The only kind of mama guilt that’s worse than what comes from people without kids is the kind that comes from people with kids.
Monkey J., my eldest has a potent guilt cocktail that is generally embedded in his DNA. He worries. He’s not anxious, per se. But it’s there. If you know him, you see how he is in many ways risk-averse. He watches. He tries new things in private only. He internalizes any correction, even the most benign, and often twists it into embarrassment.
He is my kid. He is his father’s kid.
Now, it’s not debilitating. He’s got great social skills and many friends at school (as much as toddlers can and do interact). He’s great at team sports. He’s helpful. He’s beloved by family, friends, parents of friends, and his teachers. He’s fine.
He hates it when his raw emotions get the best of him. When he is tired or frustrated or hungry, he loses his usually wierdly sophisticated coping mechanisms and gets all…two.
Sometimes he throws things. Not at people. Sometimes he bites his brother, hard, which horrifies me. And before you cluck your tongue and shake your head, I will thank you to know that we are working on it and the biting incidents seem to have passed us by, for the most part.
But he’s still a worrier. He curls up next to me at night after his nightmares. He grips my hand tightly in new situations for a moment while he assesses, then he runs his merry way. His face crinkles up in a glorious smile when I tell him how much I love him, how proud of him I am when he is helpful and kind, when he puts his all into something.
He confesses, in a small trembling voice, when he has burst into tears at school because of another kid who takes a puzzle from him or when a teacher (always gently) tells him that he can’t throw things except in the gym. He worries his teachers don’t like him after that sort of thing. He worries the kid who wants to take his puzzle doesn’t want to play with him.
He’s his own kid. He’ll worry or he won’t when he’s older. I know this. I know there’s only so much I can do. But it breaks my heart to see his little heart fret and worry before or after a situation. Especially because I know exactly how he feels.
I was confessing this to someone with kids, working it through, talking about how he seems to worry so much more than his brother does, or most toddlers I know.
“His biting is because you’re not giving him enough affection. Whenever I ask if he wants to be held, he runs into my arms.”
1 + 2 = tomato
The schooling continued. “Also, remember, when you were pregnant, J. was underneath the whole time. [The boys were stacked on atop the other rather than side-by-side]. He had to struggle for his place for nine months. Remember also that his little heart rate was all over the place when you went into pre-term labor. Sometimes the things that occur in utero affect a kid the rest of his life.”
So came the knee-jerk worry that I had that maybe if my pregnancy had been different…worse…it appears to some that I don’t show enough affection to my kids. It’s laughable, of course, as I always have one or both in my arms, on my lap, or in the ray of my beaming praise (or disciplining aura, whatever.) But there was that moment, that brief painful moment when I thought, “Maybe if I hadn’t done all these shows, he’s be a happier kid and his brother wouldn’t have ever been used as a chew toy.”
But the moment was brief.
It still lingers in a shadowy form.
I would have let it go entirely if it hadn’t come from my own mother.