Posts Tagged ‘guilt’

The Blame Game

Wednesday, October 15, 2014
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I’ve been told by numerous people on numerous occasions that I apologize too much.

My first response to their words is usually “I’m sorry,” which is just proof of what I’ve always known: my mouth often engages before my brain does.

But, to be honest, I’ve never understood their concern.  Many times, I’m simply conveying sympathy – as in “I’m sorry you are having to deal john burroughs quotewith this situation.”

At other times, I’m admitting my imperfections and mistakes.

That’s how I was raised.

Don’t get me wrong, my parents never engaged in guilt parenting. They did, however, set expectations that my brother and I understood consequences and accepted responsibility for our words and actions.

I’ve held on to a memory of my mother complaining about an individual for whom she held very little respect.  “There’s nothing wrong with making mistakes,” Mom said. “Everyone makes mistakes.  But you are likely to create more problems when you don’t  take responsibility for your mistakes.”

Of everything my mom has said, those words have probably had the greatest impact.

I’ve lived by them, and I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t admit that I have a difficult time understanding people who never take responsibility for their mistakes.

Sometimes, though, I do feel as though I should apologize for those feelings., especially because I’m a social worker who shouldn’t judge others.

I work for an absolutely wonderful organization with a mission to reduce poverty and advocate for people who are struggling. The stories my co-workers and I hear on a daily basis are often heart-breaking. Life is unfair, and we serve people who generally draw the short straw.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard an elderly woman apologize for even walking through our doors or listened to individuals who have nowhere to go because they have aged out of the social service system after being abandoned by parents who were abusive or addicts or simply had no interest in their children.  We see people with no support system and few resources who are doing their best to live  one day to the next and to contribute what they can.

Just last week, I was handed an envelope with a dollar bill, a few nickels and a handful of pennies. It was given to us by a gentleman who had received hygiene and cleaning supplies from our  personal care closet. He couldn’t give much, but he gave something.

Unfortunately, we also see people who take no responsibility for their situation and instead want to blame others.

Sometimes they blame their employer for firing them, Sometimes they blame a diagnosis of anger management issues for losing their temper at work and therefore losing their job. And sometimes, they blame staff at my organization for disrespecting them when we  ask about changes they might make to improve their circumstances.

My co-workers and I get frustrated with such individuals – not because they are angry with us but because, for some reason, they think admitting to mistakes is a weakness rather than a strength.

We try to change their perspective, but we often fail.  Despite that, we won’t give up on anyone who walks through our doors. Our personal support systems never gave up on us, never allowed us to sell ourselves short and, most importantly, taught us the importance of both accepting responsibility and learning from our mistakes.

I want to provide those same gifts to others, especially my own children, who I  hope will someday appreciate them.

In the meantime, I will never apologize for my belief that we can only move forward when we accept all of the missteps we’ve made and decide to take steps in a different direction instead.

The Puzzle Piece

Wednesday, June 18, 2014
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I’ve started feeling guilty about a cardboard puzzle piece.

I’ve been passing it for more than a week during my early morning bike rides as I pedal across an interstate overpass.IMG_3440

The puzzle piece is lying on the shoulder of that overpass. The first time I saw it, I simply wondered how one puzzle piece can be lost on the side of the road. I’ve asked the same question about abandoned shoes, socks and other random items.

But the more times I’ve passed that puzzle piece, the more I’ve thought about it. It has simply stayed on the side of the road to endure heavy rainstorms and traffic, and it is getting more and more worn down.

To me, it is not  just a piece of cardboard. It is a piece of a  picture that will never be complete again. It once belonged to something bigger than itself, but now it is all alone. It has been ignored and discarded, and as a result is now broken down. And it reminds me of people I encounter every day:

  • Children who have been abused or neglected but know other families are healthy and happy. They wonder why their family is broken;
  • People who struggle with physical or emotional pain that leaves them isolated from others and afraid to reach out;
  • The single mother who lost her job and is now living in her van with her five children. So far, everyone has told her she doesn’t fit  anywhere.

Yet even though I’ve had these thoughts, I haven’t picked up the puzzle piece. I continue to ride by and think how sad and isolated it seems  just  as so many people pass by the children who are hurting,  the people who are lonely and the homeless.

The people who do take the time to stop, listen and offer some type of support are my heroes. Often, they can do little more than provide momentary comfort, but sometimes they are able to provide assistance that can make a significant difference.

They are the reason I am going to pick up that puzzle piece tomorrow. I’m going to bring it home and hang it on my bathroom mirror.

And when my children ask why I have a broken puzzle piece hanging on my mirror, I’m going to tell them that things that have been broken still have a great deal to give. I’m going to tell that being kind is more powerful than being a millionaire, and everyone has the ability to be kind. Most importantly, I will tell them that when our circumstances change and we feel that we no longer fit in, we can always find somewhere else where we can make a difference. That puzzle piece certainly has.

I fed my baby a Big Mac

Friday, June 13, 2014
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I haven’t eaten a hamburger in five years. That is, until a recent late-night craving. It was one of those days where I’d been busy, and at the end of the day I realized I hadn’t eaten any meat. I felt a little light-headed, but thought I could get by with a light snack.

Come 10:30 p.m., the craving hit. I needed MEAT. RED MEAT. God bless my husband, who is always willing to make a late-night food run for me. The only fast place to get a hamburger at this hour was McDonalds, so a Big Mac I ate.

At 4:00 a.m., the upset tummy and feelings of guilt kicked in. As I lie awake in upset-stomach misery, I started to think about the junk I put into my body, and therefore my baby’s body, that night. This did not help me feel better.

Before I became pregnant, I told myself when the time came, I would be the epitome of a healthy eater. I would choose organic all the time, limit my sweets, say no to fast food and eat mountains of fruits and vegetables. That did not exactly happen. I’ve tried to make sure I am getting the right nutrients and I am eating the right amount at the right times. But being pregnant also means sometimes you are too tired to cook or go to the grocery store; and there is a reason they call them “cravings.” For me, they are almost impossible to ignore. And my cravings mostly have been bread and ice cream (and recently, meat).

My goal is to foster a nutritious, healthy diet for my child when she starts eating. Same as what I thought I would be doing in my pregnancy – plenty of fruits and vegetables, limited sweets (grandparents, I’m looking at you), no fast food or fried food, etc. I realize when we are eating out of the house the rules will bend, but at home I want to help her form healthy eating habits.

I’m beginning to think this is going to be a lot harder than I imagined. I’m sure I will run into the same problems I have now (too tired to cook, no time for the store) but magnified.

I will try my hardest to make sure my daughter gets the right nutrition in the right forms, but will have to realize I haven’t failed if I sometimes decide to order a pizza for dinner. We strive to be the best parents we can be, but occasionally need to realize we aren’t perfect nor ever will be.

So, here’s to hoping my late-night cravings don’t lead to my baby girl arriving with an affinity for Big Macs, but if she does…everything in moderation.

Whoops

Wednesday, February 26, 2014
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The woman at the church picnic was looking at me as though I was raising the devil himself.

I wavered between the temptation to tell her off and the desire to disappear.

I didn’t do either.

Instead, I pretended to be oblivious to her indignation and the judgmental comments she was making to anyone who would listen. whoopsThere was simply no reason to defend my son, who was in elementary school at the time and had said absolutely nothing wrong.

But I seriously doubted  the woman would believe any explanations from me.  She was convinced my son had uttered a very offensive cuss word, and she was relishing her indignation the way others at the picnic were enjoying their fried chicken.

So I ignored her comments and finished our game of miniature golf as though nothing had happened.

But something had happened, and because I hadn’t addressed the issue, for months I felt guilty and angry.

That’s why the next time my son was accused of using foul language, I rushed to defend him. He was a year older, and this time I wasn’t present during the incident in question. Despite that, I insisted I knew my son and that he wouldn’t talk like that.

Actually, he would.

As the story unfolded, he readily admitted he used a cuss word, and I was once again felt guilty and angry.

Years later, my son told me had no idea what the word meant and had simply attempted to use it in the context he had heard others utter it. When he told me that, I laughed just as I laughed at how much time and energy I had wasted on the incident at the church picnic.

In the grand scheme of our lives, neither incident really reflected who my son is or my abilities as a parent. But they were important because they taught me two important lessons: 1) the opinions of other parents have absolutely no place in my family and 2)  I need to prioritize my concerns and my reactions to my children’s behaviors. As long as no one’s life is at risk and no one is being hurt emotionally or physically, I have no need to lose any sleep.

My son is in high school now, and the choices both he and I make are far more likely to have an impact on the rest of his life than when he was in elementary school. Prioritizing my reactions to his missteps is more important than ever.

Which is why, you might, on occasion, hear him cuss.

But if he does, you’ll probably also hear him catch himself and apologize then simply move on with the conversation.

Because he’s learning that moving on from his mistakes is far more important than never making them at all.

His mom is learning that too.

The Art of Acceptance

Tuesday, December 31, 2013
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As I write this by pecking the keyboard with my left hand, a little booklet titled Acceptance Therapy sits on the table next to me. I bought it after the death of someone I loved, and it is full of reminders about coping with situations that are beyond our control.acceptance

That book has become particularly meaningful over the past couple weeks after I lost the control and independence I’ve always treasured.

I was walking my German Shepherd on a snowy Saturday morning when I fell on ice and shattered my right wrist. (If you are interested in that story, you can read a full description of the incident in my personal blog: The Ice Gods Are Laughing).

After two nights in the hospital and surgery, I was feeling guilty that I hadn’t been able to help my son finish his science fair project or to hear my daughter sing a solo at church. That guilt, combined with my complete lack of independence at the hospital and my need to get back to work, made me more than excited to be released from the hospital and back to my life.

I should have known better.

I didn’t grasp the impact the injury and subsequent hardware in my right arm would have on my life. I wasn’t just being forced to use my left hand for everything (yes, I am right handed), I was being forced to do everything with only one hand. I couldn’t drive. I couldn’t open containers. I couldn’t write, or wrap Christmas presents or cook, I couldn’t even put my contacts in my eyes. Worst of all, I, a person who is constantly in motion and thinks sleep is a dirty word, was too tired to do much of anything once I got home from work.

Friends rallied to help. My husband took time off work and did everything he could. And I went to work, came home, slept and felt guilty and frustrated.

Then I received an early Christmas present in the form of a comment on my personal blog from my friend Sarah: Trina – in the sense that God can make something good result out of something bad, perhaps this unexpected “slow down” will in the end be quite the gift to you and your family. Just “be” – and worry less about the “do.”

Sarah was right. I couldn’t change my circumstances, but I could make the best of them. That’s when I dug out Acceptance Therapy and took on a new challenge – one I could tackle with no hands: the art of acceptance.

My accident was two and a half weeks ago, and I’m doing more every day now. I’m dressing myself and putting in my contacts; I’m preparing simple dishes; I’m getting better at typing. I’m even driving (short distances only.) And I’m learning to accept my circumstances.

Yesterday, I went to the doctor and discussed the possibility of more surgery. That would be a  temporary set back to all the progress I’ve been making. At least it will set back almost all the progress I’ve been making. Because the one thing I did really, really well during the appointment was accept what the doctor told me. And that’s a skill that no accident or surgery can ever take away.

 

Guilty

Wednesday, June 26, 2013
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I did a really bad thing this past Sunday.

Well, for the purposes of accuracy, I actually failed to do a really good thing.

I didn’t protect a child.

The first time I saw the little girl, I wanted to scoop her up in my arms and keep her safe. But I didn’t. Instead, I, along with most of the people near me, kept eyes on her rather than on the baseball field, where the Colorado Rockies were beating the Washington Nationals.

The toddler wobbled with the gait typical of children who have recently learned to walk, and she held her arms out for balance.

The reason she had our attention was that, instead of walking across a floor, she was navigating steep, concrete steps in an upper section of the ballpark. With every unsteady step she took, my heart would skip a beat. The twenty-something woman sitting next to me would sharply suck in her breath every time the child teetered.

The toddler’s mother, on the other hand, seemed completely unconcerned as she sat drinking beer and watching the game. Even when the toddler grabbed the handrail and let her legs swing back and forth, the woman absently glanced at her daughter then returned her attention to the ball field.

I could have said something. I could have done something. But I didn’t.

Instead, I simply let my voice blend in with the chorus of others quietly whispering horror.

And I have no idea why.

I’m the mom the who won’t start the car engine until everyone is wearing seat belts and who appreciates other parents keeping my children in line.

I’m the professional who has committed her career to promoting the concept that members of a community should take responsibility for each other.

And I’m the licensed social worker who is obligated to protect those who can’t protect themselves.

Yet, during the relatively brief moment in time I shared with that little girl, I failed her in every respect. I also failed her mother, who I believe loves her daughter and was probably tired at the exact wrong time. She also had a little boy, a few years older than the girl, who seemed completely content as he sat next to his mother watching the baseball game. The father arrived during the third inning, and by the seventh inning, the entire family was gone.

Each member left uninjured and, apparently, happy. My negligence hadn’t resulted in disaster, yet I still feel guilty.

So now, I have a choice.

Instead of focusing on the guilt, I can practice the art of forgiveness.

I can forgive myself and all those people like me. People who sometimes follow the crowd instead of doing what’s right. People who, just for a moment, want to pretend that bad things don’t really happen. People who suffer from that human condition called imperfection.

The great thing about imperfection is that it always provides room for improvement and the opportunity to learn from our mistakes.

I’ve certainly learned from mine. I know for a fact, the next time I see a child, any child, in a dangerous situation, I will take some kind of action.

Double Duty

Monday, June 18, 2012
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After attempting to cut the grass myself, I was instructed never to touch the lawn mower again.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been writing about being a working mother — the responsibilities, the expectations and the stress.  I’ve been trying to get my arms around the idea of giving our daughters daily chores and assessing how much of their own weight they can pull now that they’re 9 and 6 years old.  I’ve also been fighting for a little respect from those girls, who don’t seem to understand that I have a career aside from what they see.  As I stewed over all of this “me, me, me” stuff, a little voice whispered:  Get over yourself, Katy. Mike is a working parent, too.

So this week’s blog is all about him, him, him.

Recently, MSNBC posted an article about the family duties of Dear Old Dad and the net worth of those household jobs.  Unlike the “real” working world, Mom makes more money (theoretically speaking) — by nearly $40,000.  Dad’s assignments typically include pest extermination, plumbing and sanitation, and odd jobs such as yard work.  Mom’s jobs span nursing, crisis management, catering, interior design, and janitorial service.  But according to Salary.com, Dad is most deserving of an imaginary raise since he’s been doing more around the house these days.  Why? Because Mom has to work outside the home now, too.

At the end of the school year, I watched my own husband struggle and juggle. He was in the middle of a major engineering project that required extensive travel. Meetings were scheduled during the last weeks of school when every memory-making-milestone-moment takes place, such as field day, Donuts with Dad, and kindergarten graduation. Mike didn’t want to miss any of those events, but he had a job to do.  I sensed his anxiety by the number of emails I was receiving, each one hinting that he was feeling guilty about being gone so much.

Now when is the father-daughter breakfast at school?  

I signed up to do Career Day — when is it over? I have to leave by noon.

What time is Ava’s birthday lunch? 11:25 or 11:55? 

Can you drop them off in the morning?  I have a meeting at 7:30. 

Usually, I’m the one who’s fretting over how to get everything done; how to be present for each social event, practice, lesson or ceremony.  I’m the one who works before the girls wake up and after the girls go to sleep so I can be “there” for the things that occur in-between.  But I realized that motherhood is often an act of self-centered behavior — we’re the ones who complain about all the laundry and dishes and cluttered rooms, and we’re the ones who rush and race to deliver lunch to faculty and forgotten homework folders.  But fathers (ok, some fathers) are panicking over parenting duties, too.  They just don’t talk about it.

Mike is trying to rearrange his schedule so that he can be home by 4:30 or 5:00 (instead of 6:30 or 7) to take the girls to the pool in the evenings.  So far, it hasn’t happened. He’s just going into the office earlier and staying later.   In his heart, though, he wants a part of the girls’ summer vacation. He wants to be here. He brings work home so he can be at the kitchen counter marking up drawings while the girls are clicking away on their video games from a nearby couch.  On Sundays, he offers to make dinner and do the grocery shopping so that I can retreat to my basement office to pound out Monday’s blog post.  Mike wants to share in the responsibilities of being an active parent, but I’m starting to see a shift in pressure:  More and more rests on his shoulders aside from the mortgage, the cars, the taxes, the insurance, the retirement plans, the utilities, the yard, the cracked ceiling, the leaking faucet, the cat trapped under the staircase, and an annual “vacation”.  Mike’s also trying to take the girls to swim lessons twice a week, Family Buck Night baseball games, and concerts on the Levee.  He’s trying to get home for dinner — which we ate two hours ago. Time is not on his side.

Yes, I handle most everything that goes on in this house and I maintain a respectable book of writing business, but I’m not the only one who’s striving to make everyone happy.  He’s trying to find that same home/work/life balance that mothers search for on an hourly basis.  So the next time Mike is out of town and sending text messages at midnight to make sure I’ve locked all the doors, I’ll stop to remember that his job as a parent is really no different than mine.  And, despite the distance, he’s always with us in one way or another.

 

 

 

 

 

When mommy works

Tuesday, February 21, 2012
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Tiny dancer

  My daughter loves to dance. She flits about and twirls around in check-out lines, waiting rooms and even at school when she’s supposed to be sitting for circle time.

  She lives for Tuesdays, the day we go to ballet and tap class.

  But a couple Tuesdays ago, I found myself still at the courthouse with a stack of cases before me at 3:45 p.m. Julia needs to be dressed and ready to go by 4:15. It wasn’t happening.

  And in sets the working mom guilt.

  I’ve been having a lot of that lately.

  I wasn’t able to chaperone a field trip to the pet store. Instead, I had to entrust my child to the care of another parent. On the interstate. This was almost more than I could bear. I was the kind of mom who got nervous when my husband took her somewhere in the car without me.

  I couldn’t attend the school Valentine’s Day party. My mom went in my place. I didn’t want her to be all alone, when all the other kids’ mommies were there passing out cupcakes and cards.

  Those are just from the past few weeks. There are more.

  It’s awful being torn in two. You want to be with your child, to take care of them. You didn’t give birth and get stretch marks just to hand them over to someone else.

  But you also have to be your own person, with your own career ambitions and, in most cases, you have to keep a roof over your heads and food on the table.

  How do you explain that to a little girl who just wants to put on her tutu and dance?

Working girl

Tuesday, August 30, 2011
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Guilty pleasure.

  I’m having a love-hate relationship with high heels right now. I love that I get to wear them again now that I’ve gone back to work.

  But I hate the guilt that those shoes bring – guilt about putting my daughter in someone else’s care while I’m toiling away for a paycheck.

  It’s the quintessential mommy dilemma: to work or not.

  I had been working in newspapers for several years before I got pregnant. And the plan was for me to go back to work part-time after my daughter was born. Five years later, I still get a sinking feeling when I think back on the last night of my maternity leave. I had just brought this tiny little human into the world and spent the last 12 weeks bonding with her, napping with her, snuggling with her, pacing the floor through the night with her. And just like that I had to hand her over to someone else.

  It was not one of my better times. I resented my husband for not being a millionaire so I didn’t have to work. I hated myself because I didn’t feel like I was being mother. I worried my sweet new baby would think I had abandoned her. I couldn’t focus at work and I seethed with jealousy when I saw stay-at-home moms out with their babies.

  Four years later, after the death of my husband and moving back home to Charleston, I took some time off. And oddly enough, the stay-at-home mom lifestyle wasn’t the one I had idealized. Maybe because I was doing it alone. Maybe because my daughter wasn’t a newborn anymore. I’m not sure of the reason, but there weren’t a lot of these “perfect” days I envisioned us having. Yes, we played a lot of Candyland and made Valentine heart necklaces and baked cookies. But we also kinda got on each other’s nerves. We needed our own time and space.

  And you know what else happened during my stay-at-home mom stint? I felt GUILTY then too. Guilty that I was wasting my college education. Guilty that I wasn’t teaching my daughter the value of hard work. Guilty that I was letting her think that money grew on trees. Guilty that I wasn’t setting a good example.

  It seems like no matter what we do, we can never escape mom guilt. If you happen to know how, let me know. I’ll buy you a cute pair of heels.

Enjoy the moments as they come

Wednesday, August 10, 2011
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I love photos. I can look at the same photo for an hour, scrutinizing every detail, daydreaming about what was happening in each image.

When the late Robert C. Byrd turned 92, my editor handed me several large envelopes filled with images of the man’s life and career to sort through for my front page. I was in heaven.

Therefore, it would be a no-brainer to say that I have thousands of photos of my son. I have thousands upon thousands of photos, between a couple large memory cards, a large hard drive, three computers and my iPhone. However, my biggest mommy guilt (other than only nursing to 6 months instead of the 18 month goal I had) lies in the photo department.

I have roughly 12 photos on actual paper. Photos that can be immediately put into frames or mailed to loved ones. In fact, most of my loved ones have more framed photos of my own child than I do.

All of my photos are on hard drives somewhere, where I anticipate they will crash and burn. They’re loaded on Facebook and blogs, shared through emails and texts, and yet when I’m at home I have blank walls.

As my son turns 2 this Sunday I am making it a priority to have quality prints made of his newborn shots. And his 7-month shots. And his first birthday party and 1-year shots. And Christmases and vacations. I hope to have this done before he starts Kindergarten (she says half-jokingly.)

The job is getting easier to print off photos as he gets older.

I’ve stopped taking pictures. How many photos are there from last Christmas, taken with my beautiful DSLR? None. How many photos did I take on his first birthday? Zero. A very talented friend took all we have.

When my son was born I had my camera to my face more seconds of the day than I can recall. Every waking moment was one captured by a little man inside the camera, calling the shots. However, I was growing increasingly frustrated by trying to get THE shot at every occasion. So now I grab a couple of quick frames and let my neckstrap do the heavy lifting for awhile.

I had to stop looking at my son in f-stops and shutter speeds.

I needed to start enjoying the moments in person, not through a piece of glass. And that started with putting down the camera.

What sort of parent are you? Picture-perfect or content with a mental image?