Why do parents feel guilty all the time?

I feel guilty. All the time. About everything

I feel guilty that I can't keep up with any podcasts, but then when I do play my queue I'm guilty that I'm letting the Pod Save America guys swear in front of my three-year-old. I feel guilty I caved and handed over the fruit snacks to have an uninterrupted five minutes on the phone. I feel guilty I'm writing this while my winter-breaking preschooler is eating Fritos and tomatoes (right now it's any food that rhymes) while watching How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

I don't feel guilty about which Grinch he's watching (the right one), but I do feel guilty that he's watching it in January. Then again, it might as well be December because all the Christmas decorations are still up and did I mention that his father and I are atheists and I feel guilty about all the unchecked religious celebrations? 

Kiddo, of course, is not guilty about any of this. He's thrilled to have 25 minutes of the noise, noise, noise, NOISE.

One of the other things I'm guilty about is the stack of library books I've been renewing instead of returning, which is why over the break I've been reading Hungry Monkey, in which Seattle restaurant critic turned stay-at-home dad turned novelist turned food comedy podcaster Matthew Amster-Burton asks how parents who love food can get their kids to love it too. I'd recommend it to any parent who bragged about a one-year-old asparagus-chomping amateur gourmand only to find, a year or two later, that the little darling will only eat plain pasta and Tostitos. 

The book is not another treatise on stealth health; you'll find no veggies tucked into brownie batter here. Instead, Amster-Burton gives us a recipe for teaching kids about food, grocery shopping, cooking, and occasionally even eating. My favorite suggestion from the book is to move food prep down rather than moving kids up. My three-year-old often pops into the kitchen to help me, but I've never given any thought to how limited his movement is when standing on a stool. If I had to get down every time I wanted to grab something a few inches to the left, cooking would be a chore. Amster-Burton sets his daughter up with an electric skillet on the floor. I'm going to move the slow-cooker I never use because it's in a high cabinet down to the floor so I can teach kiddo how to saute. 

I came for the cooking tips and recipes. I stayed for Amster-Burston's analysis of parenting guilt. 

On reading parenting magazines gift subscribed to him before Iris' birth, Amster-Burton knew "moms feel guilty about everything." He, however, found himself "immune," feeling no shame over his family's favorite frozen potstickers or feeding his daughter Crunch Berries. The book opens with three-month-old Iris' first food: a chocolate frosted cake donut dropped onto her by dad. He doesn't spend pages apologizing or worrying over her damaged palate. 

It's not that Amster-Burton never feels guilty. He feels guilty when he gets annoyed that he can't send peanut butter in school lunches. He feels guilt over his preference for fake maple syrup. He felt guilty Iris sustained a minor burn when making her first round of pancakes. He was surprised to feel no guilt over cooking his first lobster, but that was because he'd already been feeling so guilty about storing the live crustacean in his refrigerator. 

He doesn't feel guilty about anything Iris is or is not eating. There's no guilt that she eschews spicy food, or hates cheese, or complains about green things in her food. He doesn't feel guilty because "feeding a young child is stressful and unpredictable, you do whatever it takes to make it work, and the job is never done." I suppose that applies to all parenting. It's all stressful and unpredictable, you do whatever it takes to make it work, and the job is never done

After finishing the book, I resolved to do two things: 1) move the slow cooker from its high perch above the refrigerator to the floor so that I can teach kiddo how to saute and 2) feel less guilt over my parenting.

I haven't actually done either of these things. We didn't get to the slow cooker because he wanted pizza instead, so we pulled out the new Zingerman's Bakehouse (Squee!) cookbook and made pizza tough. We weren't patient enough to let the dough rest overnight, but we did make it to early evening. I offered a little guidance about meats, cheeses, nuts, and my new favorite pizza topping, Mike's Hot Honey, but told him that a pizza topping can be basically anything. 

He set out to making mini pizzas for the family. For him: olive oil and pistachios. For me: garlic oil, parmesan and pepperoni. For his lucky dad: olive oil, prosciutto, sage, lemon, and hot honey. 

For his second round, it was chocolate chips for him and chocolate chip, pepperoni, and hot honey for us. My husband and I plated it with all the enthusiasm we could muster, because if kiddo cooked it we were going to eat it...and we were really pleasantly surprised. Think candied peppered bacon. We'll probably make it again. 

Chocolate chip Pepperoni Pizza with hot honey. better than you'd think.

Chocolate chip Pepperoni Pizza with hot honey. better than you'd think.

Even though I still haven't dug out the slow cooker, I'm making pretty good progress toward goal number one. The kitchen is definitely more kid-accessible this week.

Goal number two still needs work. 

Overcast is overflowing, so I've also been trying to catch up on my podcasts, starting with Season 5 of Start Up. Season 1 of this show, in which Alex Blumberg shows you the messy process of creating a business, is one of my favorite seasons of any podcast, but Season 5's Running a Family and a Business was the first episode to leave me in tears.

The entire episode is a conversation between mom and entrepreneur Diana Lovett and executive coach Jerry Colonna. Lovett built Cisse Cocoa, a company that ethically sources chocolate from the Dominican Republic. I know very little about managing a successful business, but I'd gather that being on shelves at Target and Whole Foods is a good sign. 

But for all the business success, Lovett feels little personal success. The conversation she and Colonna had about her work-life "balance" will sound familiar to most moms trying to balance work and family: 

I mean, it feels kind of relentless, you know what I mean? From the minute I wake up in the morning, I'm baking brownies for a meeting, trying to have a little bit of time to connect with my kids, running off to work, you know? Like I get home, we make dinner. When we make dinner I don't have a place to be calm and present until like 9:30 P.M. and then I'm exhausted. I feel like I can get hacks from other people, you know what I mean? I feel like I can get advice, but how I face this as a person is so hard.

Colonna interjects with some questions about Lovett's experience starting a business with a young family, and she responds:

I mean, it's a lot of guilt, you know. I didn't take a maternity leave with either of my kids, and I feel like that's sort of, us, I don't know, a paradigm, or example, of like, I feel like i've prioritized work over my kids.

Lovett is talking to Colonna because she wants to find more time for her kids and her work so that she can be "happy and present" in both roles. About ten minutes into the episode, Colonna summarizes their conversation so far:

The only choices you seem to be holding onto is "make more time," or "make better use of the time that I have."


How about not feeling guilty?

I don't think it has ever once occurred to me to just not feel guilty. 

So how do I do that? I look forward to your answers, which I'll share in this mini-series about parenting and guilt

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