Mom Guilt. I had my struggles with it when I raised my kids,
But it seems to have hit today’s generation especially hard.
When I surveyed my friends on Facebook about their Mom Guilt, the answers poured in.
“Oh man what do I not feel guilty about? There is so much contradicting advice to new mothers. No matter how I do something it is easy to feel as if it is the wrong way.”
“I feel guilty during sleep training, when my baby cries for more than 5 min. I also feel guilty that I seem to struggle with finding a balance between taking care of her, meeting my family’s needs and school work/career.”
“I feel guilty about talents or strengths that I saw in my children that I did not nurture enough, or weaknesses that I did not discipline and help them overcome.”
“I feel guilty for overreacting, and for not playing with them every time they ask me to.”
Can you identify? But what to do? Dealing with Mom Guilt is like trying to get chewing gum off of the bottom of your shoe. The more you try, the stickier it gets.
Our Mom Guilt is complicated. But I’ve learned some things that will help, and I want to share them.
LEGITIMATE GUILT V.S. ILLEGITIMATE GUILT
First of all, we need to figure out is whether our guilt is legitimate guilt or illegitimate guilt. We’re plagued with remorse, but a lot of times we don’t need to be. I’m telling you, Satan has a field day with moms! Just like the Bible says in John 8:44, lies are the devil’s native language. Just like the Hebrew translation of his name, Satan is “the accuser.” He whispers to us that we’re messing up, that we should do more, that other moms are better moms, that we’re damaging our children.
So how do we tell if our guilt is illegitimate? We start by being honest with ourselves that we’re feeling guilty, and specify exactly what we’re feeling guilty about. We have to see clearly what we’re dealing with.
That’s the easy part. The hard part is seeing clearly whether the thing we did was wrong or not.
To address that, I’m going to recommend that you start praying about your guilt, “Father God, show me if it is true that I should have done better in this situation.” I’m also going to recommend that you ask for input from a trusted friend or family member. Sometimes they can see more clearly than we can. Plus, it feels good to talk about it with someone!
We can also tell if our guilt is illegitimate by looking at our motivations. Does it stem from trying to please others? From trying to live up to what they do? Does it stem from trying to please ourselves? You know, I think some of us are harder on ourselves than God is!
Here’s a verse that has helped me many a time, “Whoever speaks on their own does so to gain personal glory, but he who seeks the glory of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him.” (John 7:18)
If we seek anything other than the glory of God, it’s going to trip us up. But seeking to please God is an absolutely pure motivation. It feels so good to say, “God, you are completely awesome. I want my life to be praise for you, and that’s why I’m doing what I’m doing. It’s not so others will think I’m a great mom. It’s not so I can pat myself on the back. It’s so you will smile at me. It’s so I can live out my love for you.”
A huge source of illegitimate guilt is having unrealistic expectations. One mom told me that she feels guilty anytime she goes against the “norm” of what motherhood says is acceptable, like when she chose formula over breastfeeding. There are so many norms these days. We’re besieged by images of a mom should be. In my day, we thought we needed to be supermom. Now it’s like moms are supposed to have evolved through the increase in information to be the best moms in history! There’s this constant message, “You should do this. You should do that. Should, should, should, should, should….”
Ack! Here’s the verse that has saved my sanity, “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.” (Romans 12:3)
We have to quit thinking of ourselves more highly than we ought! We need to have sober judgement and realize that we don’t have the ability, or the capability, to do everything we think we should do.
Let’s look at this a little more. First of all, let’s look at our abilities. Each of us has unique strengths and weaknesses. Why is it, then, that when we become a mom we think we’re supposed to be good at everything? I love the reminder of I Corinthians 12, “If the foot says, “I am not a part of the body because I am not a hand,” that does not make it any less a part of the body. . . In fact, some parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary.” This passage makes it plain that we each have something that we’re good at, and that is vitally important. It also reminds us to not feel shame for not being able to excel at what someone else can do well.
Here’s an example. I have a friend who suffers from mega guilt because she is often late. Now I’m not saying that she shouldn’t work on being on time. But I love that she is one of the few people I know who is good at being present. She’s not always anxious about the next thing she needs to do. She gives each person her full attention. You feel important when you’re with her. This is an awesome strength!
You have awesome strengths too, but they may come with a weakness you don’t like.
But speaking of time management, let’s talk about our capabilities. We all have our schedule demands, so even if we do have the ability to do something, we may not have the time to do it. In addition, we each have differing energy levels and health situations. Some of us do better with nine hours of sleep, and some of us are wide awake after six hours. Some of us can keep going all day and through the evening, and others of us are completely pooped by lunch time. Be honest with yourself. What can you realistically expect out of yourself? I’m not giving you a license to be lazy. But don’t allow yourself to feel guilty if you’re not wired to be Miss Energizer Bunny. Don’t tell God that you should have been created differently, or be in a different situation.
Now that we’ve dispelled some of our illegitimate guilt, let’s talk about legitimate guilt. Legitimate guilt comes from not doing the important things that you have the ability and capability to do. But what is important? We can think of twenty things that seem vital and necessary. I mean, this is our children we’re talking about. How can it not be super important to see to their health, their education, their character development, and their need to be loved?
We have to make time periodically to reevaluate. We have to prioritize.
And God has to come first.
Here is one of my favorite verses, because it’s such a good reminder for me, “Unless the LORD builds the house, the builders labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain. In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat– for he grants sleep to those he loves.” (Ps 127:1-2)
Moms, if you’re not putting God first, all of the efforts you are putting into parenting can be in vain. Putting God first means making time for personal devotion and church attendance. It means obeying the Bible and teaching your children to do the same.
It’s the same principle as Matthew 6:33. Seeking the kingdom first helps everything else to work out. If you feel guilty because you’re letting other things in life crowd out God, this is legitimate. It’s the important thing you need to address over the urgent demands.
The next priority is your marriage. You made a covenant with him that is holy in God’s eyes. You vowed to cherish him.
So how is it that your husband got moved to the back burner?
I’m going to pass on to you what was stressed over and over to me: your husband comes before your children. Yes, I know that your children’s needs are more immediate. But God designated you to be your husband’s helper. (Genesis 2:18) That doesn’t mean to be his little wife slave. It means you are in a singular position to support him, believe in him and build him up. What you say and do affects him more than the words and actions of anyone else on earth.
That is why God commands us to respect our husbands. (Eph 5:33) They need our positive reinforcement, even if they don’t ask for it. They need to feel like they are important to us. And they’re not going to feel this if we don’t treat them like they are worthy of our time.
So if you feel guilty because you’re not making time for your husband, or not meeting his needs, you have legitimate guilt. Be intentional. Schedule them in. Try to drop what you’re doing when they desire your attention. I’m telling you, with the strongest conviction of 37 years of marriage, that it’s worth it.
And THEN, you can decide what you can do for your children. Top the list with spending time with your them. In almost every statement about Mom Guilt, women wrote that they wished they spent more time with their children. One mom lamented, “I think the biggest thing I feel guilty about is lost opportunities. When I realize that the day has slipped away and I didn’t spend my time the way I intended to, or when the months and years slip away and I don’t have as much to show for the time (in terms of relationship building with my children, character training, homeschooling, etc.) as I had hoped.”
So this is something we want to consciously work on. Again, we need to have realistic expectations. We often can’t spend as much time as we’d like to. But knowing that we are making this a priority will go a long way towards assuaging Mom Guilt.
Make a list, in order of priority, of the other things you would like to do for your children (and for your life, that’s a whole other subject). Decide what you can do, and resist the temptation to try to do more than that.
ONE MORE THING — IMPATIENCE
The second highest source of guilt for the moms I surveyed was their loss of patience. One mom shared, “I feel guilty constantly but what makes me feel the most guilty is when I sin in front of my kids (for example yell at them).”
On one hand this is legitimate guilt. It’s our responsibility to work on our self-control. We can’t place the blame for the lack of it on the behavior of others. We can’t excuse it by saying we’ve had a bad day, or that our PMS is making us crazy. Jesus said, “For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come.” (Mark 7:21) Maybe we don’t have evil thoughts, but we do need to work on our heart.
On the other hand, we need to remember that God is gentle and kind with us, so we need to be gentle and kind with ourselves. I love that the fruits of the Spirit include goodness, gentleness and kindness. (Gal. 5:20-21) That means those are characteristics of God. And it’s comforting that Isaiah 40:11 says, “He gently leads those that have young.”
So if you do or say something you regret, apologize (even to your child). And then let it go. Don’t let Satan use the guilt to open your ears to his lies. It might be true that you lost your temper. But it’s probably not true that you are a terrible mother and you are ruining your child.
CONCLUSION — LEARNING TO BE CONTENT
In conclusion, all of this is easy to say, and sooooo hard to do! Because Mom Guilt is complicated.
Do you know what one of the biggest things is that I still can struggle with Mom Guilt about? It’s that I didn’t give my youngest daughter better opportunities in extracurricular activities.
I had two older children, and their sports travel teams took up most of our time. So I sometimes put my youngest daughter in activities that were easy on the schedule. I wish I had put her in the harp lessons across town, like she wanted at one time, or more advanced dance lessons.
As I reflect on this, I realize that it’s kind of an irrational guilt. On one hand, I know I was trying really hard to juggle a lot of things. But on the other hand, my daughter means the world to me, and I wanted to give her the best.
And that is why I think we have so much Mom Guilt. We want to give our children the best, and we feel bad when we don’t, no matter what our abilities or our capabilities are.
When is all said and done, we have to realize that we’re never going to parent perfectly. Yes, we need to strive to do what is most important. But if we’re making an effort to do that, we also need to give ourselves a break. We’re good moms! We’re loving our children. We’re making a lot of good parenting choices.
One of the hardest thing about being a mom is having the ability to be content. This passage speaks to our struggle so well, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Phil 4:12-13
We always hear the last part of this verse about being able to do all things through Christ who strengthens us. But do we remember that it is referring to contentment?
It takes a lot of strength to be able to be content, and we have to fight for it. Just like we need learn to be content with what we have, instead of wishing for what we can’t have, we need to learn to be content with what we can do, instead of wishing to do more.
In material things, the Bible says that food and drink are all we need to be content. “But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.” (I Timothy 6:8)
In parenting, I’m going to say that putting God first and actively loving our children are all we need to do to be content and free from guilt. When I started raising my children, I had loads of Mom Guilt. But over the years, I learned to make these two things a priority. I came to have much more peace. I didn’t do them perfectly. But having the confidence that I was doing what was most important made a huge difference in my sense of well being.
Mom Guilt. We all struggle with it. But it doesn’t have to dominate, or dictate our lives. Let’s fight for the joy of motherhood, with which we have been blessed!
Let’s put these into practice:
- Ask yourself, “What specifically am I feeling guilty about?”
- Pray, “God, should I feel guilty about this?”
- Ask someone you trust, “Should I feel guilty about this?”
- Look at your motivations. Who are you trying to please? Seek only to please God.
- Ask yourself if you have realistic expectations, according to your abilities and capabilities.
- Determine what is most important, and make sure you are taking steps to do it.
- Reevaluate and prioritize on a periodic basis.
- Be kind and gentle with yourself.
- Pray to have the strength to be content with what you can do.
“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed–or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:41-42