Last week, Susan Sarandon’s daughter, Eva Amurri Martino, shared on her website Happily Eva After that her 10-week-old son suffered a head fracture. He hit his head on the hardwood floor after falling from the arms of his night nurse who had accidentally fallen asleep. Can you imagine how awful both mom and nurse must feel? Oh, the guilt!
Of course we all feel badly when something goes wrong with our kids. We all need to feel empathy, compassion and regret to be fully alive humans. But we also need to feel forgiveness.
To forgive ourselves (and others) and to move on is a challenge for many moms. We hold on to the pain and beat ourselves up for the mistakes and missteps we make in our parenting.
The famous quote by writer Haruki Murakami pertains well here. He said, “Pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional.” Think on that for a moment.
“To stay upset is a choice we make. We often choose to perpetuate our suffering.”
Yes, life will present situations that are painful to us. A dropped baby this week, to name but one. And yes, the response to that incident is to feel that psychological pain of guilt and remorse. However, to stay upset is a choice we make. We often choose to perpetuate our suffering. Why do we make this choice when it just makes us so damn miserable? Don’t we want to be relieved of our pain?
In a word, NO. Let’s look at why.
Here’s a comparison that might help explain the usefulness of our long suffering mommy guilt. Think of an old Italian funeral and their cultural mourning traditions. Did you know that Italian families used to pay professional mourners to cry and moan loudly at funerals? Why? Because the more upset the survivors are, the more one would conclude the deceased must have been so loved and important.
Widows would show their deep sadness by dressing only in black for a full year. After all, the longer it takes for you to resume regular activities, the deeper your sense of loss must have been and the stronger the respect for the person who died. Can you see how the mind connects these ideas of suffering and reverie?
So, if an accident happens with your child and you can’t get over it, and you continue to beat yourself up, then the conclusion must be that you are a very deeply caring, dedicated mommy. This suffering provides the proof of goodness. How high you hold the bar for yourself is reflected in just how badly you feel when you screw up.
It’s a bit messed up, isn’t it?
“We have to challenge our thinking habits that have defaulted to choosing guilt and suffering and instead, open our eyes to other possibilities.”
Now understand that this is all happening at a subconscious level. Perhaps now that I have spelled it out for you, you’ll see lingering guilt for what it really is: a form of self-aggrandizing. Ewww! No one wants to be THAT mom.
We need a cultural norm like the Italians. Some scale that says it’s societally appropriate to feel bad about accidentally hitting your kid’s head for exactly one week, then get on with life. A forgotten lunch box is a lesser misdemeanour, so how about letting yourself feel shitty for just five minutes. Wouldn’t it be great to do our time and move on without anyone comparing us or making mental notes of how hard or easily we breezed through?
All kidding aside, the reality is that we all have a choice to make. With fresh eyes, we have to challenge our thinking habits that have defaulted to choosing guilt and suffering and instead, open our eyes to other possibilities. We can make alternate choices. We can choose feelings that lead to less misery in our life – forgiveness. We can trust ourselves to learn from our past mistakes and accidents without paying the price with our happiness.
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