Charlie Brown is slowly becoming my mentor in life. Today, I’m stuck on one phrase from the opening beach scene in Snoopy Come Home. Charlie and Linus are standing at the edge of the water, Charlie delicately bends down, picks up a stone and lobs it into the water. Linus says:
Nice going, Charlie Brown. It took that rock 4,000 years to get to shore, and now you’ve thrown it back.
To which Charlie replies in that low monotone voice that honestly could be me every day of the week:
Everything I Do Makes Me Feel Guilty.
I know the feeling Charlie…
A is a massive Peanuts fan since she first saw the latest movie and has now watched all the old collections a million times over. So much so, that she now quotes from them which is quite hilarious to hear the dry comedic phrases coming from a two year old dressed in a bright pink Disney princess outfit.
Personally, I never saw the attraction to Peanuts. That is until I became a parent and I found that I was able to transfer some of the life lessons from the comic strip to my own inadequacies, anxieties and intimate aspirations.
Today, I’m really struggling with this one and it’s ringing around my head – Everything I Do Makes Me Feel Guilty. I’m stuck in a rut today and really feel that everything I do as a parent is wrong or questionable or at least could be better. It feels like a burst of lava shooting out of my chest and down my legs, past my knees and swimming around my ankles. Slosh, slosh, slosh, I can hear it in my head, guilty, guilty, guilty. Why do we feel such imploding guilt as parents? And we thought teenage peer pressure was bad!
I only have myself to blame for feeling this way. Clearly my child is thriving. She’s walking, talking, counting, singing, eating, drinking, dreaming and pooping! What more could I want?
Well today, she told me, in the sternest of all toddler authoritarian voices, to put my phone down – twice – in the space of five minutes. And she was pissed. I mean this little cute toddler was maaaaaddd at mammy! She was 100% right to be annoyed. What the hell was so important that I needed to pick my phone up at a time when this tiny little wonder nugget wanted me to play with her? What needed my urgent attention in the cyber mobile world?
Nothing. There was nothing there that needed me. What needed me was looking directly in my eyes with her hand on my phone as I went to pick it up saying – not shouting – but determinedly saying “No! No, Mammy!” Well, that hit me a like a rock in the face. A notices my phone use, she notices when I’m not giving her my full attention. How does this affect her? Am I scarring her for life for stealing a moment to indulge in the fast pace of twitter or the depressing and downtrodden views on facebook? Do I really need to check the weather app again or quickly browse the headlines in a world that will always have revolving news coverage? Does A think I don’t want to spend time with her, that this gadget beside me is more important to me than her? What does she think I’m doing? In fact, A thinks I’m looking at ‘pictures’ – facebook, twitter, a ream of fast moving images I barely see as the screen contines to scroll down. Of course pictures can wait. Mammy doesn’t need to look at pictures. So why then did A have to tell me twice! Twice!
Hence the guilt. The realisation that shit I’ve been caught.
So what’s the advice? What does every parent say to you to do?
Just wait. As much as you want to pick up that phone, read that text message, post on twitter, just wait. You’re child needs your attention and they come first.
Yes, its perfectly reasonable, acceptable and right, but Dear God, I can already feel the itch and frustration that this would bring me. Phone use, social media, it’s a 21st century addiction. It’s a part of everyday life. Can you imagine what our kids will be like in 20 or 30 years time with their own kids? How will this parental guilt affect them when technologies become imbedded in our brains and blood stream? Probably easier.
But no, this moment spoke volumes to me. Her actions, her voice, she was reprimanding me. Let the phone ring 100 times and then you’ll know it’s an emergency and can be answered. There just isn’t anything more important than my daughter and her precious time. She’s only two once. Time is already going too fast and besides I don’t ever want her to think that I don’t have the time for her.
Of course, my guilt didn’t start nor does it end with this incident with my toddler. Hell no. Every single detail of her life I question. Has she eaten enough, drank enough? Is she warm enough? Has she played enough, interacted enough, learnt enough in a single day? Have I spent enough quality time with her? Is she happy? Does she hate me for being a working mother? Is her day too long from commute to minder to commute home? And a million other questions that run through a parents mind on a daily, no hourly basis.
With every question comes an answer. With every answer there’s guilt. She needs more fruit, more veg, more water instead of juice. I forgot to brush her teeth, her hair hasn’t been washed in a week. She didn’t play with a variety of toys or educational tools today. It was all squishy pops and paw patrol.
I plan on living with this guilt until she moves out. Scratch that, I plan on living with this guilt. Because surely my guilt is a sort of good thing (?) If I’m conscious of it, shouldn’t I learn from it, get a better balance with the guilt, improve things if they can be improved on?
So, over to you Charlie Brown, share your wisdom what’s next for me in my so called relationship with guilt?
But of course, sleep on it. I’ll feel less guilty tomorrow. Hopefully, I’ll notice that look in A’s eye the next time I instinctively reach for my phone and hopefully I’ll stop. I can’t make any promises. I need more discipline in so many aspects of my parenting life. Let me start with this one to get the ball rolling on the others.
The guilt is never going to go. I just have to learn from it. Take life lessons from Charlie Brown and listen and see what’s going on around me more. Take stock of everything and put things into perspective, perhaps worry less and push some of that guilt out. And mostly realise that my kid is cool. She’s fun and awesome and happy and healthy.
Thanks Charlie Brown