Monday, October 11, 2010
Much like the Lady of the Lake in Arthurian legend, we hang onto the Excalibur of guilt, as if by doing so we somehow protect our families from its heartrending sting.
Perhaps it starts off in the early days when as a young mother, we discover that our lips have the magic power to remove the smart from skinned knees and scratched elbows. Or that a chocolate chip cookie and a few well placed tickles can ease the hurt of a playground rejection.
However, as the children grow, so do the complexities of their suffering. A kiss and a cookie don’t cut it when a bully is picking on them after school. And there isn’t a mother alive who’s figured out how to repair a heart broken during the throes of rebuffed first love.
It’s nearly impossible to stand by and watch those we love suffer and not do something to take away the pain, so instead we take on the guilt. We stay up at night worrying, exhausting our brains as we struggle for the solution that will make it all better.
A few weeks ago my husband complained that the numbers on the scale were creeping up at and unexpected and completely unacceptable rate.
“Perhaps if I started buying more healthy foods,” I said, “And if we took walks after dinner, and if I used less oil when I cook maybe…”
“You’re doing it again,” he said with a smile.
“You’re feeling guilty for me.”
And he was right. I was taking responsibility for the food and exercise choices he was making. I was feeling guilty, as if somehow I had control.
“You’ve got to stop that,” he said gently. “You’ll drive yourself nuts.”
But how does one stop a feeling, even one as negative and destructive as guilt when it has become equated with motherhood? How does one walk into a parent-teacher conference for the class your high school daughter is failing without the fear that somehow you must be at fault. And how do you stand by and watch as your child suffers the repercussions of their own foolish choices without jumping in with both feet and trying to make it go away?
Then I met a woman whose child lay sick in a hospital bed, suffering from a debilitation disease and I asked her the question, “How do you handle the guilt?”
She was thoughtful for a moment. “I have to fight it every day because, if I don’t, it will consume me and then I won’t be of use to my child.”
I nodded as she continued. “I remind myself that there’s nothing I can do, things happen as they will and my anxiety won’t make a difference. Then I pretend that I’m letting it go.”
“You pretend?” I said in surprise.
She laughed. “And you know what, it isn’t long before the guilt is really gone, and I can be there to enjoy the good hours and be a strength in the bad.”
The old fake it till you make it ploy. I’d never thought of that before, but I guess it makes sense.
So, just as the Lady of the Lake happily relinquished her hold on Excalibur, I’m ready to turn the family guilt back to the family where it belongs. How about you?