Guilt: the equal opportunity burden

It wasn’t supposed to go like this. I was supposed to be an equal partner in all things with my significant other in life and in family. Share the responsibility, share the joy from accomplishments in our lives, share common goals so that we were always reassured of the journey we took to bring ourselves to new levels of challenge and reward. Raise our family with strong values, love, and lead by example with exemplifying respect for all things. And then came real life. Discovery of repeating the cycles of past trauma and dysfunction, crises in real time, and then the guilt. The guilt that only comes from hind sight.

I used to believe that my life was to reflect my values and priorities. My perspective was that if you talked the talk, you walked the walk. Little did I realize that life was less about leading by example by what you have and more about reacting to what you didn’t. It was more about juggling the plates and not breaking the important ones. It was less about how nice your table looked with these plates and more about how comfortable your guests were. I felt guilty because I wasn’t leading the mom life I wanted, and in the process, led the mom life that impacted my kids in ways I worry about now.

As an empty nester, I look back at my choices of how they affected my children. Being a step-parent was like a trial run for “real” parenthood. First, there were the years of being just a stepmother. Then there were the years of being mainly just a mom. Finally, there were years of both, when I had to develop answers to questions I wasn’t ready for. I had to be ready to make these decisions whether I was alone, or on the same page with my partner. I had to be ready not only to live the life I felt I should live, but figure how to be the mom I wanted to be, to my stepchildren and my children, amidst all the unhealthy parts of real life that never really went away.

It was difficult. While this blog was never meant to call out the specifics of my life, it does allow me to realize that I spend an awful amount of my life wishing things could have been different. Don’t get me wrong – I made the best decisions I could given the circumstances. However, I have spent lots of my time worrying about what I felt I could have done differently. I often find myself anchored to the past with this worry. Now, I have grandchildren and I see that all of my adult children are creating their own lives. They are making their own choices, creating their own memories. I have to wonder – Could I have done more? Are their challenges in life my fault? Will they ever know I tried? Will they see all that I’d hoped for them but never felt I shared with them?

I know I shouldn’t be worrying about things beyond my control. In my head, I realize that my life never needed to be perfect. But in my heart…that’s a different story. Despite my best attempts to live my life in mindfulness, I continue to be brought back to the thoughts of “what if” I had lived my life differently? Made different choices? Guilt seems like the equal opportunity burden that all mothers face at some point in their lives.

So, inspired as I am for this new year, and for my belief that it is never too late, I make a personal commitment to take each day a time with a simple goal: reach out to my loved ones to let them know they matter. Instead of worrying that I have failed them in some way, I will let them know they are ever present in my thoughts. I accept that I cannot change the past and I cannot accept responsibilities for others’ lives. I can only move forward with purposeful love one day at a time. Loving myself enough to take this step each day allows me to cherish what I have in my life and those who have me in theirs.

This is my journey. One day at a time. One step at a time. Where is your life journey taking you?

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