(Originally written on February 22, 2017. Some of the specifics have changed in the 3 months that have passed since then but I have kept the same content so I know what it was back then even though I am publishing the post now.)
Guilt is a parenting right of passage. No matter what I do, it sneaks in. Now I’d like to think I feel justified in everything I do, that I don’t like to be hard on myself, that I want to be kind to my parent self, and accept my imperfections, warts, and all. All thats fair and I do say those things to myself but as I wrote above, guilt always sneaks in, and inserts its little evil bit into my brains.
Being the primary caregiver to two kids, a 3-year-old, and an almost 1-year-old means no matter what I do, something always gives somewhere. It means that these kids push me to my limit and beyond. It means that sometimes I get so utterly miserable that I scream and cry, that I yell and then I yell some more, that I live most days with self-doubt, that I question my life choices including ever wanting to have kids and TWO at that!
It also means loving and loving with more selfless passion than I ever thought was humanly possible of one human toward another.
It means being a mother.
Honestly, I never remember feeling guilty when it was just my one child, TJ. I worked full-time but with a flexible schedule, I worked from home most days. Aaron worked exclusively from home. We had a nanny come in for TJ from 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. everyday and our little boy grew up with the love and attention of three adults all doting on him. Guilt had no chance of entering that little set up.
Then, we moved across the country, I resigned from my academic position and had to (and still do) struggle with my own identity battles, had to learn to slowly accept and embody a new adventure as a stay-at-home-mom, and pretty much single-handedly manage two kids during the majority of the day even with a great deal of help from Aaron, whom as we all know, is a superstar dad.
It is only since Baby E was born that I have begun to understand what people mean by parental guilt or at least the version of it that most relates to my situation. When I am with both my kiddos, which is ALL the time except when the baby is napping, here is what usually happens and where my guilt makes its presence felt the most:
10 Reasons Why Having Two Kids Makes Me Feel Guilty
(1) I am always yelling at TJ to “leave her alone” because he wants to crush her hand or step on it or push her or bite her cheeks or yank her little hairband off. He does some of this out of love, a strange kind of love, but still love and yet, I have to yell at him to not kiss his sister’s cheeks to the point where he feels like he has to bite those fluffy puffs. I feel guilty for somehow telling my son to love his sister less.
(2) I have to play moderator and mediator even at this age because he will want the exact same toy that she expresses an interest in even though he could be as far away from that toy as Lake Michigan is to Levi Stadium. The minute she even so much as touches a toy, he runs from wherever he is or whatever he is doing and tries to take it away from her. For two seconds. Then, they both lose interest and the abandoned toy just lays there exhausted, ego bruised after a momentary high from both kids wanting to play with it. First world problem, I know, but I feel guilty for being the creator of the problem where they cannot fully enjoy one toy completely to themselves.
(3) Because TJ can hold his own in a conversation now, more or less, I naturally end up talking a lot to him and he, to me. I feel like I am always ignoring Baby E even when I am holding her. I can barely coo to her or kiss her a few times before my attention is either called for or demanded by TJ. He gets really clingy and while I don’t mind it in and of itself (there’s only a few more years of this special kind of love left), it is a weird push and pull of emotions when I have to be with Baby E but can’t because he is able to verbalize what he wants and I have to see to that want or need. I feel guilty for ignoring Baby E and for not giving TJ the exclusive attention to which he was once used.
(4) Putting the little one down for a nap was and sometimes still is, a challenge when TJ is around. When she was an itty-bitty baby and would nap in the living room in her swing, the challenge was in keeping TJ quiet while she napped in our midst. Forcing him to be quiet made me extremely guilty at not allowing a two-year-old to act his age. Now, I just let him follow me and hang out in the room as I nurse Baby E before her nap. This means that Baby E is so distracted with her big brother’s presence that she will refuse to nurse or keep turning her head toward wherever he is and whatever he is doing instead of nursing which in turn means that I have to sometimes put her down without a feed. I feel guilty about not providing Baby E the nourishment that she deserves and for having to force quiet out of a naturally playful toddler.
(5) More guilt at nap times – Because of the process of sleep training and my moderated CIO, I often let Baby E cry herself to sleep. However, because of the nature of how TJ’s own sleep training developed over several iterations over the last three years, at present time, I actually lay down with him for nap times and often fall asleep before he does. I do wake up within minutes often to find him gently snoring next to me, which is one of the best feelings in the world. I want to be able to have this with Baby E too. Except, by the time she is ready to do this, TJ will probably be done with his afternoon naps which means, he will once again need to be attended to, leaving me no time to luxuriate in the loving presence of my baby girl at nap times. Sigh. I feel guilty for a future in which I won’t be able to snuggle up with Baby E, softly kiss her cheeks and forehead and lay down beside her to help her nap.
(6) I have to always bribe TJ with treats, either the sugary kinds or videos, so he has a reason to let me put E down for a nap, undisturbed. Even then, if he not in the mood, he will bring a toy upstairs and play with it right outside her door. I feel guilty about not being able to give Baby E the love, care, and attention she deserves just like I used to be able to do with TJ when he was that age.
(7) I can only do arts and crafts with TJ when Baby E is napping. I could do it when she is awake but because she can’t do much, she just has to sit there trying to pull at everything and that is just not fun for anybody and not fair to her. I feel guilty about not being able to include Baby E in all our fun and creative activities.
(8) When I take the kids to the playground, there is only so much I can do to play with TJ or E. Yes, I have strapped E to me on the Ergobaby and gone down the slides with one kid on me and another on my lap, yes I have pushed them on swings next to each other in places that had a baby swing and a regular swing next to each other, but I can never really do justice to either kid because I can’t just leave one unattended in her stroller while I help the other climb the steps to a slide. I feel guilty for not being able to give more play time to Baby E while also not being able to help TJ up say a rock wall or other playground equipment.
(9) Anything that affects one kid, by association, affects the other one too. If TJ has Music Together classes, E has to tag along too. If one of them has a doctor’s appointment, the other one has to come too even though I try my best to do hers when TJ is at school. Baby E has no option but to come with me when I drop and pick TJ up from school even if she is napping. On days that TJ has no school, if Baby E is taking a morning nap, he has to stay home and I have to find ways to engage him creatively. Either way, no matter what I do with one kid, I do with the other too, thereby either forcing one to do what she or he may or may not want to do and even then, dividing attention between the two, often unfairly.
(10) Just because the older kid is more of a regular human being who can walk and talk and therefore is more demanding of my time and attention, the little one has to find a way to keep herself occupied, stay out of trouble, be less demanding, and become more independent sooner. I feel guilty when I see Baby E quietly doing something by herself while TJ demands or asks that I play with him or make him a snack or do anything with him that she cannot participate.
As previously mentioned, a lot of this has changed in the short 3 months since I first created a draft post of this piece. Not sure why I never published it but thought I’ll do it now so I can write a follow-up piece soon.
What your guilt triggers? How do you manage your time fairly between two or more kids?