Mom guilt is here to stay. The stress of trying to be a calm, nurturing parent while also trying to keep our jobs, stay on top of school notices and remain married isn’t going away. Not to mention the feeling that we’re doing none of them particularly well.
But that won’t stop some people from trying anything. Author Ayelet Waldman, for instance, tried LSD. In her new book, “A Really Good Day,” she documents her experiment with “microdosing,” taking very small quantities of LSD — enough to make you calmer, more aware of your environment, more able to focus on your work, but without all those wacky hallucinations.
Waldman — who wrote an entire book called “Bad Mother,” a memoir that was supposed to let mothers off the hook for not being perfect and became notorious for writing an essay about how she loves her husband more than her children — seems determined to show moms that however irresponsible we feel we’re being, she’s worse.
Sort of. On the one hand, she wants to shock us with her unmotherly behavior, but on the other, she’s just as stressed about her children’s well-being as the rest of us. And she has argued, not incorrectly, that if we could stop our constant hovering over our children and learn to be a little calmer, they’d be better off. But then she, too, hovers.
It’s a relief and sometimes even a bit of a thrill when mothers like Waldman come on to the scene to write about how “bad” they are.
In her new book, “The Happiest Mommy You Know: Why Putting Your Kids First Is the Last Thing You Should Do,” Genevieve Shaw Brown, a writer-reporter for ABC News and a mother of three, tells moms to stop spending so much time making gourmet meals for their children while they themselves skip meals or snack on leftover chicken nuggets. And she advises them to force their kids to sleep at all costs. She tells mothers to be more selfish, noting that the martyrdom culture of modern motherhood isn’t good for mothers — or children.
But it’s also unavoidable, because many of our decisions about mothering are driven by guilt or the potential for regret.
Indeed, regret is a surprisingly powerful force influencing human behavior. In Michael Lewis’ recent book about the foundations of behavioral economics, “The Undoing Project,” he describes experiments where people are asked to choose between receiving a certain amount of money — say, $100 — or having a 50 percent chance of winning $1,000. As Lewis recently explained to Time magazine, “People making decisions aren’t actually trying to maximize their returns, but minimize regret.”
As parents, we’re too often thinking not about the potential gains but rather which outcome we’ll regret.
Though other mothers may not have the resources of Waldman (who is married to best-selling novelist Michael Chabon) or Brown, we still have enough choices about where and how to raise our children, how much we should work or stay home when kids are little or what kinds of activities our children will do that it’s hard not to feel we’re going to make the wrong decision one way or another.
Is your child frustrated with reading? Why didn’t you spend more time reading with him at night? Does she not like her teacher? Maybe you could’ve picked a different school? Is he not a good sleeper? You should’ve let him sleep in your room longer or kicked him out of your room sooner. Did he get another cold? Maybe you shouldn’t have sent him to school when the other kids were sick or maybe you should send him more to build up his immune system.
Whatever decision you make, there are other parents, doctors, teachers and busybodies second-guessing you, of course. But frankly there’s nothing like the way we mothers second-guess ourselves.
And many of us prefer a sure thing to taking risks. We would prefer to watch our 10-year-olds cross the street every time than take the risk that something might happen to them if they do it themselves. We prefer the certainty of letting babies sleep in our beds than risk their tears in their own room. We prefer the certainty of our children getting a good grade to the risk of forcing them to do their homework on their own.
But we can’t live our lives or properly raise children thinking endlessly of regrets. Most of us should be able to make that journey without going on a trip.
Naomi Schaefer Riley is a senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum.