regularly. With everyday that passes that our planet is in political, social and environmental upheaval, I feel more and more like an asshole for bringing children into this world. I can hardly stand the uncertainty of everything. And now I’ve got to look my kids in the face in a few years and keep my shit together, for them. To give them a chance to have a genuine and sweet childhood, free of worry. To inspire them to have dreams and instill in them the confidence to chase them.
That’s a tall order when I myself sometimes struggle to keep good thoughts. I guess I’ll just have to try to pull from the wellspring of optimism that I always seem to find in hard times. I just hope it’s infinite.
All things being equal, I guess feelings of guilt are just a small price I pay for having so many things in my life to care about and want to give my absolute best to. And honestly, I couldn’t imagine the alternative.