Friday, August 27, 2010

Beast for Sale, Answers to "Guilt"--Call Now!

Guilt is a curious beast.

That said, I should include a disclaimer that this post includes Mild Rant, Strongly Held Opinions, and Possibly a Trace of Household Elephant Influence. Know that if you read on, you may disagree with me, or find me more obnoxious than usual. I just feel like I should warn you before I get rolling…

And no, nobody said anything to me (conversation? Um, no, that door seems to have closed), nothing happened. I just had to put thoughts into words in response to an article I read.

Anyway, guilt is a curious beast.

I am the oldest child in a large Irish Catholic family. I can fill pretty much EVERY stereotype ever held about random guilt! Any gaps in my own resume of anxious failure are filled by society’s emphasis on perfection. The problem is, the Path To Perfection seems to go in competing directions.

Parenting books tell me I shouldn’t have let my kids watch Barney in preschool, now they will never learn. Other parenting articles tell me an hour of Sesame Street a day is a good thing. My kids need enrichment activities to remain competitive, no they need “down time” to fully develop. I should have gone back to work when my kids were younger to support our family more, no, I should have been happier about staying at home. My kids need to have a Catholic education, no, my kids need the resources of public schools, no, good moms home school! My kids should never eat carbs, my kids should eat whole grains only, we should never have sugar, a balance of treats makes for a healthier soul…ack!

What’s a girl to do?

This girl tends to generally just wallow in guilt over roads not taken or roads taken badly. As I’ve gotten older (and more glamorous!) I have found some peace with my choices, or I’ve accepted the bad ones and tried to move on. I am far, far from a perfect parent. I am impatient and quick-tempered and messy, I’m apparently sometimes funny, I’m a good cook, I NEVER wear mom jeans, and I take great joy in life’s little cool things like a woodpecker in the back yard or a blimp flying by my house. I have great, normal kids. They make me insane, they fill me with joy. I figure my screw ups as a mom will only give the kids really interesting material for a therapist down the road.

Despite my pile o’ imperfections, I know I have to just tell the voice of guilt to Be Quiet and let me live!

But guilt is big business. Between magazines and newspapers, internet articles and surveys, book tours and talk shows, we are all constantly bombarded with ways to Make Our Lives More Ideal. Conversely, we are bombarded with a message of “if we only did things differently, life would be better”. From fashion shows to home design critiques, our society is jam-packed with criticism and blame.

But REALLY, bad things happen, sometimes with painful randomness. Blame really isn’t always productive, especially when there’s no restitution to be found, but in our litigious culture that’s a difficult attitude adjustment to embrace.

My Elephant is waving at me.

I’ve discovered in the last few years since our Household Elephant joined our family that I have NO ROOM for guilt about the random painful bad things. Random bad things Happen. Blame doesn’t help. Guilt doesn’t help. There’s no room in the stages of grief for random guilt and blame.

We need to make healthy choices. Certain things are no-brainers. Try to eat right, exercise or at least stay somewhat active, keep our minds active, act in a way that respects others and us. Within those parameters, there are a lot of good options for how to be live an emotionally, physically, and spiritually healthy life.
But sometimes, even when healthy choices are made, catastrophe strikes.

It isn’t anyone’s fault.

Cancer isn’t anyone’s fault.

Ok, there are environmental realities and disasters that have created clusters of illness. I’m not referencing those. And I know science has shown that certain things do put people at a greater risk for cancer; still, placing blame on someone for their illness is never a healthy sociological choice. I’m talking about everyday folks getting cancer or brain tumors or diseases that force them to face life a different way.

It’s not their fault.

I have a lot of friends in the cancer community. Too many. Most of these friends are in the pediatric cancer community, although I lost 2 grandparents and my husband lost one grandparent to random, horrifying cancer. Several good friends are battling adult cancers now, and I am continually inspired by their grit and determination to Show Cancer Who Is Boss.

Their cancer is not their fault.

Pediatric cancers are particularly horrific, and leave parents feeling horribly helpless and wracked by a sense of “how did this happen?” Science is working on trying to figure that out…but to blame lifestyle or parenting is cruel and scientifically inaccurate (EGADS! The kid ate a chicken McNugget! Call Child Protective Services! )

To sell guilt about “if they had lived (fill in the blank “Wellness Business”) lifestyle” this wouldn’t have happened is deplorable. To sell quasi-science as a panacea is appalling, especially to these most vulnerable of people.
It also removes mercy from the equation. If someone is suffering, isn’t the healthiest choice for me, the friend, relative, or acquaintance, to encourage, support, and help? How does finger pointing create anything positive?

We probably all should live healthier lives. But to say that anyone who has cancer probably “wasn’t living a (fill in the blank “Wellness Business”) lifestyle” is ghastly and judgmental. It’s also bad science (which is a whole ‘nother rant for another day). It closes doors, it casts aspersions, it brings despair, not hope. Such proclamations feed the curious beast of guilt, and “otherize” the person suffering.

In so many areas of life, we really are all it together. We can’t have “other”. We need to be “we”, not “us and them”. Only by standing together can we face the darkness. Selling guilt, blaming cancer on those suffering from it, puts me over the proverbial edge.

I think the best plan for “Wellness” springs from the idea of solidarity, of standing together in all our differences, embracing the moment we’re in and fighting through it together. Guilt and blame are never healthy choices.

At least in our home, we have a far scarier Beast to battle than random guilt. We simply can’t let guilt about the Beast take hold here, or we will be lost. We made NO BAD CHOICES when it came to our family; I have zero regrets about the genetic implications of our current crisis. If I let guilt in, healing recedes far down the road to madness. We need to embrace the moment we’re in, even if it feels like hugging a cactus, and make the best of things.

I am deeply grateful for those many, many people who HAVE joined in solidarity with us, who accept our situation even though it defies reason, who encourage us and look out for us, and never, ever blame us for the catastrophes we face. With you, we will beat the Beast.

In the meantime, I know there’s so many of you I haven’t talked to recently…I feel really bad about that… ; )


  1. Keep hugging that cactus, you're surrounded by people willing and ready to pull the thorns out and soothe the wounds. :)

    <3, Kara

  2. Good friends are sometimes the best medicine - know that you have many friends wanting to be your best medicine.

  3. Kristin,

    I love you. You're awesome.

  4. I wrote this long comment, then had an issue signing in and now it's gone. I have a lot to say on this topic but I don't think I can summon it again tonight.

    I wish you were closer, I'd invite you over for some sushi and pesto and Trader Joe's brownies and wine and we could laugh and cry about life.

    It was too long anyway, what I really need to do is to put on my big girl panties and update my own damn blog. Maybe I'll do it on Regina's 11th birthday, or on the first anniversary of her death, those are coming up in less than a month.

    Unfortunately my own guilt has managed to expand beyond my own family.

    Maybe deep down inside I'm just a drama queen.