Oh, the guilt.

December 3, 2014

Being a new parent brings on a lot of strange emotions. I’ve already mentioned the love, love, love, crazy love. Then there’s the guilt. Neurotic guilt. My new daughter has turned me into Woody Allen’s character in Hannah and Her Sisters (which I’m sure is just Woody Allen). Managing the guilt is something I’m not sure how to manage.

It starts before the baby is even born. I worried I wasn’t offering enough nutritional or emotional prenatal support. Why, oh, why did I let Andrea have that sip of beer? That probably knocked three points off our kid’s IQ score. Should I have played more classical music while she was in utero? I played Nirvana’s In Utero album, but what if that loud music messed her up?

I read a lot of books during that period, including Prenatal Parenting: The Complete Psychological and Spiritual Guide to Loving Your Unborn Child by Dr. Wirth Frederick. It details how to create a healthy environment for your baby’s brain to develop in. But I sort of skipped over the sections about “God.” Was that bad?

Then the guilt ramps up once the baby arrives. I feel guilty about my constant fear that I might drop her or accidentally dislocate her arm putting on her Yoko Ono onsie. I worry that I’m not doing enough for her intellectual or emotional development. She seems to like TV. That’s not good, right?

Yesterday I went into a shame spiral because I let her cry for 20 minutes, not realizing she had a soaking wet diaper. I just kept shoving the binky in her mouth, saying “Baby, please stop crying. Daddy needs to blog.” Then I felt guilty for sticking my finger into her diaper, worrying it will be logged in her subconscious for some later neurosis of her own. “I have a vague memory of my father’s finger in my diaper.” Lord.

If fact she’s crying now, with a dry (finger tested) diaper. So we are going to take a few minutes to dance in the living room to the Flaming Lips.

The gender guilt is another killer. I thought I could interrupt the wave of pink everything, but it would have been like a elderly toad stopping a convey of Wal-Mart long-haul trucks. And a gift is a gift, so, thanks for whatever you gave us, pink or otherwise. But I will draw the line at toys! I promise! But it’s a daily thing. I accidentally called her  “my little princess” one day and thought, “Well, that’s it. I’ll try harder with the next daughter. Might as well go buy Barbie’s Dream House for this one.”

It’s still early. She’s only three and a half months old. When I tell her, mid-squall,  “There’s no crying in baseball,” I don’t have to share my inner monologue that says, “Why not? Baseball is good and so is crying? Why can’t there be crying in baseball?” Thanks, Tom Hanks.

My goal is to raise a human that is free of gender, that isn’t stuck in what Judith Butler called “gender trouble.” But, in this culture, it’s one step forward, two steps back. I want her to be surrounded by the strong feminine characters in her life (especially her Latina family members), but am I poisoning the well early by being a stay-at-home dad? I feel guilty about having this intense bonding time with her that my wife is missing.

And of course, added to this, is the guilt I feel toward my wife. The baby takes emotional attention that I used to lavish on her. I know she’s wondering what happened to the guy who dragged her into a bar restroom to make out. And I worry her career as an artist has been derailed to be a working mom. She is such a talented artist, I feel really guilty about this one. My mom dropped out of college to have me in the 1960s. Am I just reproducing the Mad Man patriarchy of the home? Crap.

So, yeah, lots of guilt betweens moments of extreme bliss. I imagine that this is “normal” but I think feminist parents get an extra layer of it. I’d like to think that I’m getting more things right than I’m getting wrong. Time will tell. As long as I don’t drop her too many times. OK, she’s crying again. It’s a cold day and she only has one sock on. I suck. Gotta go.

These books are available at Powell’s by clicking the covers below.

5 thoughts on “Oh, the guilt.

  1. The mantra that got me through a lot of parent guilt and pain is “It’s OK to NOT be OKAY”. Children respond to your energy and vibe. If you are upset they feel it. If you are being neurotic, they will get anxious. They look at you for your reaction to the world. Try to take good care of yourself and stay calm and peaceful and the baby will be, too.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I say perfectly acceptable to skip the “God” sections. I appreciate the reading recommendations as I’m a first-time-father-to-be (currently 15 weeks in). Keep up the good work on a great blog.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I don’t see how a stay-at-home dad could “poison the well”! I personally think the best family dynamic is one where parents decide and/or switch off roles depending on things such as who is best at it, who likes it best, who has more time, whose career is more demanding/important/moneymaking (mutually decided, of course), not decided by what is a man’s job or a woman’s job. I was raised in a household which only later did I realize was really progressive for American suburbia, where my mom stayed home with the kids for awhile, then when she went back to work my dad stepped in more since his job gave him more free time and flexibility (college professor…). This made my childhood a time when my mom did all home repairs and carpentry, my mom and dad did the dishes and cooked, I mowed the lawn, my brother vacuumed the stairs, my dad stayed home with me when I was sick, and my dad, after trying for awhile, conceded that he should no longer be in charge of the laundry. LOL. Which I took over. It was really more about their interests and aptitudes than about traditional gender roles. In retrospect, it was awesome and totally shaped me. Now I hope to reproduce that same sort of home life for my daughter. And I think you are on the right track for that! Don’t think only about her having strong feminine role models, but strong masculine role models.


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