I experienced my first official bought of Mom Guilt today. I found out I went for a blood draw on a screening test two days too late. The lab now won’t run the test, so we will never know the results of this particular screening. I was devastated. I am responsible for this little one’s wellbeing – she’s still a fetus after all – and I let her down. For years, people have told me that Mom Guilt changes everything. That I won’t be able to live my life the same way. That it will color the lens of every choice I make.
Well, after today, I can say this: Mom Guilt seems to be the exact same guilt as I’ve experienced in every other area of my life, with the only differentiator being that I am feeling it because of my experience as a mother.*
Shocking, I know, but guilt is actually a universal human emotion. Dads feel it. Non-parents feel it. Single people feel it. Children feel it. People feel guilty when they let others down. In many cases, they feel guilty when they let themselves down. In fact, psychologically speaking, guilt is extremely healthy. There is a word for people who don’t feel guilt: sociopaths.
The fact we have a name for the guilt of parenting points to a larger epidemic in our culture. For whatever reason, we’ve convinced ourselves that only those who share our experience can share our emotions. We think, “You wouldn’t understand. You’ve never been through this.”
Empathy does not require a shared experience. It is the ability to say, “No, I’ve never gone through that. But, it sounds like you’re feeling (insert emotion here). I can relate to that. I’ve felt that way, too. I can use my experience with this emotion to try to imagine how you feel.” Is that just the craziest idea?
On the receiving end, we are quick to say, “It’s not the same.” When someone does their best to understand you based on the limited capacity any person can ever have to understand another person, please, encourage the behavior! The door just opened to a conversation where you can connect with someone. Walk through the door.
The yoga and meditation practice invites us to truly get to know our emotional landscape. Rather than letting this be a self-serving experience, this type of study can invite true connection with other people. Once we invite this connection, we may stop seeking out friendships only with those who most closely share our lifestyle, priorities, or background. We can find ways to relate and care about people who are – on the surface – very different from ourselves. We may even extend a hand across political parties, religions, races, and creeds, recognizing that everyone is a potential ally. This is the true meaning of “Namaste.” Not that we only recognize others as good, but that we recognize them as allies on our path toward our best selves, we trust them as confidants, and we allow them to lead us as much as we aim to lead.
Today is the first and last day you’ll ever hear me use the phrase “Mom Guilt.” I feel no need to qualify or separate the emotion I’m feeling so only a small percentage of people are allowed to speak on it. I invite anyone into the conversation about guilt. We all know it well.
*And for those of who who haven’t yet gotten the word, yes, I’m 21 weeks pregnant. Last night, Reid asked me when I was going to write about being pregnant. He said, “You were so open about infertility. Don’t you think it’s disingenuous to not talk about this pregnancy at all?” At some point, I will speak to how pregnancy fits into the larger narrative of my life. For now, I will say I’m carrying what appears to be a healthy, albeit very opinionated, daughter.