A couple of days ago I hopped into the middle of a conversation on Twitter where Slouchy was apologizing for being insensitive. After a few clicks, I realized that the tweet was in reference to a few reactions to her tweet about a breastfeeding study that had just been released.
"I may be prouder of breastfeeding my kids until they were 20 and 14 months, respectively, than of anything else. esp. after latest study."
A few people responded (which prompted the apology tweet that caught my eye):
*(In reply to @suefisher - who tweeted in reply to Slouchy but locks her tweets): "@ewiller: Hey. Thanks for speaking up. It makes/made me feel small too."
Slouchy made no comments about people who couldn't breastfeed or didn't breastfeed. She just mentioned the study and how it felt good to have her experiences (and as I tweeted, the sacrificial deflated boobs) validated.
The truth is that we could probably all find research studies to support some (maybe all) of our parenting choices, some of which were completely out of our control. And really, if we lived by what the research studies said, then we'd probably drive ourselves crazy, or better, find ourselves as participants in our own kind of research study.
It's no surprise that breastfeeding is a huge cause of guilt for many mothers, but not the only one. Devra Renner and Aviva Pflock's widely-read book on the topic of Mommy Guilt makes that perfectly clear.
In fact, a survey of over 1300 moms discussed in the book found that 96% feel guilty about some aspect of parenting.
There are more than enough choices that will make us feel guilty during our long mothering career. But yet, it seems, that at a certain point in time, many moms get over it. Sure, there are still tinges of guilt, perhaps brought on by tweeted research studies, or that playgroup mom and her bilingual child, or a blogger you read who writes a post about food assholes and reminds you that you're over it.
But I have found that you reach a point where you can listen to your friend talk about her handmade dresses and not go home and Google local sewing classes, and you can sniff that homemade bread and still pick up the store bought one in the bag without batting an eyelash.
And you can listen to a mom talk about how long she breastfed her kids and not feel obligated to explain why you only went for six months, or one year, or hell, not at all.
Regardless of how adapted you are to mothering, I'd say most, if not all, moms have their hot button issues. The one, two, or bunch of things that makes us look at ourselves and say "Damn."
The one thing that makes us feel like crap when we hear it, even if a person isn't rubbing it in - they're just talking about their own experiences. Nothing more. Nothing less.
And that's really what it comes down to, isn't it? It's not the poor person who proudly tweeted, or the mom and her pretty damn good homemade bread. It's our own inability to give ourselves permission to believe in our own choices (or get over our stupid bodies who didn't cooperate how we thought they should), and plant our feet in the mud of our own mothering livelihood and not regret it.
There is, at some point, a time when we need to tell ourselves that we did what we had to do. Sometimes we could have made better choices. Sometimes we still make them.
But our children are the sum of a whole hell of a lot of parts. And not the few times you had to put the television on as a babysitter. Or when you knowingly fed them hot dogs and french fries for dinner without a vegetable. Or because you couldn't breastfeed them. Or had that c-section you really didn't want.
Or even when you acted like a complete and utter fool, yelling at the top of your lungs at your kid because you were trying to put breastmilk in her eye.
I appreciate the work of women and mothers who work to further the cause for best choices for babies, be it natural childbirths, breastfeeding, organic foods - the list goes on. But I also know that many of these movements don't help in alleviating the enormous guilt that many moms who did not make these choices and/or were not able to make these choices feel.
Holding onto the guilt will eat you from the inside out.
From where I stand, we need to be more attentive at giving absolution to our friends and fellow moms when they need it. Sometimes just a smile, or "it's okay," or "I bet it won't affect their chances of getting into Harvard," can kick the crap out of the guilt that a mom would have carried with her for a really long time.
Truth is, the guilt we carry with our parenting choices hurt us more than they probably ever "hurt" our kids.
*[Edited: The tweet quoted above marked "@ewiller" is a public tweet by @ewiller. I used the "@" symbol to show that it was a twitter handle and mentioned @suefisher to provide context that the tweet I was quoting was a reply (from @ewiller) to someone else (to @suefisher).
So really, the only person that should be pissed at me is Emma. (Ha!). But based on her comment below, she's not (Thanks for being a good sport, Emma!).
I did want to mention Emma's follow-up tweet, which I was searching for, which was really an impetus for discussing how research studies about this stuff can bring on the guilt for moms:
"No, it's not at all personal [to @slouchy]l. I didn't mean it like that. Just any talk about studies like that, and I have the guilts again."]