"We seldom get into trouble when we speak softly. It is only when we raise our voices that the sparks fly and tiny molehills become great mountains of contention."
- - Gordon B. Hinckley
February 27, 2013
Mommy Guilt
by Emily S. Jorgensen

My oldest daughter was born with a birth defect. As these things go, it was very mild—a cleft deformity in her hard palate and a cleft lip. She has had three related surgeries to date, and will likely need at least two more before she reaches 18 years old.

It wasn’t a hole in her heart; it wasn’t a missing limb, or a condition that would affect her development in any important way.

We felt very lucky that it was not worse.

Every nurse and doctor told me it wasn’t my fault; these things just happen sometimes.

I was contacted after her birth to participate in a study. The whys if this particular birth defects are not all known. There is an obvious genetic component since the incidence of it occurs in very different percentages based on race: white people have about a 1 in 1000 chance of having this birth defect, and Filipinos have about a 1 in 100 chance.

They asked me all kinds of questions about my diet and lifestyle while I was pregnant. Yes, we had a cat, yes, I took additional calcium supplements during my pregnancy, yes, I did this, no, I didn’t do that.

As I have casually kept up on the research into this condition, I have found that if a pregnant woman gets toxoplasmosis from a cat, it can lead to this defect. I have learned that the chemicals used to cure meat are also thought to cause this defect.

In other words, it probably is my fault.

Oh, I know that anything I did wrong was in ignorance. It may have happened no matter what I did. However—

There are fewer more painful emotions than feeling you have failed your child. And yet, we can’t help but do it sometimes.

How do we deal with “mommy guilt?”

Mommies who work, mommies with a special needs child who sometimes neglect the healthy ones because she has to, mommies who find themselves a single parent, and every mommy without extra challenges but who fails sometimes, experience mommy guilt.

Of course, daddies experience this, too.

Some parents don’t want to face those feelings and so lay the blame for everything on their children. Or, they may try to hide their heads in the sand and pretend their children have never suffered for their mistakes.

Some are so obsessed with preventing these feelings that they control everything their children do in an effort to prevent their children’s failure, and thus theirs as parents.

Most of us fall somewhere in between, dabbling in a bit of each extreme.

We forget that we are not our children’s only parents. We are not even our children’s first parents.

As with all human failings, the only thing that can truly bridge the gap between our feeble attempts at parenthood and what our children really need is the atonement.

I have often wondered, nor do I claim to be even close to understanding, how a loving Father in Heaven can send his innocent little children to some of the most horrific situations imaginable.

But, somehow, I have to have faith that everything is accounted for in His plan. Somehow every wrong will be righted and every wound healed.

I think most people in their late teens or early twenties deal with their disappointments in their parents. It is a natural part of becoming your own adult—you analyze what your parents did wrong, what you want to do better. You may have to work through grief or anger at some of the problems they caused you. If you are very lucky, maybe you are more concerned with how you can fill such amazing shoes since your parents are near perfect.

When I was going through this stage, I remember talking to my dad and expressing how I wish he had done something better for me. His reply was something like, “We probably did make some mistakes. I am sorry we were not perfect. The question really is now, what are you going to do with what you’ve been handed?”

At some point, each of our children must come to answer this question on their own. Likewise, we must answer the question, was my offering on the altar of parenthood the best I could give? Was it given with a pure heart and good intent? Did I put my child’s welfare above my own selfishness?

Ideally, we should be asking ourselves these questions often---during our parenting years, not after. And when we fail, we need to have the humility to apologize to our children. When we do this, we not only teach them about repentance, but we show them that we respect them as fellow children of God, not just “our” children.

We also make it easier for them to forgive us one day when they wake up and realize the ways we messed them up.

The best I think we can hope for is that we mess our children up in better ways than our parents did to us.

And we forgive our parents for being people, just as we hope our children will forgive us.

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About Emily S. Jorgensen

Emily Jorgensen received her bachelor's degree in piano performance from Brigham Young University. She earned her master's degree in elementary music education, also at BYU. She holds a Kodaly certificate in choral education, as well as permanent certification in piano from Music Teacher’s National Association.

She has taught piano, solfege, and children’s music classes for 17 years in her own studio. She has also taught group piano classes at BYU.

She is an active adjudicator throughout the Wasatch Front and has served in local, regional, and state positions Utah Music Teachers' Association, as well as the Inspirations arts contest chair at Freedom Academy.

She gets a lot of her inspiration for her column by parenting her own rambunctious four children, aged from “in diapers” to “into Harry Potter.” She is still married to her high school sweetheart and serves in her ward’s Primary.

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