The era of the dragon mother is gone, when children were mice that tried not to get under her feet and grew cat whiskers only when she was well out of their way. Today, democracy has entered the home. And like any territory that is freed of dictatorship suddenly, the democratic home is also struggling to find its balance. In homes where communication is a two-way street, it works. Questions are asked and answered, territories are marked out and rules are laid down for all parties. Aberrations, when they occur, are dealt with using the same arsenal of communication and tempered discipline.
But in other scenarios, mothers are mothers in so far as they have given birth and tended the squealing, squalling little one to an age when he or she can talk, think and ask questions. If the mother is not equipped to stand her ground after this point, there is quicksand ahead!
Mothers who do not get due respect from fathers; mothers who take on multiple roles or were working before they became moms; mothers who suffer an inferiority complex due to their lack of certain skills are all easy prey. The quicksand waits to suck them right in. And their self-esteem is the first to drown, followed by discipline, health, and finally family peace.
That said, we shall not go into scenarios. We will address instead the guilt that mothers—however loving, however conscientious—feel. True, all moms live with guilt, it is rubbed into them by society, by the caveman rules that say a woman tends the home and cooks and feeds, while the man hunts, and has his fun!
But some moms feel more guilt than others, for a variety of reasons, some of which are justified. Most are not. Here are some of the latter. And hopefully, it will ease some of the burden that centuries of conditioning implanted in your genes have imposed on your psyche.
No guilt please for working
It is the right of every individual to choose to work. Especially if one is educated, and has used a seat in an educational institution that could have gone to someone more needy or more deserving of it. Then it‘s a moral duty to give back to the society of that knowledge.
Going out to work increases not just the family kitty, it enlarges the mind space, and expands the horizon. It gives a mother a reference point and perspective to view her home differently. And if she does not feel guilt but instils the pride of being a working mother in her children, they grow in perspective too. It is a delicate balancing act to be a working mother, and there are sacrifices involved. But there is no room for guilt.
No guilt please for not working, either
There is no right way or wrong way. Every choice is individual and right. So if you are a stay-at-home mom and choose to manage your home and children full time, feel not the need to say sorry for it. Especially when you meet other moms who have highflying careers, or are doing ‘amazing’ things. The world over, women choose to be full time home people and some give up glittering careers for it. Remember, being a home manager does not mean you are idle, or dull, or ill-informed. All information and interface is possible should you wish it... And you should. Never ever apologise to your family for being ‘ just a housewife’. Because there is no such thing.
No guilt for ‘me time’
I remember when I got a chance to join a production by the Indian People’s Theatre Association. The rehearsals were in Juhu, my office was at CST, and my home in the far end of the Eastern suburbs. Colleagues, friends and older women would look accusingly at me when I talked to them about the fun I was having being part of a production, as the stage had been a thwarted dream till then. How could I leave my son alone for so long, from morning till 10pm, which is when I would finally return? How could I deprive him of my company?
Strangely, it did not make me guilty. I knew my son was secure, my parents were around, and when I did return, we would have a lot of fun enacting our own version of theatre. Perhaps most mothers will see me as unfeeling or a strange kind of mother. I, however, read the wistfulness or envy in the voices and eyes of those who accused me, and thought it better not to build resentment for what being a mother held me back from, and let the dream fulfil itself.
‘Me time’ is important. It revitalises the mind, helps bring balance to one’s routine and brings in a fragrance all its own. So, whether it be a spa weekend, the movie outings, or a hobby group, make time for it. And feel no guilt, moms have a life too! Separate from their kids.
No guilt for saying No
Moms feel guilt, even fear about articulating the word NO. From a generation of moms whose buzz word was the two letter word, moms have evolved into creatures who believe No is a bad word that will swiftly alienate their children from them.
No is a powerful word. It is not a weapon, but a discipline tool that needs to be used with discretion and whenever necessary.
So, it is no to alcohol except under supervision, if at all. It is no to bad behaviour, abusive language, especially with elders and younger kids, it is no to treats if punishment is due for breaking the rules of good conduct.
Saying No does not alienate children. It gives them boundaries, it tells them that wrong can be punished. It is an indicator of the world outside where No is more common than Yes. Mothers who feel guilt over using No, are guilty of spoiling their children, of letting them grow up in a fool’s world that ill prepares them for the reality outside.
And lastly, no guilt on spending money on self
I once travelled with a colleague, who drooled and sighed over shopping to pass on and spend her money on something for her daughter instead. She ended up buying six dresses, and a whole lot of treats for her, and nothing, not even a discounted top for herself. The reason: guilt, disguised as love. Guilt over being away on a trip overseas, even if it was a working trip; guilt over leaving her daughter behind, guilt over spending money on buying herself something when she was being a ‘bad mommy’.
Hmm, I could see her point, but only up to a point. Surely, deprivation or self flagellation does not bring the daughter closer. Some things, like travel on work, are necessary; might as well enjoy the fringe benefits that free time on tours gives you. Guilt spoils it all for everybody.
Guilt, dear mamas, is something best wrapped away in plastic, and buried in the soil, so it will slowly suffocate and die away. Needless conditioned guilt, is something families will be healthier without. So dump it!
A version of this was first published in the May 2013 issue of Complete Wellbeing.
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