Guilt has a lot of flavors. I was raised with some vestigial Catholic guilt despite never going to church. I was always followed by a sense that I was bad by nature and should be ashamed of that.
But it wasn’t until Kate and I had kids that I realized a whole new category: Mom Guilt. I can’t remember when it happened the first time, but I can remember my surprise. My otherwise typically confident, headstrong wife, in the face of some challenge of early infancy, was really worried. It wasn’t a general dread: she was worried that somehow whatever she was doing was just not good enough.
This is the essence of mom guilt, a pernicious guilt that appears to be hard-wired into mothers from the birth of their first child. I’ll admit to feeling like my whole life changed when Olivia was born, and likewise when Jake entered the world. But I did not acquire an entire new set of worries.
So what can we, the partners of guilt-riddled moms, do to stem the tide? To take appropriate action, we have to delve deeper into some of the ancient origins of mom guilt.
You’d feel guilty too if it was all up to you
Let’s face facts, men. For the vast majority of human history, we’ve been almost completely incompetent as caregivers for children. We’ve gotten, and still get a pass on that. Even in 2018, being passably competent at childcare as a man gets you a gold medal.
So, let’s not blame women if they feel like it’s basically up to them whether their offspring not only survive, but thrive in the world. The total responsibility for even one person’s life is a lot to have on your plate.
The first step to erasing mom guilt is to zero in on tasks for which you can shed the incompetence of your ancestors. For me, putting kids to sleep has been one of those. I’m a naturally bad sleeper, so I have lots of tricks for getting to bed.
Once you’ve zeroed in on a task, clear your throat with a lot of masculinity, but not all weird or anything, and then say in a deep baritone:
“I GOT THIS”.
Your wife may ignore you, her ears not attuned to the sound of someone else taking responsibility. In this case, you may need to study some tape of NBA players boxing out:
As you can see, even if your wife is a beefy 6’11 and you are only a wiry 6’3, you can still put your body between her and the task at hand.
Then you loudly repeat “I GOT THIS”. She may look at you, stunned, but if you do this enough times, she will eventually shake out of her stupor.
Once you’ve established a healthy set of tasks where “YOU GOT THIS”, it’s time to move on to an advanced technique.
Just Doing It
Again, owing to the historically poor performance of dads, you will likely experience a strange thing after taking on roughly 30-40% of parenting responsibility. Your wife may respond as if you have actually taken on 60%, triggering a whole new set of guilt.
Kate left on a business trip a few weeks ago. That meant for not even 48 hours, I was alone with the two children, including baby Jake who was still doing a night time feeding. I have taken three such trips since Jake was born, all of them longer than that.
Nevertheless, Kate was feeling guilty. This is when I deployed a move that I didn’t even know I had in my repertoire:
“I’ll be ok, it’s not like I’m doing anything women haven’t done since the dawn of time”.
I got a nice chuckle, and her shoulders relaxed. Now it’s my stock line whenever someone worries about my pretty little head when I’m doing normal mom tasks like taking the boy to pick up the girl from the bus.
A New Golden Age
If altruism is not a good enough argument for you to do some mom guilt erasing, then let me make an economic argument. Imagine the productivity increase we could get out of mom workers if we could alleviate the distracting guilt of “will my child be fed foods if I don’t do it myself? Or will they starve and wither away during the few hours they are away from me?”.
Do it for the economy. Do it for jobs. Build a better future…for our kids.