Guilt – A Mom’s Arch Nemesis
The voice of mom guilt is often the loudest voice in our heads. This voice is not the voice of wisdom I referred to last week. The majority of the time it is actually the voice of our false self. False guilt tries to monopolize the conversations in our heads and convince us that it is wiser than the true self.
Unfortunately, we can’t ever completely escape it. It holds a sliver of truth by the very fact that we can’t possibly meet every single whim and need of our children. We do and always will fall short. Thus false guilt follows us around and jumps at every chance it can to accuse us.
True or False?
Before I go any further, I want to distinguish false guilt apart from healthy guilt. Merriam Webster’s simple definition of guilt is
responsibility for a crime or for doing something bad or wrong.
God-given guilt functions to bring us to an awareness and regret of a wrongdoing so that we can make amends and hopefully make wiser choices in the future.
False guilt is more like,
self-reproach: feelings of culpability especially for imagined offenses or from a sense of inadequacy.(Webster)
False guilt undermines our efforts and disqualifies our actual contributions. When we live under this guilt, we live defeated. Even if we tried to obey the voice of false guilt, we could never satisfy it. There will always be something else that we need to do.
Mom Guilt is False Guilt on Steroids
Because there are so many opinions and information on parenting and child-rearing available to us, the problem with false guilt is only compounded when we become moms. Here are some hot parenting issues I, personally have felt the most guilt over:
Formula feeding my babies
Not spending “enough” time playing with my kids
Letting my kids watch TV
Not offering perfectly nutritious foods all the time
Not liking to cook
Wishing I had more time away from my kids
Yelling at my kids
Not keeping up with the housework as much as I “should”
A Mixed Bag
We all have a list like this. A list that holds stories, shortcomings, and sins. There is true guilt and false guilt mixed up in these together. So how do we untangle such a mixed bag?
- Simply begin to doubt the bully inside your head. False guilt tallies the results of our “lists” and deems us a “bad mom”. For some of us it can be really hard to instantly and totally disbelieve this claim. Instead, simply start by doubting this accusation.
- Make your list and ask yourself questions like, “What is the truth of this situation?” “How has my story contributed to my choices?” “How do I see these choices actually affecting my children?” “What does God think about this issue?” Identify any truth that is there.
- Deal with any true guilt. Own your mistakes and make amends for them. The power of an apology goes a long way with a child. As you show humility in asking for forgiveness from your children, they in turn will learn how to do the same. What a valuable skill!
- Lower your expectations… and then, lower them again! This is a word of wisdom I received from a friend while early in the trenches of young motherhood. She was so right. I looked at everything I thought I needed to do to be a “good mom” and realized it was just too much for me. Honestly, I was disappointed because there were several things I wanted to hold onto, but I realized that for the season I was in they were not essential. I had to give them up for a period of time to save my sanity. Evaluate each item in your life and decide what is important and essential for this season of life. I promise you, you won’t have to let go of certain things forever.
- Enforce healthy boundaries. A lot of guilt comes from simply having to deny our children, even when it is a good and healthy thing to do. While this can contribute to some mommy guilt, we need to understand the bigger picture if we are to let go of that inappropriate guilt. It is our job to set healthy limits. We cannot count our success as a mother in terms of how happy our children seem to be. They will always pull for more and we need to set limits with them, based on what we know to be good for them and for ourselves. Though they may pout or scream at our boundaries, we don’t need to feel guilty for setting healthy boundaries. And as a bonus, when we consistently enforce healthy boundaries, we are much less prone to yell.
Keep in mind what is true
Once you put your guilty conscience in its place, you can move forward one step at a time. Remember that as you set goals for yourself, aim for growth, not perfection. Continually consult your own voice in this process to determine what it is you believe your children really need from you. Finally, always remember that there is grace for you. Your kids will continue to present you with many opportunities to try again, to try something else, or to start from scratch.
The voice of our true self reminds us to believe in our love for our children and trust that we do want the best for them. We aren’t going to screw them up. Your voice is very encouraging. The voice of false guilt is relentlessly discouraging. And we need to learn how to deflate its power so that we can live freer and happier lives as stay-at-home moms.