My neighbor's pride and joy -- the one who's always been a great student -- just brought home a report card that left his mother sputtering. At herself -- not him.
"The problem is that I haven't had any extra time to sit down with him while he does his homework," said this usually wise single mother.
"I've been getting home late since I got my promotion. I'm sure that's what's wrong."
Maybe. Or maybe her son has taken up with a not-so-great peer group. Or maybe this child needs special help with his studies, or needs hearing and eyesight check-ups. Or maybe he's so distracted by the alluring young lady sitting next to him that he can't possibly concentrate on his schoolwork right now.
When my own pride and joy's grades took a dramatic dive years ago, I didn't conduct a thorough investigation right away, either.
He was the child of a busy working mother -- what else did I need to know? I'd been too busy speaking to audiences across the country about their problems -- and not busy enough helping him with his.
Two weeks and three canceled speaking engagements later, finally crept out from under a mountain of self-blame long enough to gather information from my son's teachers, friends and, most important, from him. It turned out his sudden disinterest in schoolwork had nothing to do with me, but with a young lady named Melanie, and with first love and racing hormones and a momentary lapse -- on his part, not mine -- in keeping his priorities in order.
The thing to remember is that when we working mothers automatically shoulder the blame whenever our children run into a rough spot, we hurt not only ourselves, but them, as well. Guilt stops us from gathering the information we need, first of all -- from our children's teachers, pediatrician, Scout leaders, Sunday school teachers, after-school care-givers and, most important, with our children themselves to find out what's really wrong.
It stops us from confronting our children, too, from holding them accountable for their own behavior. It's hard to hold anyone else accountable when one has already declared oneself guilty, after all.
All children have rough spots from time to time, whether or not their mothers work. Let's stop beating ourselves up by assuming that we and/or our jobs are somehow to blame for all their problems.
We're more likely to learn the truth if we don't cloud the issue with blind, automatic guilt.