Guilt, The Carry-On Baggage of Motherhood
It seems that guilt is the necessary baggage of motherhood. And why do we carry this guilt? Is it hardwired into our DNA? Did we learn it from our own mothers? Is it a curse placed on women since the beginning of time, like labor pains?
Voltaire stated that, “Every man is guilty of all the good he didn’t do.” And maybe this is where our guilt stems from. That it seems no matter how hard we work, no matter how much we do, it’s never “enough”. But where is the magic place of enough? And how does one ever attain it?
Moms, let me encourage you. You’ll never reach “enough”. There is no time, no day, no place, where you’ll finally sit back and with a contented sigh and say, “I have given my kids every ounce of love and care that is in me. I am emptied of all my motherly instincts. I am finished.” My own mother assures me that even after your children are grown and gone, you continue to feel guilty. Guilt that you didn’t do enough. Guilt that you did too much. Guilt that your children are now making poor decisions. It seems to come in waves that never end.
And just why is this encouraging? Because you can know that it is normal and right to feel a sense of incompletion when it comes to our children. This is what keeps us going each day. It’s what motivates us to groggily roll out of bed and plop our tired feet on the floor each morning. This is what drives us to continue being the very best mothers we can be.
But not all guilt is good or healthy. There’s some of it that needs to be thrown off and trampled, the way we wish we could throw off the cellulite and stretch marks our children have so lovingly bestowed upon us. Here are some of the worst culprits:
Who are these mysterious experts? And why do we allow them to rule our days and riddle our minds with remorse? Every time you speak the words, “They say that…,” you are contributing to their power.
Many times, what “they” say is not true or right for your family. Sometimes what “they” say is so completely excessive that they only thing it will bring you is a headache. And many times what “they” say, changes from month to month, even day to day. And as our mothers have assured us, “We always did that to you, and you survived just fine.”
Now granted, the “experts” have given us much sound advice and kept us from harming these small people we’ve been entrusted with, but much of what “they” say should be taken with a grain of salt. Don’t let them rule your life. The minute “they” proclaim that children between the ages of eighteen and twenty months who watch more than ten hours a day of this particular cartoon with chubby nonsense creatures who don’t speak words could possibly, but they’re not sure, cause neurological delays in these children when they reach the age of forty-three and they could have extreme midlife crises, yada, yada, yada; proceed to ban this show and it’s network from your household and throw out any and all advertising containing the chubby nonsense creatures as well as any toys, including the numerous small plastic noise-making ones from fast food restaurant children’s meals. Should anyone have that kind of power over your life?
My apologies, but parenthood is not as hard as the “experts” would have us believe. Many parents cower in fear from day to day that they are not doing enough for the children, or worse, are causing them some kind of harm. The wonderful truth is that if you love your children and are doing your very best to nurture and protect them, you are the best parent they could have. No expert could love your child more than you do, thus no expert can raise your child better than you can.
Maybe you have some mythical picture of motherhood in your head that you are trying to fulfill. Maybe you had an amazing mother, second only to June Cleaver, who you are trying to measure up to and feel you never can. Or possibly you have a terrible mother, second only to Joan Crawford, and you fear that you will follow in her footsteps.
Stop and breathe. Evaluate your mothering realistically. “Am I doing the best I can? Do I love my kids with all my heart? Do I try to make good decisions?” I bet you are. And be honest with yourself, that’s the best you can do.
No child has a perfect mother. They don’t exist and never did. But more importantly, no child needs a perfect mother. Your children need for you to make mistakes sometimes. How will they ever learn to fail and pick themselves back up if they don’t see you do it? How will they learn to apologize and change if they don’t learn from your example?
Find a time to get together with other moms and you will quickly find that they feel guilty too. They feel like they make mistakes. And they too get up each day and try to do their best.
The Hidden Enemy- Your Children
That’s right! Some of that guilt plaguing you may be coming from the very source of all your affections- your children themselves. Oh, of course, most children are not purposefully loading guilt baggage onto their mother’s back like a pack mule, but they do it nonetheless.
Raise your hand if your child has ever said: But Sophie gets to do that! But Logan has one! But all my friends are! But Ava’s mom lets her! I hope your hand is up, mine is.
You are not your children’s friends’ mothers. (Thank God.) You are your child’s mother. You are only responsible for their health, safety, and general happiness. So what if your child doesn’t have all the things and do all activities that their friends do. Would you want them to act like that friend? …I didn’t think so.
Let It Go
In summary, some guilt is good. It keeps us motivated. But most guilt isn’t. So decide today to let it go. Take a deep breath: breathe in contentment, breathe out guilt.