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MOM ON A MISSION

Parenting can cause one to feel different emotions -- joy, pain, pride, sorrow, humility. But the one emotion I never expected so much of is guilt.

I'm not talking about an obvious kind of guilt, such as the kind one would feel if he or she did something to hurt someone. I don't beat my children or refuse to feed them.

No, I'm talking more about the subtle guilt that lingers in the back of the mind.

Parenting requires so much -- so much energy, so much participation, so much structure, so much time -- that it would be nearly impossible to give our children all they need, all the time.

So I think it's inherent in parenting that we develop a little self-doubt, which transitions itself into a quiet, subtle ... guilt. When I finish the day, exhausted, and drop into bed, my mind runs through the events of the day. It's almost inevitable that during those moments I go through the "should have, could have" scenarios.

I shouldn't have yelled at Ryehn for spilling her milk three times in a row at lunch.

I should have read 11 books to Chance instead of 10.

I should have allowed Chance to play games on my computer when he asked.

I could have let Ryehn have a second helping of ice cream after dinner (she did eat a really good dinner, after all).

It's all fair game when it comes to feeling guilty and doubting myself.

Don't get me wrong, I don't obsess. These thoughts enter my brain with 100 other snippets of information at the end of the day. I know my children are loved and cared for and safe. In general, I think my husband and I are pretty darned good parents.

Yet if I'm feeling particularly guilty about something, or wondering if I could have handled it differently, I try to turn it into a learning experience. There are days when I'm stressed and find myself impatient with the kids, and later I feel I've raised my voice or overreacted when I shouldn't have.

I can't rewind and do it over again, but I can recognize that I was stressed and tell myself that, next time, I'll take 10 deep breaths before reacting, or spend five minutes alone in my bedroom to get myself together, or force myself to smile when I'm really about to blow my top!

And I sometimes do apologize to my children when I overreact -- to show them how to share feelings and, hopefully, give them a model for how to apologize: "Sorry I raised my voice. Mommy is frustrated and shouldn't have gotten mad at something as silly as spilling milk. I know it was an accident."

I had a conversation with a friend of mine the other day who feels guilty for working full time.

She and her husband have family members who care for her child during the day and, when they're not working, they spend time loving their baby.

Despite of being a wonderful, nurturing mother, she still questions herself.

Another friend, who has stayed at home with all three of her children, volunteers at school and goes to nearly every sporting event, and yet she still feels she doesn't do enough for them.

Maybe a little self-doubt and guilt aren't all bad. First of all, no matter how many books I read or how many people I speak to, there's no one ultimately prepared for this parenting gig.

From the day we brought the children home from the hospital, I knew this would be the most challenging, and potentially rewarding, part of my life. I quickly found out it's a "learn as you go" type of job.

Maybe if I didn't take pause at the end of the day to figure out how to do it better, I would be a mediocre mother ... at best.

And maybe, as our kids get older and I get better at this, the self doubt and guilt will fade.

But I doubt it.

Yet the silver lining is that, often, confidence is built out of guilt. For instance, if I feel guilty about something, I'll look for ways to do it better to avoid feeling guilt again.

I'm never going to be a perfect parent, I don't even know what that would look like.

But I can work to be better. And if that means feeling a little guilt along the way, then I'll just add it to my (ever-growing) list of a parent's job description.

Kym Byrnes writes from Finksburg. Please e-mail her at kymbyrnes@gmail.com.


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