Mom Guilt and Racism
Like many mothers, I spend a lot of time feeling guilty for “not being a good enough” mom. Over the past few days, I’ve been mulling over this line of thinking in relation to racism and systemic poverty in the United States.
I want to take a few minutes to address the current situation as it relates to being a working mom and, in my case, a work-from-home mom.
I spend a lot of time feeling guilty for working, even more for working in a career I love (and thus devote a lot of time to). I feel guilty for not talking to my son every moment when I’m not working. I feel guilty for playing inside instead of taking my son outside for fresh air. I feel guilty when I spend my son’s awake time doing chores around the house or bouncing on the bed instead of doing a structured activity.
None of these supposed “failures” are going to impact my son’s future one iota. Not only do I spend more than enough time engaging him through language, play, and shared activities, but he will also benefit from growing up in a middle class, white family whom the state and the marketplace are designed to serve. He will never have to worry about getting killed by police officer while jogging, for instance.
But I already knew that.
What I’ve started to realize is that my guilt-laden mindset is enabling a specific racist attitude toward Black women.
Most of the things I feel guilty for are totally out of my control. I have no choice but to work. It’s simply impossible to talk to a child every single moment of the day. I sometimes need to relax inside in order to gather up the energy to get through an afternoon of work and childcare – plus, I take my son outside all the time!
If I’m feeling mom guilt for things that are completely out of my control, then the logical conclusion of this line of thinking is that all moms should feel like “bad moms” when their child experiences something negative, even if it out of the mother’s control. In other words, I’m saying that Black moms should feel guilty for raising children who will experience the negative physical, mental, and psychological effects of racism. I’m saying that poor moms should feel guilty for raising children who will experience the negative physical, mental, and psychological effects of poverty.
Sure, I don’t espouse this position outright, but it’s the logical conclusion born out of my attitude. I’m effectively enabling the trope that Black moms and moms of color are “bad moms” because their children experience the trauma of racism.
That Black moms are by nature “bad moms” is definitely a stereotype that I’ve claimed not to support, but here I am propping up the stereotype.
So here’s what I’m going to do:
First, I’m going to stop passively telling myself not to feel mom guilt for things that are out of my control (and that, in my case, have zero negative impact on my son). Instead, I’m going to start actively drilling mom guilt out of my brain. Imagine all the time and energy I could win back if I no longer had to spend time on mom guilt?
Second, I’m going to repurpose the time and mental space I reclaim to working to counter racism and poverty. For the purposes of Double Fourteen, this means that I need to start talking with women of color about how we can advocate for extending workplace flexibility and work-from-home options to as many individuals and careers as feasible. Working from home should not be a privilege for white people only, and people of color should not have to counter the irrational fear that their “productivity” will dip if they are permitted to work from home. BIPOC people have as much, if not more, to gain from workplace flexibility, and advocating for this should be a priority on Double Fourteen.