My post from last night got me thinking.
I don't know about other moms, but I suspect its the same thing. Whenever I hear a new theory about the causes of autism, I feel defensive.
I mean, if vaccines DID cause autism, then I, the parent who made the choice to vaccinate my child, am part of the reason my son has autism. Or if its the things in my house that made him sick, I bought those things. I exposed him.
Even if its simple genetics -- those are my bad genes he got. Well, mine and his dad's, anyway. Which all leads me to consider inherent Mommy Guilt and to ask myself what good does it actually do?
If one stops to consider that even the best lives have times of pain, sickness, heartbreak and struggle, then it stands to reason that the simple act of bringing a baby into this world is automatically going to cause your child to suffer. And as your child grows and you have to make decisions about where you live and where they learn and who you interact with and what they wear and what faith you follow (or don't) -- all of these things lead to other things which at some point in time will cause your child pain. Just choosing to take a certain route to the grocery store might be the one thing that caused you to be in a car accident in which your child was injured.
In this life, it is a certainty that we will all suffer, we will all struggle and we will all ultimately die. Why then, do we have children? If we only consign them to certain pain, what's the point? (Rhetorical question, by the bye.)
Does parental guilt serve a purpose? Why does it exist otherwise? (Not a rhetorical question.)
It stands to reason that the concept of parental guilt is not a new one. Surely when Cain slew Abel, Adam and Eve must have had more than a few terrible nights wondering where they went wrong. The instinct to protect our children is incredibly powerful and nearly universal. We've all heard the stories of adrenaline-fueled parents lifting cars off of their toddlers, of parents hurling themselves in front of buses to push their child out of the way, of parents braving flames in order to free a trapped baby. The need to protect is instinct, there is no decision process involved. It would naturally follow, then, that when our child suffers, we feel somehow responsible for not having prevented it.
A little guilt goes a long way. The parent who feels guilty about working long hours may be prompted to make more of an effort when they are home to spend quality time with their family. Guilt causes us to try to make the best parenting decisions we can, to learn from our mistakes and to continually improve. When we want our children to be happy and healthy our parental conscience drives us to be and do better.
But I think guilt can also go too far. The parent whose child is sick or has a pervasive disorder - what good does guilt do for that parent? The parents whose children got sick and died in Holbrook, MA from playing in toxic fields behind the chemical plant, what good does guilt serve them? They couldn't have known. The truth is that there are things in life we are never going to be able to prevent. There are pains and truths everyone must learn as they grow. They are part of the maturation process, they are the stressors that build our character, our resolve and our resilience. If we never had our hearts broken, how would we learn to make better relationship choices?
Life to me often seems like a continual progression from one hot stove to the next. As I blow on my singed fingers from the last character-building experience, I often wonder from whence the next lesson I learn will come. And so it is, so it will be, for my children.
I think its possible to be happy without having to experience pain, but I also think that I'm more grateful for being happy when I can contrast it to the times I have suffered. The joy of being in love is clarified by the experience of losing a relationship. The enjoyable and relaxed trail ride is even more satisfying in contrast to the memory of the ride where my horse and I parted company - painfully.
Still, I find as a parent, that I have yet to learn when it is OK to ratchet back on that guilty defensive posture. I suppose its natural to react strongly to a perceived sense of being blamed when in fact there have been many times since my childrens' various diagnoses that I have very much felt entirely responsible for every single one of those issues. Rightly or wrongly, that self-searching is a process I think we all go through when our child experiences something greater than a scraped knee or a cold.
At some point, though, I had to recognize that blaming myself wasn't going to get me anywhere. in order to be the parent my children need, I have to let go of self-recrimination and be in this moment, making better choices. Andyou know, even in the worst case scenario where a parent does indeed make the wrong choice about a babysitter or a pet or a medication or any myriad number of things, self-blame is not a constructive thing beyond the initial recognition of "I could have chosen better." Recognize it and move on, because the next time you will make a better choice.
So yes, I recognize that I tend to overreact and jump on my soapbox. Those moments, though, are useful to me, because they help me recognize the areas in my life that could use a little growth.