Maternal Guilt: The Eternal Version

It’s been years since I wrote about parental guilt in my newspaper column (Productive Day Guilt, Maternal Revenge Phenomena, Not A Dinner Planner) and yet this morning, as I stood in my very empty, very child-less kitchen and scooped fruit into my very gut-healthy plain Greek yogurt, I felt it: The guilt of favoring one kid over the other.

Not the decade-ago Morning Maternal Guilt of, Packing Lunches And Worried I Gave One Kid A Bigger Cookie Than The Other. No now, as I broke apart the clumps of frozen raspberries, I actually paused and worried one dog was getting a bigger bite than the other. That’s right. Dog.

The only “children” I have at home now are our three miniature dachshunds—who, like my children when they were teens–will eat until they explode–except the Doxies are far less finicky than my children ever were: Lettuce without dressing! Bread crusts! Rabbit poop!
So naturally I broke apart more raspberry clumps and doled them out until I was sure each dog got the same amount. (Insert Maternal Sigh here.)

Will the Maternal Guilt never end? I feel it every birthday (The kids’, not the dogs’ I’m not that crazy of a dog lady! Yet.). Every Christmas. Every student loan payment. Are we treating them equally? Fairly? Are they each getting what they need on equal levels? If one kid has been driving the extra family car for the past three years then we owe the other kid an equivalent amount of cash towards the purchase of their first car, right?

I remember the day, 23 years ago, when the concept of my husband and I favoring one child over the other was introduced to us. I tell you, my conscience and Maternal Guilt Receptors have been irrevocably seared ever since. And they shouldn’t have–because at the time, that very day, Scott and I defended the accusation (ahem, “observation”) lobbed against us as the responsible parents and logical adults we believed ourselves to be: “Um, yes. Yes we do ‘expect more’ from our five year old child than our two year old. He’s physically and cognitively capable of more.”

Yet 22 years later, here I am, standing in my kitchen with raspberry stained fingers, making sure I’m not “playing favorites” or “being harder on” one dog over the other.

What will it take to let this go? Or is Maternal Guilt, in reality, Eternal Guilt?


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