Are You a Conductor on the Guilt Trip Express?

I love a good viral video like the next gal, but last week, I instantaneously regretted clicking the “play” button on “Remember me… Mom wants son to call from college” uploaded by Ann Pinto McCarney (currently near 750,000 views).

“Hi, Liam. Remember me? I’m your mommy. I gave birth to you,” McCarney starts. ”Well, actually, I didn’t quite give birth. I had to have a C-section to get you out. A big scar and it hurt like hell, but that’s OK. Do you remember that it was me that gave you life?”

OY. I hear the woman — I pushed two watermelons out of a veritable garden house myself — but after five seconds of viewing I already felt guilty for not calling her.

And I’m not even Liam.

Gotta give McCarney props for her production choices. The camera is angled up at her, catching the side of a refrigerator and a cabinet — big clues she shot the video in the kitchen, which is the ultimate nurturing Mama’s home base. There’s a harsh reality quality in the clip, thanks to bright daylight (a late-night loving college student’s nemesis) and McCarney’s near constant mocking facial expressions.

Lest Liam forget whom the lady in the video is, McCarney continued: “Let me joggle your memory a little bit. Remember those first two years of your life, there was this woman and you were always on her hip, you, like, never wanted to get put down. Do you remember that? I’m that woman!” she said. “I was the person who always had you on my hip.”

This gave me an instantaneous sympathy pain in my left hip, and also made me start worrying that I was both too much like McCarney and also not enough like her.

As a daughter and a mom, I was terrified, but for two different reasons:

– The daughter in me has had “call your mother” ingrained in her since… forever.

– The mom in me is now worried I haven’t instilled enough “call your mother” in my own children — despite the fact that I insist they text me when they leave our home and when they arrive at their destination… and I’m the mom of two teens that go out quite a bit lately.

A one-word text (“here” or “home”) feels like a fair price to pay for newfound freedom, but what do I know?

See how I did that? It’s so easy to turn to rev up the guilt engines when you’re driven by the joy of worry.

As I continued to watch McCarney’s video, which goes on for nearly five minutes, I couldn’t help but cringe — especially as she went into a sarcastic description of how to use a cell phone:

“Basically, what you want to do is you want to grab the phone — you know, the one that mommy and daddy bought you — and unlock the phone. I know that you know what that pass code is because I know someone texts his girlfriend every day, doesn’t he?” she said with a condescending smile and a little all-knowing wink.

“So unlock your phone and at the bottom you’re going to see four little icons … a handset, I don’t know what they were call, but we used to use them when we were younger in the generation that respected their parents. So you want to use that little icon, push the button, it brings up a little note pad and I know that I know my phone number because I pounded that into your head because I was always so worried about you getting lost or stolen.”

UGH – this was some next level guilt technique that made me slide over from the Team Mom to Team Liam.

“Then, don’t be afraid, you’re going to put it up to your ear and you’ll hear this ringing noise. It’s going to sound a little strange to you because I know you haven’t heard it in a while.”

In the age of social media, the mom guilt — coming from mothers, and also directed at mothers, by the way– is fueled by feeling like nothing is ever good enough. Everyone else’s kids are always doing kind, thoughtful, amazing things, and we all bear witness to life on the other side of the virtual fence.

While on our side, things aren’t necessarily so, well, perfect.

Then someone like McCarney comes along, and I for one am fascinated by how public she drives the shame train right up to her college son’s doorstep: she posted the video on Facebook, and tagged Liam.

Predictably, McCarney got a lot of press on her YouTube rant, as she explained to her local NBC affiliate: “I did a lot of videos with my son when we were on a college road trip, and they were pretty funny, because he wanted no parts of the videos,” McCarney said with a laugh. “As soon as I gave birth and got stretch marks, I figured I had a right to torture him as much as I want.”

Here’s the thing about guilt: ultimately it’s a one-way ticket to resentment. But of course the person steering the shame train is oblivious to how badly things can backfire. In fact, according to Psychology Today, only 2% of those included in a recent study on guilt trips recognized that resentment could be the outcome.

On the other hand, guilt can be productive, when used sparingly and under the right circumstances. But when it careens off the edge into a pit of humiliation, it’s ugly to watch.

Ultimately while I couldn’t look away from McCarney’s video, I wasn’t happy about it, either. Maybe because I know left to my own devices and in the same scenario, I’d possibly turn the same technique on my own precious babies.

Then again, maybe (hopefully!) not. I’m pretty focused on staying attached to my special purpose, which is being creative in my work and my diversions. I’m hyper-aware of this — in fact, I’m in buckle down mode now, so that when the inevitable time comes when I’m not needed to make meals, drive people to and fro, and tend to the litany of parental unit obligations that McCarney so richly details in her video, I won’t devolve into an angry, sad, hot mess.

Live, on camera.

If you’re wondering if McCarney’s video worked, the answer is yes, Liam called.

And yes, this actress and amateur comedienne got a ton of views and a landslide of press. And she did acknowledge that she wasn’t necessarily expecting anything different from Liam.

“He’s not the exception to the rule. He’s the norm,” she told WCAU. “He’s really not doing anything that 50,000 other college kids aren’t doing.”

I was grateful to see the shame train pull back into the station, even if it was a for a brief pit stop, and also considering she’d already done a bang-up job running down her son.

So if you see my giving my kids a one-way ticket on the guilt trip express, please flag me down. Because in the end, one person’s guilt trip is another person’s therapy bill. And as parents, we end up paying equally for both.

Haven’t seen McCarney’s video? Check it out — and feel free to share what you think in the comments below. Not that you have to — of course if you don’t comment, it’s fine. I know you’re busy, and probably not even thinking about how I slaved over this blog post for hours. Not to make you feel guilty or anything…

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