Mothering 101: Using The Tool Called Guilt

Photo by Pixabay

Photo by Pixabay

"And she says things like this to us - as though this is NORMAL conversation!" my son says, using both arms in a sweeping gesture towards where I stand as he says this to friends of his aunt whom he's recently met. They chuckle. He is annoyed. With me.

I admit it. I use guilt when I talk with my children sometimes - usually as a last resort or when I want to make a point. I'd just explained that he should take a hike with all of us while we were on vacation instead of staying back and watching videos on his iPhone in a hammock. After all, we just don't know how many vacations I have left in me. He should want to be with me. Time is running out.

Are you a mother reading this saying to yourself "Why I'm shocked! Why would any mother EVER do such a thing to her child as to guilt him or her! How manipulative!"

OR are you reading this and sheepishly chuckling to yourself that you've "played the guilt card"?

I have come to the conclusion that almost every mother uses the "guilt tool" here and there. And it doesn't matter what nationality or ethnicity you are, or what religion either. We ALL have our guilt methods - Amiright, mamas??

Of course I am.

Long before I had kids, I was sure I would NEVER do anything like guilt them.

But now that I am fully invested in this job title, doing so from time to time seems to serve a purpose.

Typically, I rely on guilt when my kids are insensitive or disrespectfult to me. I like to remind them that someday, when I am dead, they will miss me. I want them to treasure the time they spend with me NOW like I treasure it with them.

So I tell them so. I won't be around forever! Indulge me by letting me take your pictures, have dinner out with me, watch movies with me, go to church with me, or whatever reasonable thing I'm asking them to do that they cannot seem to find the same passion for.

I wrote a post recently about Beverly Goldberg, Adam F. Goldberg's mother from both the TV show "The Goldbergs" and his real-life mother upon whom the TV character is based. The real Bev loves her TV alter ego, and so while I'm commenting on what I've seen in the show, it may be perfectly reasonable to assume that these stories have happened in real life.

So what are some ways Beverly uses guilt? By punishing her kids when punishing herself. For example, when her two oldest children, Erica and Barry, upset her she gets out of the car Erica is driving and threatens to walk home - and so the kids are begging her to get in and go where she wants. Or when she says "I know I guilt you guys all the time, but I have to. You won't talk to me otherwise."

Does this sound familiar? Yeah it does.

While I haven't walked outside the car (yet) when trying to persuade my offspring to go with me and "do something fun" I understand the, uh, "persuasion" (no, NOT manipulation!) that Beverly is using here - you are so in love with your kids, you'll stop at nothing to get them to be with you.

My favorite movie of mother guilt is actually the sweet 1990s Chris Columbus film "Only The Lonely" starring John Candy as the quintessential Chicago Irish cop, all grown up but still living with his mother, played by Maureen O'Hara. She is a master of placing Catholic guilt on her son - so much so that his mind is always actively thinking of the terrible things that could happen to his mother if he isn't there to protect and help her (guess who built that wheel-work in his head?). From fear of her falling down manholes to getting robbed at home, Candy can't grow up and out of his boyhood home and pursue the love of his life due to his mother's guilt trips - but this fiery, soulful mother actually does love her son - and she captivates him. Parent-child relationships sure are complicated.

From my own perspective as a mother, these mother-guilt stories are hilarious because I do see a bit of myself in them - I admit it.

Part of the reason I cherish all the time I do with my teens is that I absolutely DO love every moment with them. You see, I always feel like time is running out.

It's because my mother died when I was 11 and she was 52. The same age I am now. Dad died at 64 when I was 22. I feel an incredible urge to do all I can with my kids as much as I can, all the time. So I often tell them, "Do this with me now. Time is running out. You'll miss me when I'm gone! There will be no chances then!"

Because you see, I know firsthand that there are no chances to do things with my mother and father anymore.

And not only do I enjoy seeing my own kids, I love to see everybody else's too.

When my daugther's boyfriend comes over, he and I chat a lot. I love when the two of them come do things with us. He is very good to her, and nothing warms a mother's heart more than seeing her child treated so well. I often guilt my daughter into making plans so they can both come with - just so I can see how sweet they are together.

When it comes to my son, I love his buddies. They are the kids who've been coming around here since age 3 or 4, and I know them and their parents very well.

I honestly thought I would spend more time with my daughter and her friends as teenage came upon her. I get along well with them, and I also taught their confirmation class, and I loved all these girls. They say the same to me.

But she often goes out to do something with her friends. That is fine, too. They need to get out and about, I realize that.

My son's friends just come over and hang out. They shoot baskets, use the firepit (most recently to burn all of their honework from the school year), play music, play video games, and eat. And I love feeding them.

They are guys' guys, but they seem genuinely interested to talk with me. This, too, warms my heart. I generally do not have to throw the guilt card to have my son do things with me or have the buddies come. Food works for them (a la the other famous mother-guilter I previoiusly referenced - Marie Barone of "Everybody Loves Raymond").

To be sure, guilt is generally a bad thing, I know this. So I don't want to do anything that will turn my children into "pleasers" of other people (trust me, they are NOT!). And I don't want them to spend time with me out of pure guilt - I genuinely want them to be with me. My warnings to them - guilt trips - are based on my feeling that there is precious little time left to be a family based on my own life experiences. There truly IS precious little time, no matter how long it is, and I want to make the most of it. Even if I live to be 94, it's not enough.

When my babies were little, they painted pictures out in the backyard on the little plastic easel, ate picnics with me on special little trips I'd planned for the day, or they just played with me in the backyard. I always told myself, "These are Golden Days." Oh, so they were.

And so are these days.

I am a miser of the golden lives of my children, and I will use any tool at my discretion to hoard this gold - guilded guilt included. But only when I need to, loves. Only when I need to. It will make for funny stories long after I am gone. :)


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