My mom was an expert travel agent when it came time to book a guilt trip. As a young woman, I could get sucked into one as quickly as a stray sock finds a way to bust the belt inside my vacuum cleaner. Eventually, I grew up and grew wise to her manipulation and learned how to stop it dead in its tracks.
The problem, I realized, wasn’t that I couldn’t hop off the guilt trip train. Years ago, I set my bottom line and stuck to it when it came to my mother’s emotional demands. No, the real problem was the guilt was planted deep inside my psyche, as stubborn as a dandelion root, something I didn’t realize until after Mom suffered a debilitating stroke that completely changed the course of our mother-daughter journey, one that inspired me to write a memoir about our time together.
Whoa, guilt. It kept me awake at night. For years, I could only remember those times when I didn’t give into my mother’s demands. Like the time she wanted to come over early for my daughter’s eighth-grade graduation party. I was busy in the yard, trimming the overgrown peony bushes. My husband wasn’t going to pick her up until five, she wanted to come over at two, and I didn’t want the distraction of entertaining her.
“Fine,” she said. “Then I won’t come over at all.”
“Fine,” I said, and I hung up the phone.
Shortly before our guests arrived, Mom called back. “Can you pick me up? I’d like to come after all.”
But it was too late for my husband to drive the forty-minute round trip, and I told my mother as much. I wished she hadn’t called; it’s much easier being angry than dealing with Mom Guilt.
Of course, I couldn’t enjoy my daughter’s celebration. And this became one memory that haunted me for many years with thoughts of, What could I have done differently?
Maybe I could have acted with patience rather than reacting with irritation. Or maybe I could have countered her demand with empathy. Reasoned with her, explained my stress, and how much I wanted to see her, just not as early as she wanted.
Could I have set a different tone? A positive course for the day?
Through the years, our power-struggle with each other controlled the memories we could have made together before her stroke. Instead of talking about it, though, and coming up with a solution to thwart our occasional bad behavior, we just allowed the wounds to fester in our relationship, one I didn’t think I needed but now very much wish I’d had.
Guilty of Mom Guilt
Unfortunately, I’ve repeated this same pattern with my adult children, both my daughter and my son. Recently, my daughter told me something like, “Mom, I’m not going to play this guilt trip thing with you.” Bravo! Good for her.
I think growing up with Mom Guilt stunted my own maternal growth, but I won’t use that as an excuse to repeat the pattern. I can’t, not if I want meaningful relationships with my children, which I very much do.
I’m trying to break the cycle, but it’s difficult sometimes to censor the words that occasionally flow out of my mouth like rain water from an overwhelmed storm sewer. I need to learn how to step back from the situation, take a time-out, just like I did when my children were young, and I needed to temper my frustrations with them. I must learn to do this; when I don’t take a breather, I’m creating a different type of Mom Guilt, one that affects me much more than being on the receiving end of it.
How do you temper Mom Guilt? Does it play a role in your relationship with your mother? Your children?