First, you’re tired.
Me too! In each stage of my kids’ lives, I’ve thought that this would get better, that somehow once they got “just a little older,” I would worry about them less and sleep a little more. So far though, no such luck. The kind of energy and effort required definitely changes with each new stage, but somehow the amount of energy seems to stay steady. All my kids are out of high school now, but I’m still a working mom, and they still give me some sleepless nights. Maybe it’ll get better though, when they get a little older… I’ll keep you posted.
The second thing I know about you is that you’re feeling guilty.
You feel guilty when you drop your kids off at day care (especially once they’re old enough to beg you to stay). You feel guilty when you get to work a little later than your coworkers, and guilty when you leave earlier than they do. You feel guilty at church when you don’t volunteer in the nursery or sign up for the Thursday morning bible study group.
Many women I know just assume that “mommy guilt” is a way of life. Even (and in some cases especially) my Christian friends accept this intense burden of guilt and shame and self-doubt as part of the universal motherhood experience. And once you accept it as such, something really crazy starts to happen. You stop fighting the guilt. You stop seeing it as a problem. Instead, it becomes a sort of badge of honor that unites you with other moms. Now, in this upside-down reality, it becomes a sign of how much you love your kids and how much you’re willing to suffer for them.
What a terrible, ugly lie.
You do not have to feel miserable to be a good mom.
What if I told you that there’s another way?
That in fact, mommy guilt is not universal. It isn’t your burden to bear. You do not have to feel this way.
You can fight mommy-guilt. And you must fight it.
It starts, I think, by simply recognizing that this kind of guilt is not healthy and it is not inevitable. In France for example, American expatriates report that working French moms don’t seem to suffer the same kind of guilt about everything. They leave their kids in day care too. They work all day and cook dinner afterwards. They feel overstretched and sometimes inadequate, but, according to author Pamela Druckerman, they “refuse to valorize guilt” the way that we Americans do. Instead, they actively fight against it, and they help each other fight against it.
Lets choose to reject guilt.
You need to let God be God. So much of what we beat ourselves up for simply is not our responsibility. Let me assure you, you are a lot of wonderful things. You’ve been blessed with unique gifts and talents and a huge capacity to love and care for your family. But you are not God. You are not all-knowing, or all powerful, or in control of the world. You’re not even in control of your own little part of it. Sometimes guilt is just a way of trying to hold on to control of something that really belongs to God. Letting go can be scary, but it is oh-so-freeing.
Commitment is not the same thing as attention. The fact that you can’t focus 100% of your attention on your kids or your family has nothing to do with how committed you are to them. Let that sink in. I am fully committed to my family all the time, but I don’t give them all of my attention or energy in any one day. It’s completely impossible! And what’s more, it wouldn’t be good for them anyway. We all know that intellectually, but beat ourselves up over it anyway.
The perfect mother doesn’t exist. According to Druckerman, this phrase is something of a mantra for French mothers. And it’s a good one. You’re not a perfect mom, but neither is anyone else (no matter what Pinterest or Facebook would have you believe). It’s great to have high expectations and to strive towards lofty goals, but you have to keep things in perspective. Next time you’re feeling a wave of that familiar mommy guilt, it’s worth asking yourself, “what am I expecting here? Is this a ‘perfect mother’ thing?”
How has mommy-guilt affected you? What do you do (or could you do) to combat it?