People often joke about mothers and the guilt trips that they give their children. One of the major underlying plots of the successful sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond was the ability of Marie, Raymond’s mother, to apply a unhealthy dose of guilt in order to get Raymond to do what she wanted. For years, I have laughed at the exaggeration of the guilt-tripping mother stereotype, seeing a only hazy reflection of small bits of my own experiences growing up. For years, I have assumed that mothers just give their children guilt trips simply because that’s what mothers have always done. And, for years I promised myself that if I ever became a mother, I wouldn’t do it to my child.
I’ve changed my mind.
Mothers don’t give guilt trips for no reason. They give guilt trips as PAYBACK.
Recently I was dropping my daughter off at day care, the place that after a three day weekend spent with Mom and Dad, she usually can’t wait to get to. The place where, when I pick her up from the playground in the afternoon, she doesn’t want to leave.
This day was different. When I opened the door to the building, she balked, refused to move forward, refused to put even one foot on the stairs. She started howling when I picked her up and carried her up the stairs. “Daaaaad deeeee!” she cried pathetically (as she always does when I do something she doesn’t like, such as interrupting her play to change a diaper). “Daaaaad deeeee!”
I slipped off my shoes, then sat her down in the hall outside of her room so that I could remove her shoes before we went in to greet her teacher. She kept handing me my shoes, as if to say “Put them back on Mommie. We’re not going in.” All the time she was wailing. (I remember thinking “what a quiet, sweet little cry” the morning she was born. The quiet, sweet little cry is but a faded memory now.)
Against her protests, I finally carried her into the classroom where her favorite teacher was waiting. Even bird wind chimes, other babies, and blowing bubbles could not calm her from the tizzy that she had created for herself. She had become frantic to the point that she probably had no clue what she had started crying about in the first place. So, I remained for five minutes more while she clung to my neck and sobbed into my shoulder. “Mommy, no go. Daaaad deeee.” More wails followed.
In a few minutes, the wails subsided, and she calmed to a mournful snuffle. I said “Goodbye”, knowing that the sooner I left, the sooner she would start playing.
By the time that I put my shoes on, walked to the car and drove from the parking lot, she was waving to me excitedly from the window of the classroom, and her teacher gave me a “thumbs up”.
Even though I know she was mostly testing to see what kind of response she’d get, I still felt incredibly guilty about leaving her someplace against her will. She had managed to pull at my heart strings, and every comment made to me about my decision to return to work rather than stay at home with my daughter haunted my mind on the forty-five minute commute to Madison. All of the “what ifs” that I have ever considered chased each other through my mind as I drove. By the time I got to work, I had convinced myself that I would call the daycare center, and if she was still crying I would turn right around and pick her up.
So as soon as I was at my desk, I called to get a report. “Oh, she’s fine. Having a great time singing and playing.”
As I started proofreading the article on my desk, I squinted one eye and chewed on my red pen, “Now just what am I going to do when she’s a teenager to get her back for this morning?”
(Note: This piece was written in 2008. I am posting it now because of a conversation I had recently with another mother experiencing much the same thing.)
© Copyright 2008,2009 Michele Arduengo. All rights reserved.