Becoming Mother

A book and a blog for first-time mothers

Tag: blame

Yeah, I’m a Selfish Mother: A Response to a Reader

Reader Comment

I’ve recently been called “selfish” by one of my readers for having taken my child to daycare while he had diarrhea.

Selfish.

It’s a heavy, knife-twisting word for women.

There’s nothing worse than a selfish woman.

Except a selfish mother.

SELFISH red stamp text

How dare I take my child to daycare while he had diarrhea?

I dared because there were three viruses going around in his classroom and every child had at least one of them. (And as you’ll find out later in this post–we got all of them). That’s what daycare centers are. They are veritable petri dishes of illness. Everyone who uses a daycare knows it. And none of us point fingers at each other saying, Ohhh… I’m so mad at you because your kid got my kid sick! That never happens. Ever.

I dared because I had already called the doctor and she told me that we were doing everything we could. The virus would just have to run its course. And this bug lasts about 5-7 days…

I dared because he didn’t have measles or rubella. He had diarrhea.

I dared because he was only having diarrhea when he ate, not continuously throughout the day.

I dared because his teachers said they would call me if he got worse. And because they’re an Amazing Sort of Awesome, they said, “Don’t worry. We can handle poop.”

I dared because every morning, I was up at 5:30, giving him baths and scrubbing poop off laundry before it could actually be washed another two or three times (And then I had to get another child ready.)

I dared because I had been up several times each night that week, changing vile, vile diapers, rocking him when he couldn’t go back to sleep, and then listening to his screams when I couldn’t calm him down.

I dared because I had to work. I didn’t have sick leave and I had to administer and grade final exams before the university’s deadline. (Not a task you can really hand over to a substitute.)

I dared because I was headed for a breakdown in my mental sanity.

That’s how I dared.

Thanks for asking.

***

What is it about motherhood that makes mothers so quick to point out what they perceive are another mother’s failings?

Honestly, how can you know the whole context of a situation when you’re outside of it?

You can’t.

And why is the word “selfish” just about the worst thing that you can call a mother?

As I sit here now thinking about that word, a knot is forming in my stomach and my heart is thumping.

Selfish?

Selfish!

Are you serious!?!?

But then…

Isn’t this reader right?

Aren’t I selfish for wanting someone else to take over some of the burden that both my husband and I had been dealing with all night long for days on end?

Yes. In fact, I was selfish.

Selfish in my need for self-preservation.

But should I be ashamed that I couldn’t handle all of this at the same time?

Should I be ashamed that I desperately wanted out of my life, if only for just those worst, most miserable days in the last few weeks?

I should?

Why?

***

After Henry’s diarrhea tapered off, a bad cold hit him–and, subsequently, all of us–hard. We were all plagued with it to varying degrees. Mine lived mostly in my throat and chest. For everyone else, it set up house in their noses.

And then came the Infamous Daycare Puking Bug.

Over last weekend, Henry went through it.

Doug got it.

When it hit me at 10:00 p.m. on Monday night, I was in denial at the first twinges of nausea.

Nope… Nope… That’s not what this is.

All night, I twisted and turned as the first ripples of nausea swelled into cresting ocean waves. At 1:00 a.m., I allowed myself to believe that, yes indeed…

It was happening to me.

I dreamed that instead of puking into the toilet, I puked in the shower.

When 6:00 a.m. came and Henry started crying, I pulled myself out of bed and held the walls as I walked down the hallway. From my toes to my shoulders, everything ached. All the way down into my bones, I ached. When I opened the door and smelled the poop, I turned around and told Doug that I couldn’t do it.

Unsure about what had happened the night before, I checked the bathroom. No puke.

Just unbelievable nausea.

I lay back down until Doug needed me. As I sank into the bed, I was certain that nothing had ever felt so good as to be lying there in the cool sheets, my head against the pillow. When he called for my help, I only did what was absolutely necessary.

I couldn’t hold the baby.

I couldn’t even hold the bags.

I put food in containers for the kids. I sent along extra clothes and bibs.

When they were mercifully gone, I ate six saltines and went back to bed.

I woke up at 12:45 and ate six more saltines.

Then I slept until 2.

Then I ate a banana.

And slept until I heard Henry crying.

I rolled over, blinking. The clock read 5:55. Morning or night? I wasn’t too sure.

It turned out to be night, so I helped put one child to bed.

Then I ate a bowl of cereal.

And went back to bed.

***

Was it selfish of me to send the kids to daycare while I stayed home sicker than I’ve been in two years?

Yes.

Is it selfish of me to send my kids to daycare in this last week before Christmas even though I don’t have to teach, simply because we’re paying for it? Is it selfish that I crave this time to work on creative projects that have nothing to do with my kids or my work?

Yep. It sure is. I’m selfish.

You caught me.

But here’s the harder question: Should I be ashamed of being selfish?

I think this is where I disagree with my reader.

I don’t think I should be ashamed of taking time to care for myself–and it shouldn’t matter whether my needs are physical, emotional, or mental. It’s all important. This whole culture of “real parents are the ones who always put their kids first” is setting us up for rampant depression and divorce.

I love my kids, but, nope. They don’t always come first. Especially when I’m on the brink.

I care about having enough wherewithal to get through not only the days, but the weeks, the months, and the years.

So yeah, I’m selfish.

So selfish.

But I’m not going to feel badly about it this time.

For What Can We Blame Parents?

On April 20, 1999, Sue Klebold prayed “the hardest prayer of her life.”

She prayed that her son would take his own life.

Her husband had called her to tell her that their son, Dylan, was one of the shooters at his high school, Columbine High School. She knew that if he were caught, she would have to watch her son be executed.

So she prayed that her son would kill himself before they got to him.

He did.

***

Andrew Solomon describes Tim and Sue Klebold in his book, Far From the Tree, as eerily normal parents. Of all the parents that he interviewed for his book, these were the parents that he would have most likely have been friends with. They were intelligent, thoughtful, and well-spoken.

Sue Klebold

 Sue Klebold, 2016: Image credit, www.radio.foxnews.com

After the Columbine massacre, the Klebolds didn’t move. They didn’t change their names. They wanted to be around people who knew them before the shootings. They wanted to retain some part of their identities that existed before they had been forced to become the “parents of a mass murderer.”

They tell of a memorial service at Columbine High School, days after the shooting. Someone had placed 15 crosses for all of those who died: 13 for the victims and 2 for the shooters. Before long, parents of the victims ripped out two of the crosses from the memorial and threw them away.

When the school planted 15 trees to remember the dead, parents of the victims cut down 2 of the trees.

Soon, the media started referring to “13” as the total number of those who died.

***

Not only does our society have little empathy for those who commit crimes, but they also have little empathy for their parents.

Here is what Andrew Solomon says on this topic:

In our household, we brought our children up differently. That kind of thing didn’t happen… The burden of that blame is terrible. And it’s counterproductive. Blaming parents for their children’s transgressions doesn’t make those transgressions go away. It just traumatizes the parents.

To those of us with young children, still so innocent and blameless, it’s hard to imagine a reality in which our children become rapists or murderers. When the Brock Turner sentence broke headlines, his parents became equal targets for the mob’s anger and frustration. What kind of parents can raise such a monster, we wondered. How could they continue to make excuses for him? How could they continue to victimize this poor woman?

We like to think that we teach our children morals like respect and compassion, empathy and forgiveness. Parents have an incredible ability to shape the lives of their children.

But we cannot also deny that our peers also shape us.

If we’re honest with ourselves, we remember what it was like to be a teenager, when the words and experience of our peers trumped what we heard from our parents. Maybe we respected our parents, but when it came time to make decisions, we often chose on the side of what was favorable among our peers.

I remember how I chose where to go to college. I told people that I chose Miami University because it had a good education program. I told them that it had a good reputation. I told my parents that it wasn’t so far away from home.

But the real reason that I chose it was because of a boy.

Big surprise, I know.

Emotions rule so many decisions in late adolescence. Combined with a false sense of invincibility (and if you’re a white man, privilege!), it’s a little easier to imagine a reality in which our kids do terrible, terrible things for stupid, stupid reasons.

It’s a little easier to imagine becoming the parents of a child who has done something terribly wrong.

***

When a three-year-old boy was attacked by a gorilla in the Cincinnati Zoo this past May, there was a small, but vocal faction of parents who spoke out in defense of the child’s mother. Many of them cited their own personal experiences when their children had fell into dangerous circumstances and they found themselves the targets of suspected child neglect.

This also happened with the two-year-old boy was killed by an alligator near a Disney Resort in June.

It happened this way because there were enough parents willing to speak out to say, Hey, terrible things happen. They happened to me. These weren’t neglectful parents. Back off.

But when it comes to cases of rape and murder, there is far less compassion. The stigma of being the parent of a rapist or murderer is so damaging that few parents are willing to speak those words. They don’t want that identity. Who would?

And in the absence of those voices, we become an echo chamber of self-righteousness. Of course it was their fault! I mean, look at all of us. None of our children did stuff like this, so we’re clearly doing something right.

The sound of our own self-righteousness becomes so loud that we drown out any compassionate voices that speak out.

And when we lose our compassion, we lose our humanity.

 

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