Parental Guilt

I used to see it often when I worked at a high-powered architectural firm in the city.  The same cycle: dating, engagement, marriage, pregnancy, guilt.  Not always in that order, except for the last two.  My friends wanted families, but they wanted their jobs, too.  They tried to do both and were successful at neither.  No, their children didn't starve, and yes, they made it to work every day (or most days.)  But they didn't feel fulfilled, no matter how they finagled their schedules.  Most ended up quitting eventually, in search of the elusive Perfect Job that would enable them to set their own hours and modify them whenever the demands of parenthood required it.  Those who didn't quit were miserable, constantly rushing back and forth between home and work, stuck without childcare at the most inconvenient moments, missing meetings and feedings and feeling angst over both.  It was terrible to watch, and I can't imagine how much more terrible it must be to experience.

As humans, one of the hardest things for us to learn is that we can't do everything.  We just can't.  If we add something to our plate, everything else will necessarily suffer.  Sometimes this can't be helped; we want to make room for our families and friends, our faith, and our vocation (sadly, this last variable, though least important, is often the most demanding and inflexible.)  Many parents have to work, especially single parents, for whom I have the highest respect (bordering on hero worship) and from whom, ironically, I hear fewer complaints and excuses and see more consistency and responsibility.  Those people are pretty amazing.

These last weeks have been trying on many fronts, but most trying of all isn't the lack of sleep or the worry that something will fall through the cracks.  It's the knowledge that I'm not able to give my best to, well, anything.  I am preoccupied even when I am preoccupied -- pre-preoccupied.  I feel guilty for not calling my friends back, guilty for missing church, guilty for showing up to class late and unprepared.  I know that none of these responsibilities dropped themselves into my lap; I had a chance to say no, and in many cases the ideas were mine in the first place.  So I can't blame anyone but myself.  And yet, I am miserable.

I was unloading all of this on Rob last week when it occurred to me: this is what being a parent feels like.  I don't know if this perfectionsist is up to that particular challenge.