Guilty Until Proven Innocent

When you become a parent no one tells you about the immense amount of guilt involved. You hear about the love, the sleepless nights, the worry (which is sort of related), the pride…but the guilt isn’t talked about.

The guilt starts early, before the baby is even born (especially if you’re the mom carrying the baby). Did you just eat that?! That could harm the baby! Omg you thought about having a glass of wine? Are you NUTS? Sex while pregnant? You just damaged your fetus’s delicate psyche somehow. You’ll regret that C-section forever, should have had a natural birth.

And after the baby is born and in your care 24/7?! Ooooh boy. That’s when the real fun starts! Breast vs bottle, circumcision or not, cosleeping, when to start what foods, what diapers you use and if they’re not cloth you’re killing the earth, medicine or not, when should you call the doctor…why didn’t you call them sooner?! On and on and on you second guess EVERY decision and regardless of how it turns out, you feel guilty about it somehow at some point. And in the age of social media, it’s an all out war on who can be the best parent and basically article after article (or message board post) how you’re failing miserably. Clearly you shouldn’t even BE a parent…what the hell were you thinking?! You’re ruining a perfectly good human by trying your best.

When my son was about 10 months old, I made up my mind to seek a divorce after months of soul searching and trying to make things work. I had been married just over 2 years and we had been together for almost 7. I had always envisioned that “perfect life” with a nice house, a kid or two, a husband, living happily ever after. Divorce was never something I planned on (like it ever is) and being a single mom was definitely not on my bucket list. The guilt I felt for doing what I felt was the right decision for me (and therefore ultimately my son) was soul-crushing. The words from his father assuring me it would be completely my fault for “ruining our son’s life” made it even worse, as did the stinging questions from well-meaning family and friends asking if I thought about how it would affect my son…as if he wasn’t on the forefront of every decision I made the last year and a half since I knew he existed inside of me. I shrank inside myself with the weight of the guilt, but I continued with my decision believing it was what was best (and I still whole-heartedly believe it).

Rewind for a sec and I realize that for my entire life leading up to that pivotal moment I had made big decisions based on everyone but me. I was a bystander in my own life letting others dictate it for me because I had no sense of who I truly was, no self-compassion, or trust. Ultimately, it caught up to me. I dated some people based on how I thought it would make others feel (like if my parents would like them), or because I didn’t want the other person to feel bad if I turned them down. And who was I to turn anyone down?? I thought I should take whatever I could get. Unfortunately the idea that I wasn’t good enough had been reinforced by many people over many years and I believed it. But finally, albeit at a very inopportune time in my life, I broke free of that cycle and realized that if I wanted the most important person in my life to grow up happy and healthy, I needed to look after and love myself first in order to teach him the same.

It’s been rocky learning to love myself. I’m writing this post today because I am overwhelmed with feeling guilty about missing out on time with my son. In the last month, I haven’t been as present as I would like due to surgeries, healing, treatments, and appointments. His dad has had him at his house full time (we usually split custody 50/50 and trade every other week). I’ve had a few overnights and days with him, but I feel like I’ve missed so much. He lost a tooth this weekend and forgot to tell me until I saw him. He started first grade a month ago and I didn’t even know schools were closed today and tomorrow. I haven’t met his teacher. I haven’t packed his lunch or given him a bath or made him dinner more than 3 times in the last month. I feel like a really close family friend, completely out of the loop of my own son’s life, and the guilt is killing me. I feel like a complete failure as a mother because I’m not there like I feel I should be.

I know I had no control over this disease happening to me; I didn’t wake up one day and stretch and say “welp, feels like a good day for cancer!” I know that I’m doing the best I can for myself so both of us have the benefit of my life being as long and healthy as possible. And I know kids are resilient and learn well when we’re willing to teach them (and I’m all about teachable moments). But this time the guilt is dragging me down like a rock tied to my ankle in the middle of a lake and I’m not quite sure how to let that weight go right now.

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