By Jaime Jo Wright, Crosswalk.com
It’s a thing, mom guilt. While often associated with working moms, or rather, moms with careers outside the home, I beg to argue that every mom feels guilt. Obviously, this guilt is associated with raising their children—but also with a repertoire of qualifications, awards, and successful resumes we have swimming around in our heads and within our culture.
First, it’s important to define what exactly mom guilt is. And, since there’s no specific definition offered by Webster’s, I took to the search engines to see what’s roaming about on the world wide web.
“It simply means that pervasive feeling of not doing enough as a parent, not doing things right, or making decisions that may “mess up” your kids in the long run.” - Healthline
“Mom guilt — and dad guilt, too — is the feeling that you're not doing enough as a parent.” - Whattoexpect.com
Relate at all? I specifically started at the points of “may ‘mess up’ your kids” or “takes time do something for herself.” Let’s be honest here, I am pretty convinced my children will either turn out to be exceptional human beings or sociopaths, and I’m not certain there’s a middle ground. At least based on the media representation of a quality childhood upbringing. This includes, but is not limited to, a high-quality education, a prolific sports career, thorough saturation in the arts and culture, schooling in economics and politics, and also—let’s not forget—minimal amounts of screentime so as not to melt their brains. If this list is not achieved, forfeiture of the “exceptional human being” clause is inevitable. You can figure out the other end result.
Then there’s that nagging part of my psyche that says, should I really feel guilty? I mean, aren’t most parents falling short in some way too? Or am I alone? Maybe I shouldn’t have told my daughter I needed to finish that client work due today and instead have played that board game she was asking me to play. Maybe I made the wrong choice to have coffee with my friend the other morning instead of taking my son to school and letting his older brother drive him there. Maybe I’m just a bad mom setting up my child for unhealthy habits because I served them hot dogs for lunch and pizza for supper too. And Sunday? We skipped in exchange for sleeping in and recuperating from a summer of insanity. I might just be training them that church is optional; therefore, God is optional, and oh, sheesh.
See? It doesn’t end. Every decision we make, there’s a counter-decision that has the potential to be more correct than the one we ended up on. So how do you counteract mom guilt? We all know it’s a thing. We all know that a large part has no basis—not really, and yet, we all suffer from it.
Here are two steps I’ve learned to incorporate to counteract the “I should have done betters”:
1. Take responsibility for when you should have done better.
Wow. That’s a hard one to start with but think about it. Part of the reason we suffer from mom guilt is that sometimes, it’s based on an accurate understanding of an area in which we fell short. I’m not referencing making an unhealthy lunch and dinner plan for the day as falling short. I’m referencing the more serious situations when perhaps you should issue your child an apology. “I’m sorry I lost my temper yesterday and shouted at you. That wasn’t an appropriate response.” Or, “Yes, you heard mommy swear. I made a mistake, and I’m really sorry about that.”
These are specific areas that teach our children ethics, morals, right, or wrong. So there are times when guilt is actually our conscience or the Holy Spirit reprimanding us so we can address a situation we legitimately shouldn’t be pleased we partook in.
If you are willing to step back and look at the cause of your guilt through this sort of lens, then you’re able to identify the severity of the action. Once you can do this, it’s easier to process and release other areas of guilt that don’t have nearly the same emotional, spiritual, or physical impact.
2. Break the measuring stick.
This is a tough one for a lot of us. We measure our performance based on an ideal or a model that we’ve set in our minds. Whether it’s Proverbs 31 or the next-door neighbor-mom, somewhere in our arsenal of mom tools, we’ve placed this measuring stick by which we judge our success. Stop it!
I was raised to believe—whether my parents intended this, or I just assumed it due to my upbringing—that moms should work at home. I don’t recall my mom ever saying it was sinful for a mother to hold a career. Still, during the height of women’s rights rising to the forefront, it was portrayed as selfish and an attempt for a woman to separate herself from the Godly example of a wife and a mother.
Then I married a guy whose own mother had to work the majority of his upbringing, so they didn’t go homeless. And then, I had my own children and decided to work outside the home because I had the opportunities to, it helped support my husband through school, and I was geared for the corporate world, and he simply was not. The measuring stick came out, let me tell you, and then I realized it needed to be broken. The only measuring tool I needed to compare myself to was the submission to the Lord’s will for my life and my family’s lives. And that was about a pretty important situation too!
Once I splintered that stick, I quickly burned the Pinterest mom measuring stick, the mom who does crafts like a sheer genius measuring stick, and the mom who volunteers at every PTA meeting measuring stick.
Counteracting mom guilt doesn’t need to be a difficult ten-step process. It truly is a matter of learning to recognize what you may need to take responsibility for and then letting the other stuff go. There will always be things to feel guilty about. We can list them. We remember them. We dwell on them. But the truth of the matter is, our kids won’t remember the majority of them.
The things they will remember are the times you held them when they were sick, the times they saw you working hard so you could make ends meet, and the moments they realized they weren’t the center of your world because they simply couldn’t be if the family was going to make it. They’ll remember the echoes of faith you left in their heart and the legacy of morals you trained them to adopt.
This is the treasure trove you are leaving for your children, and that, dear mom, is not something to feel guilty about at all.
Jaime Jo Wright is an ECPA and Publisher’s Weekly bestselling author. Her novel “The House on Foster Hill” won the prestigious Christy Award and she continues to publish Gothic thrillers for the inspirational market. Jaime Jo resides in the woods of Wisconsin, lives in dreamland, exists in reality, and invites you to join her adventures at jaimewrightbooks.com and at her podcast madlitmusings.com where she discusses the deeper issues of story and faith with fellow authors.