Guilt Trips: I’m Trying To Break The Vicious Cycle, Okay?
I finally thought I was old enough to act like an adult to my mother, who days earlier had invited me and my daughter â€“ along with two of my brothers and their wives and children â€“ over for dinner. I was having a really bad day, though, feeling both physically sick and not mentally up for conversation. Instead of using the â€œMy daughter is sickâ€ line, which, trust me, is ideal for getting out of family obligations, I decided to tell the truth. Yes, the truth.
I called my mother that afternoon and said, â€œIâ€™m really not feeling well and I donâ€™t think Iâ€™ll be good company, so weâ€™re not going to come tonight.â€ I broke this news as gently as possible because my motherâ€™s intentions were good. And I thought she could handle the truth. What came back was not, â€œAre you okay?â€ or â€œI hope you feel better,â€ or â€œIs there anything I can do?â€ What came back was, â€œWell, now Rowan is not going to get to see her cousins!â€
I was, quite frankly, mad. First, I told the truth â€“ that I just wasnâ€™t up for it. And, really, itâ€™s not like my daughter never gets to see her cousins. She sees them a lot. I knew my mother was not happy with me, but I am a grown woman and, heck, I WASNâ€™T FEELING WELL. I told myself to let it go. If my mother couldnâ€™t understand that I wasnâ€™t well, then thatâ€™s her choice to be angry. Of course, that lasted about 30 seconds before the guilt set it.
No, I didnâ€™t enjoy a relaxing evening at home, which I should have, since I was feeling so ill. I spent the next two hours wondering if I should go, and feeling awful that I said I wasnâ€™t going. In fact, looking back, I really should have gone, because dealing with my entire family, even if I simply wasnâ€™t in the mood and wasnâ€™t feeling well, would have been less painful than the guilt I carried around all night and through the next day.
Ah, mothers and guilt. Itâ€™s possibly one of the worst feelings you can ever have. Even though you may think youâ€™re in the right, if your mother makes you feel guilty, itâ€™s game over. At least for me it is. I was telling my assistant, who happens to be Catholic, about my guilt issues and we got into an argument over who feels more guilty when it comes to family. Finally, I just said, â€œThanks to my mother, I fell guilty over EVERYTHING. If I donâ€™t call, I feel guilty. If I do call, and donâ€™t have a lot to say, I feel guilty. If I donâ€™t want to go family bowling with them, I feel guilty. So, pretty much, I feel guilty seven days a week!â€ She argued that Catholic guilt was just as bad as Jewish Mother guilt, and I just shook my head and said, â€œYou donâ€™t understand!â€
Now, Iâ€™m a pretty strong and independent person, but when it comes to my mother, I canâ€™t stop feeling guilty, especially if she acts as if I let her down. Missing that dinner (in which she planned to order in Chinese food) made me, literally, feel as guilty as if I had just hit a pedestrian with my car. But I realized, to my horror, that Jewish Mother guilt may be something that is passed down.
When I came home one night last week, my daughter was sitting eating dinner and watching television. I said hello to he, and she barely responded. I said another hello and she barely looked at me. Finally I said, â€œRowan, when your mother says â€˜hiâ€™ to you, you say â€˜hiâ€™ back. Even better, you give her a kiss hello. Especially if your mother was out buying you stuff you need for your dance classes.â€
As the words came out of my mouth, I realized I sounded exactly like my MOTHER and I wanted to kill myself. My daughter, already at age 8, was showing strong signs of feeling guilt over her mother (ME!). Right away, she said,â€œIâ€™m sorry, Mommy. Iâ€™m so sorry.â€ She was almost crying. I immediately said, â€œItâ€™s no big deal. Just say hi. Letâ€™s move on.â€ Again, the only word to describe what I was feeling was GUILT.
So my mother makes me feel guilty, and I make my daughter feel guilty, and then I feel guilty because I never want to be like my mother and make my daughter feel guilty. I know my grandmother made my mother feel guilty. So maybe I canâ€™t blame my mother either. Really, I canâ€™t win, can I?
I do know that Iâ€™m going to try my best to cut any words or tone of voice coming out of my mouth to make my daughter feel guilty. Iâ€™ve spent 37 years feeling guilty, only a quarter of which I should have felt truly guilty about. My mother can understand things like, â€œI’m out of town,â€ or â€œRowan has the flu.â€ But, even then, Iâ€™ll get a phone call telling me I â€œmissed a really good time.â€ Oh, the guilt! But is it my mother making me feel guilty, or is it me just feeling guilty because itâ€™s in me. I need to call my shrink ASAP.