I sat in my closet crying with my 4-year-old screaming for me from outside my door.
I don’t remember specifics of what the circumstances were around his and, inevitably, my total meltdown, just that we were there again. He was irrationally losing it about something small (as small children do) and I had snapped. I yelled. I slammed doors. I hid. I was completely unable to deal with him or the situation. I felt overwhelmingly alone and overwhelmingly full of shame. Not only for the fact that I was basically mirroring my child’s temper tantrum but because, on a much deeper and scary level, I felt that I had no idea how to parent this boy and I was completely failing as a mother which was, in my case, my full-time job.
The burden of this guilt was leading to unhealthy behaviours and was taking a toll on my mental health and on my kids and I needed to figure it out.
Mom Guilt is something that looks different for each of us but ultimately it is a feeling of shame that we are failing in our role as “mom”. It isn’t the same as feeling guilty because we did something we shouldn’t have. I certainly felt guilty for losing it on my son, because it was unnecessary and irrational. But the “mom guilt” kicked in because I felt like I was failing him and my other kids on a daily basis and losing it on him was just a symptom of a greater failure.
Over the years I’ve carried Mom Guilt for all kinds of things: working full time, being a student, not being able to afford extracurricular activities, needing others to help me care for my son multiple days and evenings a week so that I could work and study, having another (and then another) kid to divide my time with, etc. It seems we can always find something that we feel guilty about.
While I hope you haven’t, chances are you’ve felt some level of Mom Guilt for something too and the one underlying feature we probably all have in common is the deep sense of shame that it brings that we are failing and damaging our kids. Ugh. That is what I was feeling sitting on the floor of my closet that day.
In examining my own experiences with Mom Guilt I have learned that it is really based on lies. Guilt is usually a feeling we get when we’ve done something wrong. But most of the things I have felt this sense of failure and lingering shame about are not “wrong” and certainly don’t make me a bad mom.
Have you ever heard a friend or fellow mom say something negative about her own mothering and thought “You’re right. You are a bad mom!” Not likely! When it comes out of someone else’s mouth we recognize that it’s just not true, but when it is in our own heads, circulating and building, we believe it to be true. Why are we as moms so full of shame?
Certainly societal pressure plays a big role and that can be a conversation of its own. But there is something much deeper at play here.
Here are a few truths we learn from God’s Word. In Jeremiah 1:5 God says “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” God knew before the beginning of time the role that Jeremiah was going to play as a prophet and He knew before you existed that you were going to be the mother of your child. He has known every generation since the beginning of time – who would be your grandmother, your mother, who you would mother and who you may grandmother! God has given you the role of mother but that’s not all He’s given you. You have been given other talents, you play other roles and have other interests – employee, friend, partner, daughter, student, artist, athlete – whatever it may be, your child benefits from seeing you play those roles too! God has a purpose in all of it!
We also know that Satan wants nothing more than to make you doubt God in any way possible. Since God meant for our role as mom to be a blessing to us and our children, you better believe that the enemy is going to attack that good thing. John 8:44 tells us that the devil is the father of lies, that lies are his native language and that there is no truth in him. You know the best kind of lie? The kind that has a little bit of truth to it. Because the truth is we do fall short, we’re not perfect, we will mess up big time in parenting.
Our current society with all of it’s Pinterest cupcakes, Instagram families and “mommy wars” is the prime place for the father of lies to spin us a tale of complete inadequacy. He wants us to withdraw into our own heads and to isolate us from others so that we are alone in a place of shame where we doubt our abilities in the role that God has given us. Or worse, doubt that we were ever meant to be in that role at all.
But the capital “T” Truth that beats out the lie is that God knew exactly what he was doing for both you and your child when He made you a family and even when we do mess up, through the grace of Jesus Christ we can get a fresh start. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, (s)he is a new creature; the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come.” We all fail, sometimes in really big ways, but when we do, Christ’s love and grace is big enough to cover that and allow us to leave those failures behind us. You do not have to carry the weight of every mistake you’ve ever made!
As for those things that are straight-up lies? Not today, Satan!
Try saying those lies out loud, as though a friend is saying them about herself. “I am failing my kids because I go to work/don’t go to work/went on vacation without them/fed them grilled cheese every day this week/was late for pick up/forgot to feed them breakfast…”
Let me be your friend here – You are not failing your kids. You are doing this whole thing by trial and error the way every mother before you has. Don’t listen to the lie that your mistakes make you a bad mom. They make you human. You’ve got this, Mama!
One of the best ways for us to get out of our thoughts and conquer the lie of Mom Guilt is to get into a supportive community with other moms. Check out one of our Young Moms groups in Toronto and the GTA! It really does take a village – let us be yours!