In a few weeks I am going to lead a little workshop called Guilt-free Coffee Hour. It’s an idea I came up with over a year ago when I suddenly realized the weight that guilt had on my life. I was talking on the phone with my sister, catching up on things, and caught myself holding back. I wanted to tell her that I had taken my kids to White Water, so that we could look forward to going together the following summer. But I didn’t want her to be upset that I went while she didn’t. See, I’m a stay at home mom in a small town whereas my sister is a working mom who does the Atlanta commute. While I hesitated, I decided to just get it all out – my update, but also the guilt that I had because I get to have summer fun while my sister is stuck inside an office building while her son is in daycare. Surprisingly, she laughed. She told me how much she loves her job. She said she loves her son, and while she would love more than a two day weekend with him, she is also happy on Mondays to get back to work because taking care of toddler people is a demanding labor of love! I was so relieved to hear her response. She admitted she’d rather have some time at a pool, too, but that she certainly did want to hear my updates. Of course we have different updates; we have different lives. But that one conversation allowed me to untangle the web of guilt that almost kept me from a really nice phone call with my big sister.
Although my personal perspective is thirty-nine year old mom of two kids, I know that guilt plays a part in almost everyone’s lives. Imagine the family that sends grandma to the Memory Care Facility. That’s not an easy decision and even when it is clear that your loved one needs full time care, it’s easy to feel guilty that you don’t spend enough time there. I have friends and family who experienced this transition, so did my dad. Life has a tinge of bitterness when guilt rests heavily on your shoulders. What if you can, like a cartoon character brushing the devil off of his shoulder, brush the guilt to the side? Will you have more enjoyment in your afternoon and breathe easier with unburdened shoulders? That is my hope!
Sometimes guilt pops up as “I should be doing xyz.” I spent a solid six years experiencing this. As a stay at home mom, my kids went to preschool for three hours a day. Most working people would say, “Man, I’d love to have a three hour break to myself.” And I could literally feel these thoughts from others. (And probably heard or read them in some way, shape, or form.) So for me, even when I knew that I had to haul ass at 11:30 a.m. to go pick up my kids and spend the next eight hours with balls to the walls spills, tantrums, feedings, and diapering, I still felt it was difficult to give myself my lunch hour break from 9:00-10:00. A double showing of a sitcom for me was the perfect “lunch break” but if I sat on the sofa at 9:30 a.m., the back of my mind perpetually said I should be doing the laundry. I should be washing the dishes. I should clear off the kitchen island. Now that my littlest is in Kindergarten, I can already shake my head and think, that was silly! Why didn’t I take advantage of that?! But it is hard to enjoy yourself when guilt keeps smacking you in the face.
I know adults aren’t the only ones impacted by guilt. As an assistant teacher one year, I opened the car door for a young student who seemed to be crying. I checked on her and she told me that (as a kid with divorced parents) she missed her dad. And she added she felt like she couldn’t say that in front of her mom because she was afraid she would hurt her mom’s feelings. Oh, sweet girl! My heart cracked a little that morning.
Guilt isn’t always deep and burdensome like are you showing enough love evenly to each family member. Sometimes it’s the small stuff. And repetitive stuff. I have a lady who comes to clean my house two times per month. God, I feel so bad that I pay money to have someone vacuum my house!! But what those two ladies can do in three hours would take me four hours for four consecutive days! It was a family decision and I have to remind myself that this is something that works for us right now. Meanwhile I want my kids to grow up cleaning up after themselves and having a work ethic. I make them clean their bathrooms every Sunday (when I remember) and I downplay the role of the cleaning lady. I say, “Ms. V. is coming tomorrow to vacuum and mop, so be sure to pick up all your clothes and toys.” Ms. V does much more than vacuum and mop, but I don’t want my girls to get the idea that we don’t take care of our own house.
Every now and then I’ll even be having a nice time at a girls’ night and then glance at my watch and think I should get home to the hubs! But that really doesn’t make any sense to succumb to that guilt because if it is girls’ night he is most likely binge watching one of his favorite shows.
It’s a sneaky thing, that guilt. It’s a fun-sucker. It tries to take you away from a good time or tries to control your thoughts, just when you were feeling nice and peaceful. There will always be some bit of guilt floating around in my life, but I’m gonna try to be that Jerry Mouse that remembers occasionally to brush the devilish guilt off my shoulder and leave the angelic, peaceful Jerry Mouse resting happily on the other guilt-free shoulder.