I have been on the job as a mom for 9 months. Unless, of course, you count the time that the baby is in the womb….then it’s 18 months. That’s not a long time. It’s not 18 years. Still I am learning many new things being a mom. Some of which I want to share; some of which I do not. But there is a pervading thing I’ve learned in my brief period as a mom.
Moms feel guilty.
One afternoon, shortly after returning to my job from maternity leave, I left early with a head cold. I texted my nanny, asking if she wanted me to pick up my son, and explaining to her that I was sick. She replied, that they were at the zoo, and told me, “Go home, get some rest. I’ve got him. I know the mom guilt thing.”
Just when you think you’ve conquered a new territory (yay–I’m a mom—go me!), a new struggle pops up. Guilty feelings are not new to me. I’ve battled them for years. I have lost much sleep from guilt filling my soul. The feelings of never measuring up, never being enough, never accomplishing unrealistic goals—these are familiar to me. They reside in my heart, despite all my eviction notices. They just sit on the front porch, waiting for me to get comfortable. Then gradually move their belongings back in.
When I was single, I thought that I would have a husband, a family, a perfectly clean house all the time, and manage a career. I would then sweetly offer my relaxing husband a freshly brewed iced tea with some homemade pie. Anybody chuckling yet? Oh—and I would finish school, volunteer, teach at church, and run a few marathons. Okay, get up off the floor from rolling down there laughing.
So when I didn’t meet my own expectations, guilt hit. I feel guilty when I’m at work. I feel guilty leaving my son with a nanny all day. I feel guilty on date nights. I feel guilty when I don’t know how to calm my crying son. I feel guilty when I can’t breastfeed but have to bottlefeed. I feel guilty when the other kids are well-behaved and mine is a little monster. I feel guilty when the other mom has make-up and hair done and my face looks like a land mine exploded. I feel guilty when I have my maternity weight still clinging to me.
Well, that’s it. My heart is too full of good things. I don’t have room for guilt any more. It needs to go. I’m calling it on the carpet. I’m sick of it.
I recently shared my feelings of mom guilt with a friend. She asked me two questions.
- Does Rafa smile when he sees you?
- Does he seem happy?
I answered ‘yes’ to both questions.
She then said, “I think you’re doing fine.”
That’s what I would like to share with all my mom friends. You’re doing fine. You’re doing more than fine. You’re doing great. Researcher Brene Brown talks about the term “never enough” in her lectures on vulnerability and shame. (For more from Brene Brown, search YouTube for her lectures and read her book, Daring Greatly.) We feel that we are never enough. We never do enough or have enough. According to Brene, we live in a ‘scarcity’ culture. In other words, we are starving ourselves out when there is abundance waiting for us.
How many moms lay their heads down at night, thinking they’ve done great work? How many of us allow ourselves the freedom to recognize the good things we do? How many of us live in fear that we are not doing right by our kids? As a mom, we don’t get promoted, earn paid time off, or get sick days. (This concept, I realize, applies to dads as well, but grant me this essay to speak only to mothers.) We just do the right thing that we know to do, and go from there. There is no road map with parenting.
Maybe the guilt comes because we care. Or maybe we are afraid we aren’t caring enough. Maybe we wonder if we will end up on the news under the headline, “New Tonight: What NOT to Do As a Parent.” I had a mom tell me once, “You’re not a bad mom until you leave your child crying and clinging to the teacher at kindergarten.”
We feel like bad moms because we’ve created a super mom in our imaginations. It’s all in our heads. We feel guilty if we stay at home because we aren’t bringing income into the house. We feel guilty if we work because we aren’t at home with our kids. We feel guilty if we miss a play date, an outing, or don’t have our kids in private school. We feel guilty if we don’t volunteer or make homemade cookies. Guilt can pervade every decision, every move, every option we face. What’s in our heads is seeping into our souls, stealing our joy. If I spend my evenings feeling guilty about being at work all day away from my son, I won’t truly see the grin on his face, enjoy his first hand clapping, or be focused on helping him crawl. Guilt robs us of the moment.
So, I’ll say it again, in case my readers have forgotten: You are doing great work. Our kids are going to be great. And, if they rebel or choose a wrong path, then God will be there to bring them back. He’s there with you now, urging you to throw your guilt on Him. His back is strong enough. One of my favorite movies is Luther, based on the life of Martin Luther. In one scene, Luther is giving a sermon, and he says, “When the devil comes to bring your sins to mind and says, ‘You deserve death and hell.’ You say, ‘Yes, I do deserve death and hell but what of it? For I know One who suffered for my sanctification and I cling to His love.’”
Good advice. We can cling to the love of Christ. We can kick the guilt out. Give ourselves a big serving of grace.
We can cut ourselves some slack.
We’re “gonna make it after all.”
Yes, I did just quote a line from the Mary Tyler Moore Show theme song.
And I don’t feel the slightest twinge of guilt about it.