Sometimes I get frustrated with a piece of me, either physical, emotional, or intellectual, and I wonder, “Where did that come from?” I’ve long known that I have a tendency toward guilt. Had I been raised Catholic, I might have blamed my religion. I get asked all the time, “What are you, Catholic?” Personally, I think the Catholics have been over-blamed for this, but maybe they’re just an easy target, what with all they probably should feel guilty about.
This morning, after Bubba’s nap, we watched an episode of Vikings — the drama one, not the History Channel one. Afterward, he popped up off the couch declaring he had things to do.
Me: What? What do you need to do?
Bubba: Stuff! I have things to do!
Me: Are you going to clean?
Bubba: Well, for starters, I have to do some laundry.
Me: So nothing I have to feel guilty about not helping with.
Bubba: No. You sit here on the couch a little longer
We do our own laundry. I hate that he eyeball-measures the soap, and uses way to much bleach. I wash my clothes in cold water and sometimes wash cleaning rags in with my towels. That freaks my bubble-boy out. So we avoid an argument and each do our own.
But what is my problem with the guilt? As I sat pondering this, I had a flashback.
I’m playing with my Barbies, making furniture out of towels and empty boxes, because kids back then actually had to use their imagination. My mom pops up off her chair where she’s been reading the newspaper all morning. I hear shuffling and banging and running water. After about (what I can only estimate after all these years) has been about 15 minutes, I go off in search of her.
Me: Mom? Do you want me to do anything?
Mom: No . . . no . . .
After another bit of time, I follow the huffing, puffing, and sighing until I find my mom again.
Me: Are we having company?
Mom: No. Uh-uh.
Me: Why are you cleaning?
Mom: Because it needs to get done.
Me: Do you want help?
Mom: Do you see anything that needs to be clean?
Mom: Well, then, I guess not.
No longer feeling comfortable playing with my toys, I begin to pick them up. When I get everything put away, I go back and tell my mom I cleaned up my toys and ask if there is anything else she wants done.
Mom: Well, you sure know when to ask. I’m all done now.
This is a story we would laugh about in later years, but the residue may not have worn away even yet. I know she was teaching me how to take initiative, and it probably worked for the most part. But to this day I am a person who needs structure and straightforwardness. I’m not sure if the chicken or egg came first there, but for the most part I’d say children need structure.
As a teen, I asked to apply for work, but was not allowed to do so. Their reasoning was that I had everything I needed. I should leave the jobs for kids who actually had to pay for their own clothes, cars, or school lunch. I had a wonderful childhood, and indeed had everything a kid could dream of. This is the space where most people insert the label “spoiled.”
I’ve gone out of my way in my writings not to speak ill of those I love. And I don’t mean to do so here. However, I will say that the single best thing they could have done for me is to let me get a job when I asked about it. I think it might have changed the course of my life. But then I feel guilty about wishing things might have turned out differently. Of course I do.
I grew up in a home that spoke of business around the kitchen table. It was well-known that my parents valued honest hard work. Their identities were very wrapped up in their business and the reward it gave them. Yet, they were blind to the fact that they were denying me the same reward. It wasn’t until I had children of my own that I felt truly needed. It’s no wonder I went on to have three more after the first. I thrived on the responsibility. I became very involved in my children’s school, and in Scouting. In effect, they were the job I never had. I’m not sure if they would say that was a good thing or a bad thing. Most likely some of both.
By the time I was old enough to get a job — and by that I mean my kids were becoming more independent — I sampled several different environments. I was a cashier, a teacher’s assistant, and a server for a caterer. I quickly learned what I had missed. With the support of my family, I started a full-time career, and learned I am every bit the workaholic that my dad was. I get my identity from good honest work. I value people with a good work ethic. I am passionate about service to others.
So maybe I learned guilt at my mother’s knee. Maybe I’m naturally a person who feels guilty sitting while others are actively employed. Or perhaps I should just repent and join the Catholics. Maybe what makes us US is something we will never truly figure out.
As I keep telling my kids, you can’t blame everything on your parents.
Peace . . .