Friday, March 04, 2011

Seven Things I Refuse to Feel Guilty About As a Parent

A Facebook friend posted a note with a list of things about which she refuses to feel parental guilt (see--I got the grammar right in the sentence even though it ain't right in the title of the post!). Evidently this week is Guilt-Free Parenting Week, who knew?

So I thought about it and came up with a list myself. And came up with seven things pretty quickly. Here they are!

I refuse to feel guilty about my c-sections.

Even the third one, which was arguably the one I should have tried VBAC with. My babies are here and safe and I'm thankful for the technology and doctors and nurses who made that possible. I also refuse to accept pity about my c-sections. Nobody's ever really tried to make me feel guilty about them (that I've noticed), but I do get some people who assume I feel guilt over them and express pity for me. I appreciate that they are trying to be kind and offer me comfort, but really, I'm totally fine.

I refuse to feel guilty about eating peanuts when I was pregnant with and breastfeeding Ryan.

One of the first things I saw on the internet after the Big Peanut Kaboom is that eating peanuts during pregnancy causes peanut allergy. Guess what I ate quite a bit of during that pregnancy? :( It was uncharacteristic, too, because while I've always liked peanut butter, it wasn't something I ate much of--until I got pregnant with Ryan.

Since that time, the research has shown that it doesn't matter if you eat the allergens during pregnancy. Then they flip-flopped back toward "it does matter," and as far as I know they're back to "it doesn't matter." All of the flip-flopping is reassuring--nobody really knows what causes food allergies. There's lots of correlations and indicators, but there isn't really a known cause. As far as breastfeeding, there's a lot more evidence to suggest that allergens can be present in breastmilk--but at the time I just didn't know.

At first I did feel tremendous guilt over this. Even if it was an error, it was an error of knowledge, not morality. And reading the nasty things that people wrote on the internet made it worse. Over time, I was able to put that guilt aside and I will never own that particular guilt again.

I refuse to feel guilty for being a proud, unapologetic homeschooler.

Upon learning that we intended to keep our (then only) child out of school, one of my friends was very upset with me. I tried at that time (and probably failed) to explain that this decision is not because I hate teachers or wish that every school would disappear off of the face of the earth. For a long time, I was overly careful to make sure that people knew that our decision to homeschool was "nothing personal." That was wrong, and I do not do that any more.

I respect everyone's right to choose the right kind of education for their children, and if that is a school, then go for it. I think there are many, many inherent problems with most institutionalized schooling (government schools and private schools), but I don't hate teachers and I don't think it's necessarily a horrible thing to send a kid to school. I don't think everyone in the whole world should want to be a homeschooler, and I certainly don't think that there is an altruistic duty to homeschool if you don't want to.

But I am proud of the fact that my kids are not cogs in the education system. And if I have my way, they never will be until and unless they make the decision to go to a school themselves. I am proud to homeschool and I am 110% confident that my husband and I are better teachers for them than any they would have in school. There is no doubt in my mind that they will receive a better education at home than they'd get from schools. Of all of the decisions we've made as parents, this was one of the easiest to make, and one from which we've never looked back.

I refuse to feel guilty for pursuing my own values inside and outside the home.

Sometimes during the homeschool day, I am off doing my own thing. We have a very laid-back homeschooling situation around here and part of the reason it's set up that way is so that I can have time to pursue my own values: writing here on the blog, talking to other parents online, talking to non-parents online (hello, Twitter!), knitting, hanging out with friends, etc. "After hours" (when Brendan gets home from work), I go to CrossFit, podcast with Kelly, go to dinners with other moms sometimes, and even, yes, go to the grocery store all by myself.

From a very young age--and by this, I mean from about 12 months old or so--each of my kids has learned that Mommy has Work. "Not right now, I'm doing my work." is something they hear me say. Frequently. Of course, sometimes my work is reading them a story or helping with a math issue or turning on a movie or helping people resolve a conflict or working around the house with them. THEY are my work, too. And that work really does constitute a goodly portion of my time, as it should.

But I have also Only Mommy Work, and I do it, as best I can, even with a toddler in my lap or with a nursing baby.

This is good both for me and for them. It's good for me because I need to work on some non-Mommy stuff in order to feel like I'm Jenn. When I feel like Jenn (and Mommy is a part of Jenn), then I'm a better Mommy. When I feel like Mommy, I'm not as good of a parent--I'm drained and terse and stressed. I need to be Jenn as much as possible. We're all much happier when I am.

It's good for them because it helps kids to see adults pursing productive work and optional values. It's a window into what their lives will be like as adults. It helps them see me as a person (aka "Jenn") and not merely as a milk-producing meal-providing question-answering minivan-driving problem-managing servant. It gives them opportunities to be physically and mentally apart from me and practice pursuing their values on their own (independence!). Each of my kids, even the 2.5 year old, spends a significant part of each day away from me doing their own things. And that, is a Good Thing. Many Good Things.

I refuse to feel guilty about letting them use swear words.

Yes, we let them say bad words. REALLY bad words. Why? Well, sometimes a situation just calls for a colorful metaphor. And I don't believe in double-standards for language: why is it okay for an adult to say something but somehow magically wrong for a child to say the same thing? And I'm not willing to give up my usage of those words. Because, as I said, sometimes they are really necessary.

They are, for me, something of a stress-reliever. My dad can swear just as much as the dad from A Christmas Story, and more creatively and amusingly, too. So blame him (or the Navy, where he claims he learned to swear, though I suspect my grandfather is implicated, too).

Do I swear all the time? No, not really. Do the kids swear all the time? This may surprise you, but no, not really. Sometimes they do, but they really don't have potty mouths. This is a freedom that they use very responsibly. (In my experience, kids often use freedoms responsibly, so why not give them a chance? If they prove unable to handle the responsibility, then and only then should a limit be set.)

We've explained to them that these are very rude words and that it's really impolite to shout them in public or say them to a stranger. In general, we don't want to be rude to strangers, so swear words are not appropriate. They can say them at home or in the car as much as they want. And they abide by this standard (and after all, it's the same swearing standard I have for myself).

Besides, it's really really amusing. :D

I refuse to feel guilty about telling them the truth about Santa, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny.

We decided from the first pregnancy not to lie to our kids about Santa Claus. Here was my thought process:

What are the purposes of telling kids Santa is real?
To get them excited for Christmas!
Dude. Christmas is pretty exciting already. Next?
To get them to behave.
That seems really manipulative (this was before I'd discovered PD), and also, what about the other 11 months out of the year? What do you do then? Nope. What's next?
So they can experience the "magic of childhood."
Okay, childhood's pretty exciting and wonderful, discovering the world and all. I think that they will experience that wonderment outside of Santa. Also, we plan to tell the kids that magic is not real. Do we make an exception for Santa? No? Okay. Anything else?
It's SO cute to see a kid get all excited about Santa!
Well, yeah, kinda. But I'd feel terribly guilty about lying to my children just so I can watch them being cute. I think lying is wrong, and it seems particularly wrong to lie to someone (whom I really want to trust me) merely for my own amusement. And probably they will be pretty cute and excited on Christmas anyway.

Hence, no Santa. Don't get me wrong--I LOVE Santa and we talk about him and pretend him and read A Visit from St. Nick and sing songs about him. But we never, ever tell him he's real.

Bonus Non-Guilt: Not agreeing to lie to other people's children about Santa, even when my kids have accidentally spilled the beans.

I refuse to feel guilty about letting them use media (computer, television, iPhone) freely.

Some contend that letting kids use computers or watch television before a certain age (some say 3, some say 7) will harm their developing brains. I suppose that letting them be a complete space cadet couch potato for hours on end will do more harm than good. That's not how my kids watch tv or play on the computer though.

When they choose something, they are engaged in it. (See my recent Blue's Clues post for an example.) Morgan taught herself to read before the age of three by playing Starfall. Ryan used Starfall, too (he was almost six). Sean does Starfall now, and knows all of the letters and their sounds.

I don't think it's media per se, but rather the kind of media, and possibly parental unawareness. If they sat in front of Carebears or some other insipid animated crap for 8 hours a day, then I wouldn't be able to stand it, and I think they could certainly doing something more intellectually enriching with their time and energy. Then again, I wouldn't allow something like that to happen. I'd step in and set a limit.

And speaking of limits, none of my kids have external, adult-imposed time limits on television or computer at this time (Carebears, thankfully, was a passing phase). There are some content limits (no, Ryan, you may not watch Dexter with us!), but even those are relatively few and negotiable (Ryan watched the first episode of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer with us last night, a limit-setting story in and of itself). But time limits--not a problem. Some days we watch tons of movies; most days we don't turn the projector on. Some days Morgan and Sean spend a long time on their computers (they each have one); some days they don't. (Ryan is not much of a computer user.)

When and if the time they spend on media seems to interfere with other aspects of their (and our) lives, if they seem unwilling or unable to participate in non-media activities such as hiking or cleaning the house (heh), then and only then will we talk about limits. Again, this has not been an issue for our family (very much like the swearing thing above). Will let you know if it becomes an issue and how we handle it.

So those are the first seven things I thought of. Probably there are more parenting decisions I could list. One of the things I've struggled with over my life is my tendency to accept unearned guilt--to feel guilty for errors that were not truly mine, or for honest mistakes (such as the peanut thing, which is not even truly a mistake).

And parenting decisions are the hardest for me not to feel unearned guilt over. Somebody else made a different decision! That must mean I'm doing it wrong! (But that's being second-handed.) I made an honest mistake! I'm a horrible person! (That's not having a healthy sense of pride and self-esteem.)

And sometimes it's hard not to accept responsibility for other people's emotions over my decisions. When my friend got defensive about our decision to homeschool, I took responsibility for her emotions for quite a while until I realized that A.) it's okay to be proud of my decision even if it makes her mad, and B.) her emotions are hers, not mine. I was able to step out of the situation a bit and get a grip. But that's hard for me to do sometimes, still.

It's precisely because I still struggle with this that I wanted to write this post. And I'm glad I did! If you care to do a similar list, I'd love to read it. Leave the list or a link to yours in the comments. :D


Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

Interesting list. Since it seems to be "The Refusal of Parental Guilt Week, as the parent of an adult daughter I would say that I refuse to feel guilty about raising my daughter to think for herself, even when I am not impressed by some of her decisions. After all, I cannot expect a 25 year-old to think like a 50 year old, and that might even be counterproductive to her happiness.

I was taken aback by the refusal to feel guilty about a C-Section or even to be pitied for having one. Maybe it's my generation, but I just don't get it. Isn't the whole point to end up with healthy baby and mother? Why on earth should a mother be pitied for doing the best she can for herself and her infant? These are real questions, Jenn. Maybe in my Aspie tendencies, I am overlooking something.

Jenn Casey said...

Heh, your remark makes me think of another one--I refuse to feel guilty about encouraging my children to express themselves honestly. Even when that backfires on me. :)

And I am sure I will experience the same as my kids get older, that they will make decisions I don't agree with. Or hate. :/

The c-section thing is one of those "mommy wars" hot button issues. It comes up from time to time. The VBAC thing is especially an issue...some docs/hospitals/states (GA) don't want women to try for VBAC and that's bad. But sometimes it's also seen as bad if the mom doesn't want to try for VBAC (which I didn't for good reasons, I think).

Also I know some moms feel guilty about how their births went because they feel as if they'd made bad choices. I hate that for them and wish them peace with what happened.

I really do think natural birth is the way to go, ideal for everyone, all things being equal. When there's a medical need for more intervention, then by all means, intervene!

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

Thanks, Jenn.

I stayed out of the "mommy wars" as much as possible because it seemed to me that it was wrong to make snap judgments about the decisions of others without all of the facts.

I have had numerous pregnancies that did not come to term for various reasons, and also two live births. The first was natural childbirth at home with a midwife. The second was planned to be the same but because of complications two weeks prior to delivery it ended up being an induced hospital birth with several interventions. I thought I did the best I could in both situations, and was delighted in the arrival of both children. Would I have preferred an uncomplicated birth the second time? Sure. An uncomplicated birth is less painful and less stressful. Am I happy with my decisions about my son's birth? Yes. He got here healthy and screaming and pinked up right away. I was not entirely happy about how I was treated by the hospital staff at certain points, but I did the right thing there and made some formal complaints later that resulted in some staff and policy changes. Still, overall, in my mind it is all about getting a child into the world with the best start possible under varying circumstances.

As for V-BAC, there should be no dogma. It is likely right for some mothers and not right for others because of individual differences.

Dawn said...

Speaking of mommy wars, one parenting decision that I do not feel guilty about (anymore) is the fact that I didn't really breastfeed my son. I wanted to breastfeed him. I planned to breastfeed him. However, I couldn't produce milk. I tried everything that I could to breastfeed him, but it just didn't happen. I consulted with MANY lactation experts, my doctor, his doctor, a nurse practioner/midwife, all to no avail. I pumped and pumped and pumped. I even resorted to taking a medication that is supposed to help you produce milk (and it did help a little), but it made me crazy. In the end, my son got a very little bit of milk from me but was a formula-fed baby. This is something that I did feel guilty about at the time (unfortunately), but the comments and "advice" I received from other mothers was sometimes very vitriolic. I am expecting my daughter in a couple of weeks, and I will try to breastfeed her as well. However, if it doesn't work out, then so be it.

Annie said...

More power to you!

Truthfully, I don't agree with all your choices. Several of them, yes. All of them, no.

But, I respect your right to parent differently than I do. There is no perfect parenting. It simply doesn't exist. So, no one has the corner on the market. (Including me.)

And we all need a whole heck of a lot less guilt. There is simply so many better ways to spend our energies!

Ansley said...

This is very inspiring! And refreshing! I'm going to make my own list, and maybe turn it into an exercise I do every once in a while to help me deal with those things I needlessly worry about.

HaynesBE said...

Great post Jenn!
I am trying very hard not to feel guilty for not knowing now what I wish I had known then...mostly I succeed.

Dawn--you are not alone. Sometimes it just plain doesn't work. I tried really hard with both my kids, and my milk just never came in. It was a really tough time, but thank goodness I had great and wise support.

Anonymous said...

For the 48% of the population that can't experience childbirth, might it be worthwhile to define VBAC?

C. August said...

@Anon, I believe VBAC stands for "Very Bad Ass Childbirth." It makes giving birth even that much more awesome.

Scott Connery said...

I feel the exact same way about Santa Claus. Way to stick to your guns on the issue.

hot mamma said...

I have found some of the comments about VBAC rather interesting, because I have had two c sections and like you I refuse to feel guilty about that. With my first I had to have a c section and when I first got pregnant with my second that was the first thing I asked about. The doctor told me that f I wanted to try a natural birth we could try it, but that they prefer not to because once you have had a c section a natural birth puts both the mother and the baby at a higher risk. I will never feel guilty for not putting myself and my second child at a greater risk than neccessary and I do not think I should feel guilty for that.