Thursday, March 29, 2007


Many of the blogs I've been reading lately have addressed the issue of "mother guilt" to some degree. We are all afraid that we're not good enough parents or that we are making too many mistakes or that we're allowing ourselves to be too human by reacting in anger or frustration sometimes, or simply by accepting conventional wisdom without doing exhaustive research before making decisions.

I am sure that for an entire generation of women, the fact that their physicians offered them a medication (thalidomide) to curb their horrible morning sickness seemed like a miracle. I am just as certain that as their children were born with horrible birth defects they were horrified and angry and felt incredible remorse for having taken this medication. They couldn't have known. We all make decisions with the implements we have in our toolboxes at the time. Every mother's toolbox is different and they all come with some unique characteristics. I have a friend who vowed to let her children "be children" above all because she is afraid they will grow up too soon. Another friend is convinced that the sooner she can help her children become independent the less likely they will be to rely on the "wrong" person to make them happy or solve their problems. Neither of these approaches is wrong. Both of these mothers is devoted to her children and only wants what is best for them. Neither of these women would ever knowingly put their child in an unsafe or traumatic situation. Unfortunately, we don't always have that choice.

Some of my most recent posts have illustrated a few very difficult, traumatic events in my childhood and while writing about them has been a very slow and painful process, it has also been cathartic. I grew up not feeling as though these incidents were terribly real or worth worrying about simply because we didn't talk about them in my family. Nor would my parents ever have considered airing them outside the family. Writing about them, talking about them, and turning them over in my mind has not only given me some validation that they were, indeed, real, but that it is perfectly okay for me to have felt intense sadness and anger about them. I have also realized that many of these events helped shape me into the person I am and gave me some of the traits of which I am most proud. I am independent and capable. I can mow the lawn, change the oil in my car, single-parent for weeks at a time if I have to and remain calm in a crisis.

I have also learned, having become a mother and having had time and distance between me and many of these events, that my parents are simply people. They are human beings who did the best with the tools they possessed at the time. I truly believe that neither of them wished me any harm and, were they given a chance to go back and do some things different, they would choose to do so. I cannot speak for my siblings, nor can I speak for any other relationships my parents had, with each other or other people. My struggle is simply different. I know in my heart that my mother and father love me right now, in this moment, for who I am and the person I have become because of or despite certain events in my childhood. There is no going back. Should I choose to include them in my life today, and I do, I must learn to accept that they are (and were) human beings with faults and neuroses and fears just like me. My purpose in writing these memories is to share them with others who may have felt the same way and to facilitate my own processing of them so that I can give them their proper due and no more. I will not come from a place of fear anymore, now that light has been shed on these shadows. I do not wish to judge or harm anyone else with my recollections and I am truly sorry if that occurs as a by-product.


Sarah said...


Jerri said...

You are a wise woman, Kari. Wise and loving.

Have you read the Slate series this week about writing memoir? Several good pieces on the impact our stories have on others. Google Slate and memoir, you'll get there with no problem.

You've got lots of tools in that there toolbox, Ma'am.

Kim said...

This mother guilt can be so tough, and your honesty, strength, and open heart are truly inspiring.

Prema said...

Yes, wisely said. It's obvious that you have done the 'adult' healing work - that you can accept your parents for being flawed and good all at once.

I see it as a step forward that our generation of mothers has a circle (or many) of other women to speak about these things in mothering that have previously been held in silence. May our children benefit from our on-going conversation.

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