I feel guilty most of the time.
I had been forewarned about the guilt before I became a Mom. I had heard it referred to among mothers in those “mom conversations” that I always semi-ignored at parties before we had kids. Then I became the “Insta-Mom”, and now I feel guilty about something most of the time. For instance, here’s a rough idea of how my mornings go:
I sleep in a few extra minutes and the whole morning routine gets thrown off. I feel guilty about that. I pack the kids’ lunches that I’m pretty sure have skipped a food group or two, and feel bad about it. I really should feed them better. I’m sure the teachers sit in their staff lounge at the school and talk about how the Good children are malnourished at home.
Then my boys get dressed and I notice that the knees have been obliterated from all of their pants. I kick myself and tell myself that I need to learn to sew better or remember to get them to change out of their good pants before playing mini-sticks on the carpet.
I send the boys to brush their teeth. I think to myself that the dentist said they needed to brush more. I remind myself to do better with reminding them about it, because at this rate they will all be wearing dentures by the time they’re 16.
After about 10 minutes of rushing around looking for things that belong in backpacks, I realize that there is way too much giggling upstairs in the bathroom. When I go up to investigate, there has been no tooth-brushing over the last 10 minutes, but instead there has been a whole lot of posing in front of the mirror comparing muscles and making weird faces. Then I lose it and yell. I immediately feel guilty about the yelling. But they had it coming… or did they? I’m not sure… yeah… I shouldn’t yell… yelling is wrong. Guilt.
Finally everyone is ready and we hurry out to the bus. I finally get to sit down to relax on the couch for a moment at 7:30 a.m. My ears are ringing and I hold my head and watch as my guiltless husband is singing as he gets ready to go out the door to work. He has been rushing around all morning too, getting himself ready and helping with the kids. But he is happy. I feel guilty for being angry that he is not feeling guilty about anything.
Then I look around and realize that the breakfast dishes have to be done. I feel guilty for lying down and get back up to do them quickly before going to work. While clearing the dishes I realize that I have forgotten someone’s homework pouch on the table. I think a bad word in my mind and then feel guilty about the homework and the bad word all at once.
And that’s how I start my day – going to work feeling guilt… even guilt about going to work.
I have guilt about just about everything Mom-related. I feel guilty that I don’t cook meals that are low-fat. I bake chocolate chip cookies and then feel bad that they are made with a cup of butter. According to the mommy magazines I am killing everyone slowly.
I am usually late getting my Christmas decorations up and feel guilty as I talk to a friend who, on the 1st of December, announces that she has just “one more little gift to buy” and feel sorry for everything Christmas-related. I also feel guilty for wanting to punch her in the face. And now I feel guilty for having just typed that and that it was true.
Lately I’ve been keenly aware of how guilty I feel. I am not sure why I am so hard on myself. I’m trying to figure it out as I type, maybe as some sort of self-diagnostic therapy. One of the most effective tools of the enemy of our souls is to make us beat ourselves up with guilt. I think guilt is about choosing to listen to our own accusations of ourselves, which are constantly on repeat in our heads. Ask yourself, “How am I doing as a parent?” If you listen closely, you will begin to hear the self-deprecating statements that you are repeating to yourself.
Just for full disclosure, here are some things I have been saying over and over to myself. Perhaps you can hear them in your own head.
1. “You are not good enough.”
Good enough for whom? If there’s one thing that I have learned in my relationship with Christ, it’s that He will stick with me no matter what I do, and no matter what I fail to “get right”. He always desires for me to do the best I can, but always approves of me.
Then there’s my husband. When I think about it, my husband loves me unconditionally. He has proven over and over that he is sticking with me even when I don’t get it right. He keeps telling me to relax and to not take everything so seriously. So I think I’m good enough for him.
Then there are the kids. The kids don’t notice most of what is not done perfectly. They step over piles of clothes, wipe their faces in their shirts, and sneeze all over the computer keyboard. They genuinely don’t care about the mess. They care more about spending time with Mommy.
… So perhaps the person I can’t please is me.
2. “Your house is messy.”
What does messy mean? Who defines messy? If there’s anything my daughter has taught me, it’s that one girl’s messy is another girl’s creative space. There is no standard of tidy that we all have to live up to, other than the ones that we adopt as our own… which brings me to my next point of guilt:
3. “Your mother had more than twice as many kids and her house was twice as clean.”
And there it is. The mother of all mother-guilt. I compare myself to my own mother. It’s the one guilt statement that dogs me every day, because my mother was excellent at being a mother. But I have to put my mother in perspective. After all, Mom has superpowers, not the least of which is freakish amounts of energy. Seriously. You could waterski behind my mother.
Aside from that, when I look back at my mother’s mothering, I see a high standard for tidy and clean, but that’s not what makes me still miss my mother when I’m sick (even though I’m 44 years old). It is her care for all of us, her silly songs, her homework help, her life lessons, her presence at home, her hugs, her advice, and the way that she loved us that makes her a great Mom. “All of that other stuff can wait,” she said in a recent phone conversation where I was looking for advice on managing the house, “They are only little for a while.”
4. “You are damaging your kids.”
Really, what damages kids is far deeper than whether we choose to feed them quinoa or white rice. Granted, those things are important to think through, but we can be completely obsessed about their physical diet or how many skills they are learning, and miss that they are spiritually malnourished, not to mention completely bereft of love and personal attention.
I am praying daily that the things I get wrong will be overshadowed by the things I get right… that overall my kids will come out unscathed. There will be things that they will look back on and say that they wouldn’t do it the same way, and I will have to live with that.
5. “Your kids are going to grow up and only remember your messy house.”
Actually, when I think of it, they don’t notice that the house is messy now. It’s highly unlikely that they will remember it years from now. They don’t tend to see anything that goes beyond two feet in front of them. They think the house is fun and happy and that everything they need is right there. (Mostly because everything really is right there – on the floor… Not put away.)
I am most comfortable in my house when it’s tidy and in order but my kids are most comfortable in my house when my husband and I are happy and loving on them and providing lots of security. That, for them, has nothing to do with tidy.
6. “Other mothers do it far better than you.”
There is always that one mother that gets it all right. You know her. She is the one whose kid arrives on time for everything. Her kids have healthy “litterless” lunches packed in environmentally-friendly containers. She wears Lululemon outfits that match and legitimately fit her and don’t have spit-up on the shoulders. She runs. She arrives at the bus stop on time, with a Starbucks cup in her hand and a smile on her robust face that is accenting her newly-coiffed hair. Her kids always get points at church for memorizing their Bible verses. She runs. Did I mention that she runs?
Yeah, you know her.
Now, right here’s where you think that I’m going to make some judgment on that woman to say something like, “You don’t know what her dirty secrets are.” Or “You don’t know that secretly her house or her relationships are a mess.”
Nope. Not going to say that. Truth is, there will always be that woman out there. Some women genuinely get things right. Some women are naturally skilled at domestic things and manage to have excellent relationships at the same time. There aren’t many of them, but they are out there.
The other truth is, I am me and I am not her. I have been given what I have been given and that is all. So I have to work it, do my best and ask God if He thinks I’m doing well. After all, He’s the measuring stick.
So there you have it. I’ve confessed to the voices that I am listening to in my own head, and talked myself out of all of them.
So today I am going to try putting other messages on repeat:
“I am a good mom.”
“I am doing well.”
“I am strong.”
“God approves of me.”
“I am getting better at this.”
“I have been blessed.”
…you get the idea.