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The Parenting Mistake You Can Avoid

Feeling guilty.

Two simple words, and one sure-fire way to ruin your day. And night. I know it's hack—it's been said, it's been done. But this week, like the meal you keep burping up no matter how many Tums you choke down, it came back up for me again.

"I'll see you in the morning," I said, kissing the tops of my boys' heads as they plowed through their mac 'n' cheese. This itself makes me feel guilty, that I allow them to eat "kid food" just to get some protein in their bodies. That they're not eating grilled salmon and kale, or at least rice and beans, like I think all children with better moms are eating. But letting them down in the food department pales in comparison to the guilt I feel leaving them so I can work, not being around for that last kiss good night before Daddy steps in to play guitar.

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This is the biggest reason I basically stopped taking stand-up gigs over the last five years. I couldn't handle the guilt I felt being out at night. Not unlike most middle-class earners, the money I'd make (if I were lucky) would just about cover the babysitting, so it felt even more stupid to be out.

It's not that I don't know many women who create a work/life balance as mothers. It's just, as a comic, I couldn't seem to crack it. Frankly, I still haven't. I feel guilty leaving and yet, lately, as my children have naturally grown more independent, now I feel guilty being home too. You know, not "getting myself out there," not working harder. I got a little relief from guilt's stranglehold this week when I read a very candid interview with the comedian Sarah Silverman in the Los Angeles Times.

"I forgot to have kids," she told the reporters, "And now I feel like a weirdo ... But when am I going to have kids? I'm on the road all the time. I had to make a choice, and you can't have it all."

The battle for most moms on the frontlines is waged ferociously between our ears.

It's not like we haven't heard this before, that you can't have it all. But hearing it from the other side, from the side of not having made room for a family at all—and Silverman's unfiltered regret about this—made me feel slightly less guilty about making the decision to stop traveling and settle down.

And yet, I'm still conflicted, almost daily.

I shared these feelings with a friend of mine, a non-comic mom who works part time. She hit the nail on the "Mommy Wars" head. The real struggle is not so much the socio-political one of working mommy vs. non-working mommy that people love to talk about—each side attacking the other while simultaneously defending their own choice. The battle for most moms on the frontlines is waged ferociously between our ears—sometimes it's a naked gladiator raging, and sometimes it's a tiny buzzard sawing through your brain. But either way it has a voice that tells you wherever you are you should be in the other place doing the other thing.

"Moms who have no inner conflict about the work/family life issue are the happiest, the ones without guilt," my friend said. "That's the key. It's fine to be a homemaker, assuming you can afford it, as long as you aren't conflicted about the choice. It's also fine to be a full-time working mom. The women I know who are miserable are the ones wracked with guilt wherever they are. It's constantly feeling you are doing the wrong thing that will drive you insane."

Insane is a strong word although, in some cases, I'm sure it's true.

Twenty minutes after I left that night, I texted my son, "Make sure you tell Daddy about math class today!" I had a few minutes before going on stage, enough time for the raging of the guilt battle: you flew out of the house too quickly, there was something else you were supposed to tell him to do, you didn't really need to go out and ... and ... "and now ladies and gentlemen ..." My name was called.

The noise stopped. I did my set. I had a great time and went home. Everyone was sound asleep.

How about we leave guilt for people whom it might do some good. I'm thinking the Madoffs and murderers of the world.

You know what I found out in the morning? My children were fine.

According to every self-help guru and coach out there, which is quite a few, feeling guilty is a choice. It's linked to past actions and, about the most you can hope for in terms of pay-off when you massage it, is regret. We all know how helpful regret is. Allowing guilt to consume our thoughts is, at the very least, not helpful. At worst, regret is a highly destructive circle of hell that keeps you from being in the moment you are in, which then becomes something more to feel guilty about—and, of course, regret later.

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How about we stop the madness? How about doing our best to interrupt the guilt/regret cycle? How about just accepting that you, me, we are in fact doing the best we can given who we are and circumstances of our lives. How about we leave guilt for people whom it might do some good? I'm thinking the Madoffs and murderers of the world. And who ever created too much high fructose corn syrup in the world. And those non-vaccinators, and anyone who tells you they've never used Botox through a frozen face, and … you get the picture.

Image via Wikipedia

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