I remember, almost 17 years ago, bringing my son Kai home from the hospital. We had borrowed an old, brown vinyl car seat from someone we knew. I placed all 6 pounds and 14 ounces of him into the car seat and suddenly burst into tears. The car seat was way too big for him. Although my hormones were definitely talking, I really felt I had failed him. I mean what kind of mother doesn’t know he needed an infant car seat? The sudden awareness that I didn’t know what I was doing hit me like a ton of bricks. The nurses were gone and I was on my own.
From the moment we find out we’re pregnant until the day we die, we try to be the very best mom we can be to our children. It doesn’t take long, however, before we make mistakes. Parenting doesn’t go as planned. Your children do outrageous things. Accidents happen. Feelings get hurt. And the feelings of guilt inevitably follow. It doesn’t matter if our children are young or grown; motherhood guilt is always a struggle.
So how can you minimize those pesky, guilty feelings?
Here are some tips to help you zap the mommy guilt and enjoy the journey of motherhood.
Is Kayla sitting up yet? When did Matthew start walking? My child was reading when she was four. Does your son play travel sports? What did your daughter get on the ACT exam? Comparing our children to other children is an easy trap to fall into. It’s not healthy for our children or us as moms because every child is different. They each have different strengths, weaknesses, developmental patterns and personalities. Let your children be who they are and avoid the comparison game.
Just like you shouldn’t compare your children to other children, the same goes for you. Let go of any need you have to compare yourself to other moms. Todd Parr wrote a great children’s book called The Mommy Book. In this book, he talks about how all mommies are different. Some mommies like to cook and some like to order pizza. Some mommies work in tall office buildings and some work at home. I have a friend who is the epitome of June Cleaver. Almost all her meals are home cooked. She makes all her children’s Halloween costumes. She’s totally organized and structured with her children’s school work and activities. If I compare myself to her, I am plagued with feelings of guilt. I make Hamburger Helper for my family, purchase all their Halloween costumes and I consistently fail at structure with my kids. But I’m still a great mom, and so is she. It’s okay to be different.
Human beings have limits
You don’t have to be all things to your children and your children don’t have to be all things to you. In other words, it’s okay if you make mistakes, and your children deserve the same grace. One of my struggles is thinking I need to be my child’s constant playmate. I have to be honest. Sometimes I don’t feel like playing cars or looking at another car magazine. Sure, my child may feel disappointed when I say no, but it doesn’t mean I am not a good mother. I have my limits and I need to respect them. All moms have limits. When we don’t pay attention to our limits, we usually become irritable and short-tempered. Exceeding our limits can cause a vicious cycle of behaving in a way that makes us feel guilty.
Your children have limits too. Just because your child misbehaves doesn’t mean you are doing something wrong. While vacationing with my family in Florida, there were days that my 3-1/2 year old acted like a little monster. He was in time out constantly. Of course, all the other little children around were perfectly well behaved. At one point, I was exasperated and I asked my aunt, “What’s wrong with him?” My aunt reassured me that he was fine; he’s just being a kid. It’s times like this that we often question our parenting. Sometimes I think it’s helpful to just understand that motherhood has its good days and bad days and it has very little to do with our ability to parent our children.
Apologize when you are wrong
Let’s face it. Sometimes we blow it. We say or do something to our child that we immediately regret. When this happens to you, apologize immediately. Our children then learn that we are human and we make mistakes. Children are very forgiving and forgiveness conquers guilt. There is nothing more humbling than being able to admit when we behaved in a way we know is wrong.
Right after we took the pacifier away from our preschooler, he decided he wasn’t going to take naps. My son went from taking a 3 hour nap everyday to taking no nap at all. One day, after trying for several days and failing, I insisted my son take a nap. I was tired and I needed a break more than he did. My little strong-willed boy was determined to stay awake. Not only was he refusing to sleep, he was also refusing to stay in his bed. His attitude was one of defiance and his fighting was wearing me down. After several attempts to make him nap, I lost my temper. I yelled at him and told him he was GOING to take a nap. In utter frustration and anger, I spanked him and stormed out of his bedroom.
The guilt smacked me in the face. I treated my son in a way I totally disagreed with. I don’t believe in spanking, especially when one is angry. I immediately went to God and pleaded for forgiveness. Not only did I apologize to God, but I had a long heart to heart talk with my little guy. I told him how sorry I was and explained that I was angry. He told me he was mad too. We hugged and made up. My ability to be humble had earned his forgiveness.
Be wary of people’s judgments
Everyone has their own set of rules and values. Oftentimes, when people can’t accept differences in other people, they impose their judgments, resulting in attempts to instill guilt, conscious or not. At the end of the summer, I took a three-day retreat to re-energize. I went to Door County by myself and had a wonderful time shopping, watching movies, reading, and sightseeing. Upon my return home, I was faced with disapproving remarks from my mother-in-law. She couldn’t understand how I could go on a vacation by myself. I knew in my heart and soul that I did nothing wrong, despite how others might have viewed the retreat.
Children are especially great at attempting to manipulate with guilt. They know our buttons and are very aware of what tugs on our heart. My teenager is very skilled at using guilt to try and get his way. He’ll say, “I never get to do anything fun” or “You never spend any time with me.” He knows that it’s important to me that I spend time with him, so he uses that to pull on my heart strings. Stay strong and secure with yourself as a mother and these attempts to make you feel guilty will fall by the wayside.
Our child’s misbehavior is not always our fault
Just because we gave birth to our children does not mean we are responsible for all their behaviors. Children have a mind of their own and often don’t listen to the wisdom we give. We can be the best mom and our children will still make mistakes that take us by surprise.
One evening I was babysitting my friend’s little baby. The evening was progressing nicely until I had to feed the baby. My three year old was sitting next to me, watching me spoon the barley cereal into the little guy’s mouth. I was holding the bowl in one hand and the spoon in the other. Don’t ask me what provoked my child, but in one second flat, he had smacked the bowl of cereal out of my hand. The bowl of cereal, on its way to the back of the couch, ricocheted off the baby’s eyebrow, leaving a big bump on his head. Cereal was everywhere, including in the baby’s eye. I now had a hysterical infant and a laughing preschooler. Call it jealousy or curiosity, but I assure you I never taught my child to behave like that. Although I was horrified by my child’s behavior, I knew that I was not to blame for his outburst. I am his mom, and I am responsible for teaching him right from wrong, but I cannot always control how he will behave.
Unless you are severely neglecting your child or setting a very bad example for your children, there is no reason for you to hang on to guilt. God chose you to be the mother of your children, and He doesn’t make mistakes. God does not expect you to be a perfect mother and he does not expect you to raise perfect children. So relax, have confidence, and enjoy the journey of motherhood.