Guilt Ridden

Yesterday was a warmer than usual day.  Like mid-40’s warm.  Certainly not hot.  Absolutely not spring-like.  But the sun was shining and if we closed our eyes, we could imagine shorts, short sleeves and flip-flops somewhere in the not so distant future.  I made the mistake of saying out loud to Hannah as we left the house, “Wow, what a beautiful day!  It’s so warm!” A mistake, because with that, she turned to me and said, “I’m SOO HOT mommy!  I need to go take off my socks and sweater.  I’m wearing way too many “clotheses!”.


I tried backpedalling.  “No Hannah, it’s not THAT warm.  It’s just warmer than usual for winter.  It’s just a pretty, sunny day.  But we still need to wear Winter clothes.  Look, there’s still SNOW on the ground!”

“NO!  I’m HOT and I’m going to start SWEATING soon!” she protested as her feet started stomping on the cement and the smoke started puffing from her ears.  “I won’t step in the snow.  And plus, the snow would feel good on my hot feet!”

Instead of continuing with the normal debate, I decided to try a new tactic.  Guilt.

“Fine Hannah.  Do what you want.  If you want to risk getting sick after having JUST gotten over pneumonia, go right ahead.  Fine with me.”

I crossed my fingers that it would work and she’d come to her senses.  I turned back toward the car and I could see her reflection in the car window.  Standing perfectly still.  Mouth hanging slightly open either from sheer surprise or because she was ready with her next rebuttal, which was no longer necessary.  And then she smiled and yelled, “YIPPEE!!!   No sweater!”  And she jumped into her car seat and took off her jacket and sweater and dramatically fanned her face for effect.  “So Much Better Mommy!  Thank you!”

Hannah – 1.  Mommy – 0.

And this scenario has made me wonder a little about guilt.  I’m someone who feels guilty A Lot.  I so often feel bad about something I’ve done, something I’ve said or haven’t said.  I go out of my way to do what I think someone else wants me to do so that I don’t feel guilty later.  When I go out during the day on the weekends, be it to the gym, to the grocery store, to the gas station, I always rush home.  Because I feel bad.  Bad that I’ve left Tim with the kids.  Bad that I’m out and he’s not.  When Tim and I are out at night and my parents or inlaws are babysitting, I feel the need to rush home because I don’t want them driving home too late.  I’m very sensitive to people’s body language and  verbal subtleties and although I may be misreading these cues, I often end up feeling guilty about something.

I could blame other people for making me feel guilty. My parents tell me the day after they babysit how tired they are.  (I’m sorry I kept you out so late). They tell me Hannah was up at 5 in the morning when they stay overnight with her. (I’m sorry she’s a bad sleeper). Tim comments that I “must have had a nice afternoon” after I get back from the gym and grocery store. (I’m sorry I was out as long as I was). My mother in law tells me how much she misses my kids. (I’m sorry I haven’t invited you over in a while). But are these innocent, honest comments that people make intended to make me feel guilty?  Everyone was just telling me how they feel.  No crime in that right?  Or am I someone who is just prone to feeling guilty?  I think the latter.

I despise feeling guilty.  I despise it because if I do nothing about it, the feeling just aches inside me and if I DO something about it, the guilt turns into resentment.  I feel better that I’ve made someone else happy but annoyed that I’ve been convinced to do something I don’t want to do.  And I’m not sure which feels worse.

And even though I tested out the guilt tactic on Hannah yesterday to see if I could make her feel bad not wearing a sweater in the chilly weather, I’d really like to bring up my kids to not carry a whole lot of guilt on their shoulders (seems like Hannah is off to a good start judging from yesterday!).  I need to not make them feel bad about the choices they make.  And that’s really hard to do, when I disagree.  But maybe there’s a difference between guilt and disappointment.  Maybe as a mom, it’s ok for my kids to see disappointment in my face  after they do something I don’t approve of.  Maybe guilt is more passive aggressive.  I want my kids to do things because they know they’re the right things to do.  Not because they think they will make someone else happy by doing them.

I also think trying to guilt my 5 year old daughter into wearing a sweater was a bad mommying tactic.  Ahem.

And I need to buy into this philosophy as well.  I need to come home from the gym quickly because I miss the kids or because I want more family time.  Not because I THINK Tim wants me home to help with the kids or because I THINK he can’t handle the tantrums that may be ensuing at home.  I need to visit my brother because I miss him and my nieces, not because I FEEL judged by him for not visiting more often.

Guilt.  It’s a topic that comes up often with Tim and I.  Tim thinks I do A LOT because I feel guilty.  My response is usually, “If I know it’s going to make someone happy, it makes me feel good to do it”.  And he comes back with, “you should do it because YOU want to.  Not because someone else wants you to.”  It’s something we probably just need to agree to disagree on. It all goes back to being a people pleaser and a conflict avoider.  But, I’m realizing, I need to put me first sometimes too.  Feeling less resentful, would be a good thing.

So watch out!  I’m following Hannah’s lead and just might take MY socks off tomorrow… snow (and my mom’s voice judging voice in my head) be damned.

So, what do you think?  Who is responsible for guilt?  The giver or the receiver?



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24 responses to “Guilt Ridden

  1. I think it depends on the person. My mother uses guilt to manipulate people, so when she does it, I am aware that she’s trying to control me. My husband has no subtext, so when he says something, I know that I am putting more into the message than he intends.

    I, too, am trying to teach guilt appropriately and not as a control tactic. I’m hopeful that we’ll both succeed.

    • I do have people in my life who I THINK use guilt to manipulate me but I can’t be sure since I’m so prone to feeling guilty. But I think I need to open my eyes a bit more and understand who it’s coming from and whether they are trying to control me or not.

  2. Ah, guilt. A wise friend once said that when they take the baby out, they put guilt in. I think motherhood is riddled with guilt and I am not sure it is a feeling we can ever truly escape. Maybe there are little things we can do to mitigate its impact on our minds and our days? I hope so. Let me know if you figure out what these things are because I haven’t a clue.

    • Yes, that saying does resonate with me! I’ll let you know if I learn anything along the way in escaping some of the guilt and not placing it on my kids!

  3. It sounds like in your case, it’s a little of both. I know that most of mine comes straight from me. I was recently thinking about the fact that if I heard a friend beating herself up the way I do, I would totally defend her and tell her to stop, she’s a great parent, etc. I think I need to start treating myself a little better, being a better friend to my own self!

    • Yes, you’re right. It is a little of both in my case but I definitely blame myself most. I know I’m sensitive and just assume I feel guilty because it’s easier for me than blaming someone else for trying to manipulate me. But I DO need to treat myself a little better sometimes and do what I WANT to do!

  4. I feel the same guilt when people pass those comments! I thought I was alone!

    … I’m now inspired to post about it.. maybe next week- would you mind if I quoted and linked back to you??

    • You are definitely not alone.
      And of course you can post about it… I’d be honored to be linked back by you! I’m interested to hear more of your thoughts on it!

  5. Liz

    I can be “guilty” of this too…but I think most of the time it is the receiver. No matter what someone says, we choose to feel guilty (or swim in it, sometimes). Although i can tell you from personal experience that sometimes it’s the giver purposely trying to make you feel bad, and then, it’s the giver’s fault for trying to, and the receiver’s fault for not putting a stop to it.

    • I think you’re right… no matter what, it’s up to me to call the giver on making me feel guilty or at least questioning whether that was their intent. Just last weekend I told Tim he was making me feel guilty for going out on my own to the grocery store over the weekend. I told him even if it wasn’t his intent, his little comments rubbed me the wrong way. So… at least that got out! Look at me, learning to SPEAK UP!

  6. From your post and some of your comments it would seem that many of us feel the same. Just last night I was feeling “guilty” about my son’s cranky mood, blaming myself for how he’s struggling with the changes in our lives. My husband looked at me and said, “You are crazy! This is not your fault. He’s just having a hard time getting used to how things are now, but he’s fine.” And he’s right, I know this, but I can’t help but feel that everyone’s happiness is tied to the decisions I make. I enjoyed this post because I relate to it so much. I wonder what it is in our make-up that makes us like this. For me I know it’s not motherhood because I was exactly like this before I had kids. My entire life has been about making the choices that I think others expect me to make. When I make a choice for myself I always feel guilty afterward. I’m struggling to move past this too! It’s not easy…I’ll be anxious to hear how it goes for you. (And now that I’ve rambled on and on, I think perhaps this is a topic for a post of my own 🙂

    • Great points Christine. I also was like this before becoming a mom. I ALWAYS feel like I should be doing something else or something better to make other people happy. I read into everything and assume people are disappointed in the decisions I make. It’s not a good way to be! Thank you for making me feel like I’m not alone!

  7. Ugh. I hate guilt. I wear it’s awful coat everywhere I go. It is not comfortable and it is definitely not my color. : )

  8. It probably won’t surprise you to learn that I feel guilty. A lot. And I’m intrigued by your question about whether guilt is the fault of the giver or the receiver. It made me consider my own tendency toward passive aggressive behavior. And because I can be passive aggressive at times, I might think that everyone else is too: so I’m more likely to assume that a comment is meant as a jab when it’s really just a comment. Does that make sense?

    • Yes, it definitely makes sense Kristen. I guess we just have to work at taking people for their words and not assume the worst. I think I’m most vulnerable when I feel defensive. If I think I may have been in the wrong, I definitely think people are throwing out guilt. Again goes back to my insecurities!

  9. Guilt is a very powerful thing, and I have succumbed to it more times than I care to admit to. But, in my case, I think it is because I was made to feel guilty so often as a child. Not something I plan to instill in my own children.

    You should do something because you want to, not because you have been made to through guilt. It is a VERY hard habit to break, a lot or reprogramming needs to take place, but I PROMISE you that it is incredibly liberating.

  10. For me guilt and obligation seem to go hand-in-hand. My parents have nicknamed me “the responsible daughter.” They can depend on me but not my older sister of 6 years. If my parents need assistance with something, I can’t say “no” because I know that my sister won’t step up to the plate. They don’t purposely make me feel guilty. It’s just the reality of the situation. In a twisted way, you might say that I’m experiencing the guilt that my sister should! Great. I have Transferred Guilt.

    • Great point PLR! I also feel obligated to be the nice, caring, sensitive, giving child. The one who will always be there for my parents and so that adds to my guilt even if my parents don’t say a word. I never thought of it like that, but it’s so true.

  11. I also feel guilty, all the time. But it’s for weird reasons. Like, guilty because I didn’t do enough laundry that day, or guilty because I spent more than I needed to at the store, or guilty because I sat down and read a book rather than doing the laundry and dishes. My guilt seems rooted in not just making others happy (that’s not as much the priority for me), but making the “right” decision–assuming that there is a right way to do things and I just haven’t worked hard enough to find it, that there are always things I “should be doing.” It didn’t help that I worked as an English teacher at a Catholic private school. Oh, the martyrdom. It was epic. (I “should” be on more committees; I “should” be spending my lunch breaks with students; I “should” be grading papers.) So I’m kind of enjoying less guilt, but not total avoidance now that I’m home. Also, I blame my mother. I know that sounds cliche. So be it. (Hope she doesn’t find this! Ah! Guilt!)

    • It sounds like you make yourself feel guilty! You put pressure on yourself to do what you think is the right thing. That is also interesting. I wonder if some of my guilt comes from myself from so many years of my parents telling me what I “should” do, what the “right” thing to do is, etc. Hmmm… more to think about here! Thanks for this insightful comment!

  12. You know what this post made me think of? Not just the motherhood guilt thing (which, yes, I have too in many ways) but that we never stop growing and learning and changing. Even in our 30s, 40s, 50s and beyond… We continue to tweak the things that bug us about US, we find out new facets of ourselves that we adore or that we loathe. We find the words–and the courage–to say the things that we can’t say over a cup of coffee with the neighbor.

    You pour your heart out here, Becca. And I am so utterly grateful for that. In many ways I think I’m transparent, and that I give so much of myself to my writing and to my life, but I’ve read your last few posts throughout this morning and feel that much closer to you because of it.

    Shed the guilt for a night out with me, my friend. I know it will be worth it–for the both of us!

    • Yes, Sarah… we will have a drink and there will be NO GUILT!

      Your writing is one of my inspirations to write what I write. I love how open and honest you are and it gives me the courage to do the same.

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