Tuesday, November 9, 2010

No 'Catholic-guilt' here- just Mommy-guilt

One phrase that has always annoyed me is 'Catholic guilt.' I have never really understood it. I converted with my Mom and Dad and four siblings when I was 12. The sacrament of confession was one thing that attracted us to the Catholic Church. Assurance of God's forgiveness (of course under certain rules)? Sign me up! I have always loved this freeing sacrament- I like the fact that the priest is bond to secrecy. Maybe I'll celebrate being a Catholic by going to confession and then watching Hitchcock's I Confess.  In any case, I suspect the phrase 'Catholic-guilt' is used by those 'recovering' or 'cafeteria' Catholics that aren't much into Catholic sacraments. Anyways- shouldn't you feel badly for something bad you have done and isn't it wonderful that the Church has remedies for those feelings?

So I don't suffer from 'Catholic-guilt,' just Mommy guilt. I second-guess myself a lot as many mothers do. Are the children studying enough? Are they polite enough? Do they watch too much television? Are they eating enough veggies? Are we doing too many activities? If any other mom talked the way that I do to myself, I would tell her to give herself a break...

Today brought the guilt home. My youngest has had a very, very, very bad diaper rash for almost a month.  The rash has spread to other parts of her body. Her poor little face has spots. We've started giving twice daily baths, cutting out juice and sugar, adding probiotics and more. But I finally broke down and took her to the doctor. I made an appointment and packed up all four kids in the middle of the school day. No one was at the doctor's office except one couple with a week-old baby.  

I couldn't help but contrast life with one baby and then with the little crew that I have now....

First baby- Daddy comes to the doctor's appointments
Fourth baby- Daddy knows you can handle it and keeps working to pay the co-pay, deductible and percentage

First baby- Mommy has a large, pink Coach purse to carry baby's needs
Fourth baby- Mommy puts two diapers in her purse, forgets the wipes

First baby- Mommy got treated to a pedicure to wear with her new sandals
Fourth baby- Mommy hopes to get a pedicure by Christmas and wonders if the salon is open really, really early Saturday mornings when everyone is still asleep

First baby- Mommy and Daddy holds hands as they walk into the examination room with the baby
Fourth baby- Mommy looks the other way as the three older kids watch Shark Tale and is relieved they are occupied during the hour and a half wait (no kidding and no exaggeration)

First baby- Mommy and Daddy listen attentively to the doctor's instructions and advice
Fourth baby- Mommy listens for toddler boy to get bored by Shark Tale in the waiting room and start crying

so I feel the guilt...

And all of this was because of a bad diaper rash that probably could have been prevented. Poor fourth baby! Even though we all love her up, she can get lost in the shuffle. Maybe this was her way of getting attention. I have learned my lesson- maybe Mommy-guilt can be a good thing if it reminds us to be more loving and attentive of our precious babies.


  1. I really enjoyed this post! I hope Number Four feels better soon-- good for you to just bite the bullet and take her to the doctor.

  2. I hear you. My fourth is quite the assertive little person, maybe because she'd have gotten lost in the shuffle otherwise. She was a very serene baby -- I have memories of her sleeping in her Moses basket on the table in our apartment while first-year-homeschooling-with-toddler chaos went on all around her. But she's pretty rough-and-tumble now.

    Still, I worry about both my youngest children (now 8 and almost-7), and the way my attention to them has always been diluted, whereas the older two, who are more spread out in age, always got a more intense quality of care. On the other hand, maybe it's just as well that I had to stop hovering quite so much.

    My olders are now teenagers, though, and I enjoy them no end. My great hope is that I'll be given the grace to have equally-good relations with the youngers when they hit this age. And one lovely thing that the youngers have that the olders didn't *is* older siblings who love and care for them. In fact, my youngest daughter's world is going to be rocked when her older sister leaves for college in less than a year, leaving her with the boys. I'm expecting to make up for a lot of previous mommy-inattention then, to fill in the hole.

  3. Anniversary with one kid- get best-girl-friend to babysit while husband and I go out to dinner ALONE!
    Anniversary with two kids- at the social security office filling out papers when I ask the date... five minutes later realize that anniversary was yesterday.
    Who knows what it could be like with four kids!

  4. I've had these same feelings, worrying about whether I'm giving my children what they need. Feeling sad that I don't have the same level of time/toys/clothes that some other mom appears to have. It's a tough balance. For me it's always better to focus on what I can give my children, because the lists of can't is endless.

  5. Amy- :) yup- it gets complicated

    Young Mom- You are so right- we have to focus on the positive...one thing we have done in the past is trade babysitting with another family

  6. Keep up the good work mom!! You are exactly where God wants you to be and doing his holy work. Ask for his grace and help and don't compare yourself to other moms! Having 4 puts you into an entirely different zone of reality - I know!!
    Take care...sounds like your little one has a fungal rash going on. Hope you got some answers.

  7. I've never seen anyone use the phrase "Catholic guilt" who regularly partook of the sacrament of reconciliation. Can you imagine knowing you have sinned and feeling the weight of all those sins and not knowing how to lift that weight off your shoulders except to run away and hide from the "guilt" even if it means pretending God doesn't exist?

    Anyway, I feel the mommy guilt too. Worrying about which kid is being neglected because I can't be everywhere and do everything. However, every time I see someone write about it, it always seems they are worried about the youngest or the middle child. For me it's my oldest. I often worry I've pushed her to grow up and be self reliant too fast. She's the one who can (sort of) understand when I say "not now" or ask her to compromise. So she has to make all the compromises. The little ones need books read so they can go to sleep. She's given up on her nap and is more content to flip through her books on her own and so I skip reading to her.

    Anyway, I was laughing quite a bit about your contrasts between first baby and fourth. We were pretty relaxed with our first but my husband did work from home back then and so was able to go to doctor's appointments. About the time I got pregnant with number two he got a job working out of the house and suddenly I had to do it all on my own. For baby number four he wasn't even able to make it to the ultrasound to see the baby for the first time. Poor little number four.

  8. My impression is that the phrase "Catholic guilt" is used mostly by older Catholics to refer to the "You're going to hell for every little sin" attitude that seems to have been common among Catholic priests and nuns before Vatican II. It's not so much about the "feel guilt for what you've done, go to confession, feel better" thing; it's a condemning attitude that makes you feel like a piece of garbage, whose chances of redemption are hopeless, if you once talked back to an authority figure (or didn't clean up your room, or threw away a blessed palm branch, or whatever).

    I haven't really met with that kind of guilt-tripping in the Catholics I know; but I know a couple of older Catholics who have talked about how bad it was back when they were young. I think the changes that Vatican II made in the ordinary everyday attitudes of people was huge; and moving Catholics away from "Catholic guilt" was one of those effects.

    This is relevant to Mommy-guilt, too. We may not have priests and nuns laying the guilt down thick on us anymore, but that doesn't mean we're not getting an unhealthy dose of it. The demons - and I mean that literally - are always whispering lies in our ears that have the same effect. "You forgot the wipes; you are a horrible mother" they say. "Watching Shark Tale will ruin your kids forever". I bet if you think about it, if you pay attention to your thoughts, you will know exactly what kind of thing I'm talking about. All those thoughts that make you feel like you would need a swear word to properly describe how horrible you are; stop listening to them. Stop believing them. Reject them out of hand. They are not from Him, even when they pretend to be. If God prompts you to do something or to better yourself in some way, he will do so with a gentle tone - a little stern, perhaps, but never condemning. Like a loving Father who still sees your worth even though you're not going quite the right path, not like some dad who's given up on you.

    Believing that has set me free in a way I would never have guessed possible. So I highly recommend it. :) And always remember - if you forget the wipes, any bathroom will have paper towels or toilet paper that will serve perfectly well, if slightly less convenient. (Said from experience!) :)

  9. Annafirtree- I find that I feel worse when I am doing something against my OWN convictions. I am getting to the point where other people's perceptions might be taken into consideration- but HEY I'm the mom. So not all our food is organic and I'm not ashamed of all the drugs I took to stay pregnant with baby 3 and baby 4

    So- the Shark Tale example- I wasn't willing to die on that mountain and insist that my kids watch nothing during the long wait. But it seemed like a.... meh... movie (I am snobbish with my media as well as pretty conservative- trying to be balanced).

    About pre-Vatican II Catholic guilt- I see where you are coming from- but I hear people using the phrase today!

  10. The people I've heard using it are mostly my peers in age, younger lapsed Catholics. The victims of bad catechesis which de-emphasized sin and the need for the sacrament of reconciliation. I myself was a victim of that trend in Catholic education. I made my first confession and maybe one more and then didn't go again until I was 30. I guess my parents figured the Catholic school was taking care of it and the school figured our parents were taking us. I don't know. It was never instilled in me as a habit and has been very hard for me as an adult. But at least I've gone back. Many of my friends are still stuck in that limbo. Feeling guilt for all sorts of things and believing in a bad father God.

  11. I so identify with this post. I remember my husband going to nearly all of the prenatal appointments with our first and only making it to the midway-determine-the-gender sonogram with our fourth. I'm an only child and so I'm constantly comparing my childhood with theirs and sometimes feeling guilty because I can't always provide all the "perks" or because I can't provide enough one-on-one time. But then I see one of them kissing on the baby or I hear them speaking their "secret language" and telling jokes that only they seem to understand - and I feel envious that I didn't have that. I'm also feeling very envious (and pitiful) about not having siblings in my adulthood - having help with dealing with my parents, having cousins from my side of the family, or having someone to share childhood memories with. I guess the lesson is that there is good and bad with each situation and we can just appreciate the blessings and ask for God's grace with the rest!

  12. The thing is.... do you really think you had a better option than to let your kids watch a stupid movie? Trust God not to put you in a situation where you have no choice but to bring some sort of harm to your kids' souls... either the movie was a part of his plan for you - a gift, to keep them occupied when they needed it - or else there was some other option that he wanted you to take. Do you really think there was some better option? Do you know what it was?

    It's worth looking into those sort of questions, when these kinds of things come up, because something like that is bound to come up again, you know? Either you did the right thing, in which case you should let go of the nagging guilt - because it's WRONG - or else you didn't do the right thing, in which case you should figure out what the right thing would have been; resolve to do that the next time; confess; and be forgiven. Staying in the emotional limbo of feeling bad for something that you would probably do over again ... you can make yourself miserable that way, and it isn't worth it. Does that make sense?


  13. I think the movie was okay for the situation- I am just a snob when it comes to these new cartoons that are voiced by celebrities instead of voice actors and seem to be churned out just to sell happy meals- I do like Pixar cartoons, however :)

  14. I understand. I'm a snob about books and cartoons and all sorts of things. It's less about mommy guilt and more about wanting the world to be remade so there isn't all this mind-numbing junk lying around to seduce my children.

  15. Hello! I am a mom of seven, and my youngest is now eleven. so my scary stories center more around teen and young adult things. But I do remember when they were all young. In hindsight I can tell you at least this; that it seems to me what they didn't have, materially and attention wise, produced in them the ability to 1. be grateful for whatever time and attention (or stuff) they did get, and not to be too, too needy in regards to my involvement and oversight of their every move. What I don't mean is a purposeful withholding of love or attention, just the result of a houseful and all that goes with it. I did homeschool them when they were young, too. One example of the good result, is say, schoolwork. I do not need to hover or know every assignment they are doing...they do it all themselves. If they need something from me they ask. They are all good to excellent students, and I believe they learned how to think and problem solve because I couldn't do it all for them.
    Anyway, I look back on those crazy days with great fondness. It is a time to treasure, with all it's mayhem, and you sound to me like a loving, thoughtful,and above all, prayerful mama, and I expect your kids will become wonderful adults.
    Blessings and Peace,


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