The Double Edged Knife: Guilt and the Small Family

One of the strongest emotions I’ve dealt with since officially realizing that we’re on an “infertility” journey is guilt.  There have been plenty of other emotions – the sadness, the anger, the loneliness and so many more, but the guilt is what lingers the longest.

I feel guilty for not being able to fulfill one of the bigger goals of my marriage.  My husband and I got married, among other reasons, to have a family.  We still muse about having “a brood” and cast longing looks at each other when we see siblings playing on the playground or that mother with a shopping cart overflowing with kids at the grocery store.  Now six years in we’ve had a respectable number of children, except that life doesn’t reflect that,  my grocery cart looks sparse and our trips to the playground are a little quieter than they should be.  And I feel guilty for all of that.  I feel guilty for having a body that, while the doctors claim it’s most likely perfectly healthy, doesn’t function and fulfill these hopes and dreams.

Then there is the other side of the knife, the guilt that comes from not being able to relate to other mother’s, from having it easier in terms of the demands of my time, energy and resources.  I will be the first to admit that I think I have this parenting thing “easy” – I have one independent, healthy and reasonable three old.  Of course he’s still a three year old and we have our ups and downs, but it’s different and I’m painfully aware of that.  The reminders are everywhere.  They come from the closest and most well meaning of friends and family and I feel guilty for it.  I feel guilty for the clothes that have only been worn once, the toys the don’t need to be shared and the time that doesn’t have to be divided.

It’s a digging sensation that tells you that you don’t stack up next to the rest – the ones who make multiple PB&J’s for lunch while you make one, the ones who deal with fight and meltdowns constantly while you’re able to focus just the one in front of you, the ones who have to divide their dollars and stretch a penny further than you do,and the ones who have multiple unique personalities and preferences to consider while you’re able to make faster, easier decision.  It all ends up as guilt; the guilt that tells the mother of one or few that she’s not good enough, that she’s not doing enough, that she has no place at the table.  

It’s cyclical; we feel guilty about being infertile, being infertile changes how we have to parent and run our households, which we feel guilty about, which reminds us that we’re infertile.  I’d like to say this pattern is rare, and only comes up on occasions few and far between, but it’s an almost daily cycle for someone in the middle of it all.  We’re reminded by our cycles, our grocery lists, our calendars, the number of bedtime stories or clothes in the closets.  It’s the little voice that tells us that when we mess up our budgets or loose our cool that we are failing that much worse because somewhere out there someone is doing more with less and being better with more.

I wish I could wrap this up in a pretty bow, with a lovely admonition about how I triumph over these feelings and tips and tools for those going through the same, but I don’t.  This is a daily struggle.  It is the reality of the journey I’ve been given.

23 thoughts on “The Double Edged Knife: Guilt and the Small Family

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  1. Oh, Molly, I keep you and many women struggling with IF in my prayers. I pray someday the guilt goes away. It's easy enough for me to say, you have nothing to feel guilty for, but I get the sentiment and just want you to know you're in my prayers.

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  2. It probably doesn't help but I need to remind you that you have nothing to feel guilty over. I don't know why things happen the way they do. I don't know why God blessed us with four healthy children when CLEARLY there are mothers out there who would do a much better job and who don't get that privilege. It doesn't make sense to me at all. I wonder if in heaven we'll get to makes sense of it all. I sure hope so. Praying for you.

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  3. I'm sorry Molly. I know this doesn't help, but no matter the number of children there is mom guilt everywhere. Or at least for me I feel guilty many times for many things. Being pregnant and sick with a 5, 2, 18 month old, not able to enjoy their individual babyhood as much as I like, enough attention to go around? There's just so many reasons why we all see guilt in our lives, and I just hope you know that this type of erroneous guilt is usually based on a lie we're buying into, and not seeing God's truth in our lives somehow. It's so hard to see past, and I struggle with it all the time, but I just keep going back to turning to hope in God. I wish it was easier!

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  4. Thank you Mary, it's the tricky thing about it all – so many things when it comes to kids and families don't make sense. I believe it will in the end, but it's such a struggle to over come it. Thank you though.

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  5. It actually is comforting, in a strange schadenfreude kind of way, to know that other mom's go through it as well. You're very right that it's a lie that we buy into and it does keep me from seeing the goodness in my life. I wish it was easier for all of us, but I'm glad we have each others backs. I just wish I lived closer to my big family friends so I could be a more tangible help, and at the same time maybe fill the holes that cause the guilt.

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  6. I am not a mother yet. And maybe I never will be (we've been trying to conceive for awhile now) but I experience the same guilt of not being able to relate now that most of my friends have children. It's a daily struggle to not feel like I'm not enough of a friend to them because I can't relate to their same life experiences anymore. I feel so silly when I talk about life and it's trials when I know it's nothing like the things they deal with everyday.

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  7. You know, we mothers have so much guilt don't we. I feel a ton of guilt over my fertility as well. We're not exactly infertile, but our fertility is lower and it takes awhile for pregnancy to occur.. We have larger age gaps between our 4 children than many other Catholic families have. I feel guilt that my life is too easy, because I only have 1 child right now that is under 5. I feel guilty that I've never had 2 kids in diapers, so I can't relate to that. I feel guilty that I have a difficult time handling my 1-yo when other mothers are dealing with 2-yo and 1-yo and newborns.

    But the worst is this awful, nagging, terrible fear that I'm not “good enough” for closely spaced children. That the reason God doesn't give me a bunch of kids, close in age, is because I'm not good enough for them. I KNOW that's not the way things work. I really stuggle with envy and it's hard not to feel that if I was just “better” (more patient, more organized, etc.) I would have been blessed with more children.

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  8. Sending you love, Molly! This might surprise you but your blog effected a huge shift in me last year – I decided to simply ROCK IT, whatever I was given, to just rock having one kid, to focus on what I love about it, to rock working, to rock our little joys and quirks here, and also to pursue the things we want to pursue without comparing us to others. It's been really pretty awesome. You gave me that by showing me how buying into or perpetuating myths, guilt and drama gets us nowhere. I think before I felt like I *had* to feel guilty about secondary infertility, and I realized, uh nope! I am allowed to feel sad about it whenever I want to but I've very consciously tuned out the peanut gallery in my life and try to surround myself with positivity and support.

    Only you are walking your walk. Only you can enjoy each day you are given and accomplish what love, compassion, patience and pleasure you can every day. You do not need to read blogs that make you compare and second-guess yourself. Listen to your heart, weed out the advertising noise, and live in love.

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  9. So eloquent, so heartbreaking. Your courage to articulate your emotions, regardless of how 'successfully' you 'triumph' over them at times, is beautiful and you most certainly touch the hearts of women who feel exactly the same way but are unable (or unwilling) to express that. So for giving a voice to all of them, thank you.

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  10. I hear ya! I feel like I am wearing some sort of scarlet letter being a practicing Catholic with only one living child and I pray to God to have just one more so as to fit in. I feel like Catholics and perhaps Mormons must really struggle even a little more with just having one living child because of our Faith. We have a 3.5 year old followed by three losses. Have you had any losses?

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  11. Dear Molly, indeed “guilt” is in every mother, catholic or not, I think that's the price to pay for having brains and being self-reflective… I struggle with guilt too, on one side my love for children on the other my love for theatre. No matter what, I always feel I fall short, both in my mothering of two and on my scattered career…! Guilt doesn't help. Focus on action, get inspired, practice happiness. Hope it helps you – this is what I tell myself when it gets dark and gloomy around here… Love from Amsterdam!

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  12. One more to say, “Me too!” I lost a child in miscarriage in April. This week I have been burning out mothering my 4 year old and 2 year old, and I feel guilty because I'm supposed be doing that just swimmingly while being pregnant to boot! I know that doesn't make any sense at all. Emotions and being human generally don't. But I haven't figured out yet how to stop the emotions either, just try to ride them like a passing wave. I'll pray for you tonight!

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  13. I'm so glad to hear this Amy, it's definitely something I need to work on in my own life, but I'm so glad what I've shared has had such an amazing impact on anyone!

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  14. Yes, exactly Nelly. We've struggled with primary infertility, a difficult pregnancy, two miscarriages within 6 months and now what looks to be secondary infertility. Prayer for you and your children in heaven.

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