A Letter to Me on Mama Guilt and Bungee Cords

Dear Me,


You’re leaving on a business trip today.

It’s time to review what happens when you go away, Beth. As part of your effort this year to talk to yourself the way you’d talk to a friend (instead of, you know, calling yourself stupid a lot, which is stupid), you’re going to sit yourself down, crisscross on this couch, and hear me out.

Let’s just have a quick chat about Mama Guilt, shall we?

Beth? Knock it off.

It doesn’t help anyone when you feel guilty. It’s not proactive. It’s not productive. It hurts mostly you.  And there’s no fun, pretty Guilt Badge to sew on your Mama Sash for proving you can do Mama Guilt as righteously as the next mom. Besides, Mama Guilt is over-priced. It charges you emotional energy and chunks of time, and the show is SO not worth it.

Seriously. You’re going to be away for two nights, mama. And two nights does not a crappy mother make. Neither does three nights. Or four nights. Or five nights in Mazatlan with Greg which you really should consider.

Sure, you feel like there’s a gigantic elastic bungee cord tethered between your gut and your kids that gets stretched tighter and tighter the further you go. And you imagine it, pulled to its full capacity, suddenly flinging you home with just the power of your great longing. And you think it would be funny to wave at the cars on the highway on your way by, grinning at the stunned faces who see the self-propelled mama flying home, gut-first. Except that some mamas riding in those cars wouldn’t be stunned, of course; they would recognize this power that moves you, and they would nod at you in understanding and solidarity.

That power? That pull? It’s not guilt, mama. It’s longing. And the longing to be with your family is a gift. Accept it as beautiful and move on without the self-flagellation. Ripping yourself apart is SO last year.

Furthermore, I think you need to hear that it’s OK to be excited at the prospect of sleeping in a gigantic hotel bed with clean, soft sheets and freshly shaven legs. And to be giddy about not wondering how many times you’ll be elbowed in the head or kneed in the bladder or have to fish under your pillow for a lone earplug that you hope to God will provide just enough sound buffer to let you sleep amidst your household’s fantastic snoring. Live it up, Beth! This hotel room comes along once each year. Do not squander it.

Just because last time you were alone in a hotel room you were awake half the night because you were convinced that a robberrapistmurderer was hiding under your bed (Is that breathing? Oh crapcrapcrapcrap. He’s breathing…) – and, just because the time before that, you were in a room next to very enthusiastic honeymooners named MATT and OhYeahBaby who only needed very occasional rehydration breaks – does NOT mean that you won’t sleep this time. You are not cursed to never sleep again. Give yourself the benefit of the sleep doubt, lady. You can do it!

Finally, as disheartening as it is to face the annual reminder that your kids don’t actually care whether you leave – and, in fact, that they’re more excited that they get to have dinner at Grandma and Grandpa’s house than they are dismayed by your imminent departure – please do not make them each kiss you forty-five times and then lie to you that they’ll miss you terribly. It’s an embarrassing display of neediness and you’re better than that. You really are.

Really. You are.

Oh, geez, Beth. Seriously?

Stop crying.


OK, fine.

You can force them to kiss you and pledge their undying love. But that’s my final offer.

Also, I hope you have a great time.



ABOUT BETH WOOLSEY I'm a writer. And a mess. And mouthy, brave, and strong. I believe we all belong to each other. I believe in the long way 'round. And I believe, always, in grace in the grime and wonder in the wild of a life lived off course from what was, once, a perfectly good plan.
  1. […] I vow in in the New Year to pay attention to the difference between guilt and longing. To recognize that just because I long for my children does not make me guilty of any self-assessed […]

  2. […] merit, that something horrible will happen to my people in my absence, and pathetic and desperate longing for the family I couldn’t wait to leave. The push-me pull-you of mothering, I know. I love it. […]

  3. Ahh, I just made my husband read this because this is exactly how I feel all the time. Except add in a bunch of guilt about the fact that they’ve only recently come home from the orphanage, and they still like to spend half their time there, and somehow that breaks my heart even though I know it’s good that they were and are loved by lots of mamas and other kids. It’s very hard to distinguish longing and guilt!

  4. […] everywhere because I’m already a teeny, tiny emotional mess, anticipating the longing I’ll feel for the ones left behind. Or, maybe not longing, exactly, for the Large One […]

  5. When the 4 of us were teenagers, my parents would go to Hawaii for 2 weeks every winter. By themselves. Leaving us to fend for ourselves.

    Hmmmm, I think by todays standards that would be called child abandonment. In the 1970’s it was called, get your own butt out of bed and go to school, do your own laundry and cooking and we will see you when we get home!

  6. […] my littles do just fine without their mama and don’t pine for me the way I pine for […]

  7. […] it taking up space in the inner sanctum, or complain about not wanting it there, I can think of my longing for my children like the […]

  8. Five nights in Mazatlan with your guy???? Do it honey . I’ve done that 3 times and will do it again when I can.

    1. Making Greg look at this one, too! Thanks, Betty! 😀

  9. Don’t forget about the “SLEEP DEBT”! That may help make up for the sleep “doubt”. Plus, since you’re half used to it anyway, bring the earplugs! Enjoy your time away. I remember a month or two after my youngest (until now) was born, I FANTASIZED about getting away to a hotel for a WEEK alone–JUST so I could SLEEP!….. (and I am doing it again??) Oh, right, I LOVE babies! :o)

    1. I used to fantasize about getting in a car accident bad enough to have to be hospitalized for a week. Your hotel version of getting a mama break sounds MUCH HEALTHIER. Of course, my version came with medication, so there’s that. 😉

      Having my babies after having other babies? SO much easier because I knew the mind-numbing exhaustion would pass. Here’s hoping that holds true for you, too. I know you’ve got the experience! xoxo

  10. The kids are excited about coming for dinner? Yayyy! So are we! But we’ll miss you, too. Sweet dreams.

    1. They asked me why my chocolate cake isn’t as good as yours. True story.

  11. Have a FABULOUS guiltless weekend!!!!!

    1. There were 5 chocolates on my bed for turn-down service. Coincidence or providence? I say providence! And then I ate them… almost guilt-free. 😉

  12. haha this is fantastic. i am so happy you get to have a break. you should ABSOLUTELY live it up. self-flagellation = bad. freshly shaven legs = good.

    i only have one, but i find that every time i get a break away from him, i come back happier and more than ready to see him and love him the best i can, i.e. a better parent to him. i try to get breaks as often as is reasonably possible. 😉

    and DO consider mazatlan for five nights with your hubby, that sounds like a fabulous idea. 😀

    1. Thanks, Ashley! I’m making Greg look at this so we’re all on the same Mazatlan page. 😉

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