“Please, Lucy. Mama went to six different stores to find that costume. Can you please wear it?”
My heart crushed, my ears burning, and my inner self, the mother who promised never resort to guilt-trips, is disgusted that I am practically begging my daughter to wear this ridiculous outfit. Why do I care so much that she doesn’t want to wear a costume? Why am I behaving like the type of mother I swore I would never become? Because Mom-guilt is a potent force and it takes an even stronger person to recognize it before it poisons your motherly influence.
Don’t ask me why, but Easter witches are part of Swedish culture and every spring, little children dress as witches and warlocks to hand out handmade Easter cards in exchange for candy. (It’s basically like trick or treating, but no Swede would ever admit that.) After spending two days driving around town and frantically searching through six (or was it seven?) different stores, the Great Swedish Easter Witch Costume Hunt of 2016 ended when I finally stumbled upon a flowered apron and head scarf appropriate for my American-yet-Swedish daughter. I grabbed a witchy broom for good measure and left the store feeling pretty darn proud of myself. My daughter would be the cutest Easter witch—apron, handkerchief, and some fake freckles—she would love it.
This year, our family would blend in like everyone else in our small Swedish neighborhood, and we wouldn’t be “those weird American neighbors” any longer. My hard work has finally paid off!
Except, my daughter didn’t want to wear the costume.
I watched in dismay as she tore off the flowered apron and matching handkerchief. My hard work was for nothing, and I could feel the Mom-guilt taking root like a fast-growing weed. Of course, she didn’t understand the massive undertaking I put into finding her the perfect outfit; she is a child for goodness sake. The new headscarf was tied uncomfortably tight behind her head so as not to slip off her bouncy curls and for her, comfort exceeds style—she is my daughter after all.
I’m not alone in Mom-guilt—we are all capable of spewing forth Mom-guilt because it works (sometimes). It’s inevitable. We’ve all been there, haven’t we?
Remember the elaborate cake you spent hours decorating in the middle of the night to make the birthday party perfect that didn’t get a second glance on the big day? Or maybe it was the toy you ordered three months in advance because you knew it was so popular and would sell out at Christmas that was quickly cast aside for another toy.
When these monumental efforts go unnoticed, the Mom-guilt weed grows even stronger. It becomes tougher to rip out as it wraps tightly around your psyche. It sprouts its ugly head in the form of pleading with your children to bend to your will because you worked so hard, damn it.
I was proud of my efforts because I thought it would make my daughter happy—it was an expression of my love, but she didn’t care at all. It felt like a slap of rejection. A denial of my hard work.
The hard part is not passing this Mom-guilt onto our children. Our love for our children has nothing to do with the amount of effort we expend on holidays and birthdays, but it is an expression of our love, and when rebuked, it is hard not to resort to guilt-tripping them into compliance.
Instead of using it as another tool in my arsenal of parenting techniques and laying it on super thick, I’m going to reconsider how I want to be a Mom. Yank that damned Mom-guilt weed out from the root and leave the guilt-trips to the unenlightened.
Have you ever struggled to find a culturally appropriate costume for your child while living abroad? In Knocked Up Abroad, Clara Wiggins describes the great lengths she goes to in order to find appropriate St. Lucian costumes for the La Marguerite parade. Read about it here: