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Sherri Richards, Published August 11 2009

Richards: Mothers too often go on an unnecessary guilt trip

When women begin the journey into motherhood, we inevitably book a concurrent voyage: the guilt trip.

Mommy guilt is a special brand of self-reproach and a universal experience, evidenced by an abundance of books, blogs and articles offering tips to overcome it.

It’s the nagging feeling that clouds the work-life decisions we make, found in stay-at-home and working moms alike.

It’s the remorse we feel when we just don’t want to read “Goodnight Moon” for the 12th time or play Barbies for an hour, again.

And it’s the shame that comes from the faulty thinking that somehow we’re not enough – for our spouse, our child, our employer and everyone else who relies on us.

For me, it’s the emotion that pierces my heart when, despite my best intentions, harm comes to the child I’m charged to protect.

I feel it at bath time when soap slips into my daughter’s eyes. It hit hard when I helplessly watched her tumble down the stairs. It’s the wave that crashes down when, in some way, I feel I fail her.

The mommy guilt got me especially hard last week. I’ve written about my daughter’s crossed eyes, how I came to terms with my child’s imperfections and struggled to decide on the best treatment.

We’ve continued to visit the ophthalmologist after a corrective procedure in April, and have been delighted by improvements, until last Monday.

The doctor decided Eve has a congenital condition that caused her eyes to cross and still prevents her left eye from looking outward. It’s called Duane syndrome.

Crestfallen, I researched it online, and recognized its characteristics in my daughter. Then, I read about its causes.

It’s a birth defect. A nerve in her brain failed to develop around the sixth week of pregnancy. It could be hereditary, environmental or both.

My heart hurt. I wondered if something in my genetics is the root of her problems. Or, worse, if something I did a month before realizing I was pregnant caused this “mis-wiring” of her brain.

I wondered if I truly had made the best decision for treatment, given this new information. I beat myself up for not noticing this particular problem earlier.

Then, like I always try to do when I feel the weight of mommy guilt, I remembered the words a kind pediatrician told me several months ago.

We were at the walk-in clinic, having Eve’s ears looked at. I hadn’t realized she had an ear infection until my own ears started to ache.

Tearing up, I asked him how bad it was, how much damage I had caused by not bringing her in sooner.

“Whoa,” he said. “Unpack your suitcase.”

He didn’t want me to go on that guilt trip. It’s difficult enough being a mother without all that baggage.

She was fine then. And she will be fine now because I have the best intentions for her well-being.

Now I just need to read some of those books, blogs and articles to figure out how to change my guilt trip itinerary, and check that suitcase once and for all.


Sherri Richards is mother of a 17-month-old daughter and employee of The Forum. She’s also “Top Mom” at http://moms.inforum.com