How Come Men Don’t Suffer From Parenting Guilt?
Unless youâ€™ve been doing something truly virtuous over the past few weeks â€“ building schools in South Sudan, perhaps â€“ youâ€™ll have noticed that guilt has been in the news a lot. Anthony Weinerâ€™s weiner, DSK, Casey Anthony, Silvio Berlusconi, British tabloidsâ€¦ theyâ€™ve all been subjects of scrutiny, not least from the women of the world.
Why the women? Because women know from guilt. And it feels good when weâ€™re able to discuss somebody elseâ€™s for a change.
Guilt is a mainstay of femalehood. We become acquainted with it in childhood, when our mothers lay it on thick like Jiffy on toast. Eventually, being mothers ourselves, we get it from our children. No wonder, then, that by middle age weâ€™ve learned to pass it along with aplomb. You could say itâ€™s guilt and not money that makes the world go â€™round.
Nearly 40 years into my own femalehood, Iâ€™m finally coming to terms with the fact that my penchant for guilt is here to stay. At the same time, Iâ€™m also coming to terms with the fact that my husband has been, is and will remain entirely guilt-free. Aside from the obvious, really, guilt is what distinguishes men from women. All the power to those families choosing to raise their children without gender: itâ€™ll come out eventually, when mom lays on her first guilt trip. If the kid falls for it, itâ€™s a girl. If it carries on, oblivious, you know youâ€™ve got yourself a boy. A boy will learn to say â€œNo.â€ A girl will likely be really good at saying: â€œWell, maybe, yeah, okay.â€
Food, love, career and mothers: those are the four major guilt groups. That sentiment was written by a woman, natch (one Cathy Guisewite, who wrote that seminal cartoon strip â€œCathy,â€ about another one of us who knew from guilt). No wonder men found Cathy so grating (more grating, at least, than us women). They just didnâ€™t get the guilt.
Since moving house last week Iâ€™ve found myself giving and getting more than my usual dose of the stuff: guilt for having replaced the childrenâ€™s predictable lives with turmoil; guilt for having to work; guilt for not working enough; guilt for being irritable from the jet lag; guilt that my husband has deflected back on me, because heâ€™s unable to feel it whatsoever.
He and I were to have swapped roles for a while, with him taking â€œfamily leaveâ€ and me working full-time to catch up on the work I missed moving house. Yet here I am at home, smothering our girls with affection to counteract the stress of the move and, simply, being a mom. Why? Because every time I head for the door my husband remembers something Very Important that just canâ€™t wait. Barber appointment! Motorbike tune-up! Mystery meeting! Beers with the boys! And my favorite: Doing my taxes! In July.
And so weâ€™ve had to call our sitter. Does it bother him that every moment he spends away from the kids is a moment theyâ€™re with her? Must I even ask?
For men like my husband, primary breadwinners whose routines were so mildly affected by fatherhood, I suppose every moment spent with the children is gravy. â€œMeâ€ time is a right, as it has always been, and not a privilege. When they take the kids to the park, theyâ€™re heroes, and when they disappear into their man caves or set off for the office, theyâ€™re merely doing what is expected of them.
Which leaves me crying into my copy of Torn: True Stories of Kids, Career & the Conflict of Modern Motherhood, book of the month on The New York Timesâ€™s Motherlode blog.
Try as I might, I will always be Torn. I suppose I should be grateful Iâ€™m the only one in the family in pieces. Though with two girls itâ€™s only a matter of time.