This past Friday we went on a spring hike with some other families. The day was near perfect and our group decided to trek up to the top of one of the trails to a lookout. Some of the moms brought their preschoolers. About half-way up their little legs started giving out, and one by one the moms picked up their children and continued uphill with a child on their hip. As our pace naturally slowed, one mom shared a burden of mom guilt she had been holding in her heart over the years. She said, “I used to want everything just perfect.”
I could so relate to her. As she shared, I listened. Her kids are much younger than mine. She’s in the non-stop years of preschoolers and early elementary kids when demands seem never ending and rest is hard to come by. I shared a few things with my friend as we continued our hike, children running ahead of us on the path.
After we got home, I thought of you. I know my friend isn’t alone in experiencing mom guilt. I thought you might want to hear some of the causes and what we can do to lift the weight we carry so we can experience more freedom in our motherhood.
What causes mom guilt?
Just as my friend said, one of the biggest roots of mom guilt can be the perfectionistic expectations we impose upon ourselves. We might know that looking at others’ perfect Instagram feeds will set us spinning into comparison mode, but we go there anyway. We cruise the Pottery Barn website or a friend’s pinboard for bedroom decor and we feel like our home just doesn’t measure up.
That’s just the surface stuff. All it takes is us raising our voices when our child throws a huge tantrum in the middle of Target, and we are steeped in mom guilt for the rest of the day. We lay our head on the pillow of regret at night, reviewing all the ways we failed. We are certain we have scarred our child for life.
It’s all my fault
I remember before I had children I was hanging out with a friend and her tired four-year-old. We were leaving a field trip to the city yard and he was wiped out. As she struggled to get him into the car, he screamed, “I hate you, mommy!” She lovingly looked at him and said, “I love you.” I thought, in my naivety “I’ll never let my child say ‘I hate you’ to me.” Instead of taking in the beauty of my friend’s grace towards her child, I exposed a hidden belief that trips up many moms: I have control over what my child will and won’t do — as a matter of fact, I will determine the outcomes in my child’s life.
If you don’t think you have this belief, you might ask yourself if you feel a little burst of pride when your child excels in some school performance or activity. “That’s my boy,” you say, and rightly so. But, behind that sweet feeling of parental pride is probably a lurking idea that you did something to cause that goodness to flourish. I realized a long time ago, if I’m going to take even partial credit for the good that my children display, then I’m also owning the downfalls in their personalities and choices. And, sister, there’s a whole truckload of mom guilt headed our way when we think we cause the dips and dives our children experience.
Doing all the things
This last cause of mom guilt might seem a bit unrelated, but hang with me here. Overextending ourselves so we have no margin can lead to a feeling of failure. How does it happen? I’m sure you’ve had weeks, or even seasons where you said way too many yes answers, overestimated your capacity, and took on more than you could manage. What was the result? You burnt out.
Everyone knows when mama ain’t happy … the whole house better run for cover. We end up shortchanging our family when we overdo life outside the home. We blow our fuse, act impatient, or don’t have enough time to spend with our children. Then we feel guilty because we aren’t giving our best to motherhood.
Letting go of mom guilt
If you struggle with perfectionism, I want to encourage you to let yourself off the hook. The roots of perfectionism often involve fear of being rejected by others if we don’t measure up. Bottom line: not one person in this world is perfect. We all have mom-fails, goals we don’t achieve, and times we are at our worst. Give yourself a bucket of grace and a ladle to scoop it up. Remember that God loves you as is. There is no condemnation in Jesus. He only has love for you – even when you blow it big time.
Next, we need to let God be God. When we take a stance that we are determining the outcomes in our children’s lives, we set ourselves up for a huge weight of guilt. Listen to me. We do contribute to our children’s lives. We don’t control them. Contributions, yes. Control, no. Knowing the difference means everything.
You will pour in good things into your child’s heart and life. You will also mess up. So will I. It’s a part of the gig of motherhood. The best thing you can do is remember that God and your child ultimately determine the outcomes, not you. Hand your child over to God. Do that daily; hourly when needed. Let go of the idea that you are in control and rest in the fact that a Good God has more say than you.
The Mommy Do-Over
I realized a few years ago, after talking with a very wise psychologist friend of mine, that we have opportunities to make up for losses in our mothering relationship with our children. Every day is new. If we are overextended, we can cut out some activities and say more “no” answers today. If we have been neglecting our children, we can intentionally spend more time with them in this given day. When we realize we’ve been harsh or irritable, we can pause, regroup, and start over. Whenever you need it, give yourself a mommy do-over. God meets you there and extends the new mercies and His Spirit to help you move forward instead of hopelessly dwelling on water under the bridge.