How to Overcome “Mom Guilt”
I am the worst mother in the world. I feel so guilty all the time. I know better but I just can’t live up to the picture of the mom I know God wants me to be and that I want to be! What can I do? Please help me!
This note from a friend could have been written by me several years ago! Just hearing her words caused me to say, “Yes, that’s exactly how I felt when we had five kids ages 7 and under.”
So first, let me assure you that you are normal. Whew!
All sorts of things contribute to our guilt. We feel guilty because we look at other mothers who seem to be doing everything right and we know we aren’t. We experience guilt because sometimes we actually find we don’t even like our children.
We may be angry at our situation, and then we feel guilty for being angry. Or our behavior is wrong and we feel guilty. Guilt can be caused be any number of things but often it is the result of either unrealistic expectations or wrong attitudes and actions.
Our expectations can come from different sources—the model our parents provided, our husband, his parents, our friends, and ourselves. For each of us the sources will differ as will the degree to which the expectations shape our concept of how we are doing the job of mothering.
In my own life the greatest pressure I felt in terms of expectations came from myself. My expectations of the kind of mom I would be and how I would behave were completely unrealistic. I couldn’t live up to my desires and I felt like such a failure. It helped me to ask, “Where are my expectations coming from? Are they realistic for me?”
It might be good to have an honest talk with your husband. Ask him what his expectations are and share your feelings with him.
It also helped me to recognize that there are generally two kinds of moms. Some are do-ers and some are be-ers. A do-er type personality is usually a driven “Type-A” woman. She’s used to a plan, specific goals, and accomplishment. And then she’s thrust into the home where there’s not much accomplishment on a daily basis, not many goals completed, and hardly any appreciation.
I found that I loved to mow the yard. It was the only thing I did which showed instant progress and lasted more than 24 hours!
A be-er type personality, on the other hand, is likely to be more laid back. She just goes with the flow. Her guilt barometer goes up when she compares herself to another mom who seems to accomplish so much more than she does in a day. Neither is better. We’re just different. It’s helpful to recognize which type we tend to be most like because it explains what causes us to feel so frustrated and guilty.
It’s usually unrealistic expectations for this season of life that make us feel guilty. But often it’s my selfish attitude or behavior that causes me guilt. And as much as I dislike it, I have to own up to my selfishness.
Often I’ve had to say to my husband or my child, “I shouldn’t have said what I did and I need to ask you to forgive me.” I can’t remember a time when I felt like saying this. But I have learned that we go to one another asking for forgiveness not because we feel like it but because it is the right thing to do.
God is waiting to forgive us and He wants us to ask Him and others for forgiveness. His forgiveness never runs out and His forgiveness removes guilt because it has been dealt with specifically and completely.
Most of us will experience general condemnation—that little voice that says, “You are a failure, a lousy mother, and you’ll never be able to raise these kids right.” Don’t listen to this! When there is something specific for which we need to ask forgiveness, we should do it; but broad feelings of condemnation should be ignored.
Guilt is a universal emotion and it will be with us in all seasons of life. As a grandmother I feel guilty because I’m not able to give enough time to each of my grandchildren. There are so many things I think I should do that I don’t. So many people I feel I let down, etc. We just have to do the best we can.
Along the way in my journey, I have discovered a few things that help in lessening the guilt and increasing the joy:
- Have a few close girl friends in the same season of life with whom you can share your honest feelings.
- Learn to laugh at yourself. And spend time with friends who make you laugh. This helps us not to take ourselves so seriously!
- Do something that is not related to mothering. Go to a museum—rent head phones and study the art. Attend a stimulating lecture. Visit the elderly in a nursing home. Our perspective is restored when we get out of our own situation.
- Go on a date with your husband. Pretend you are 20 and make out in the car.
- Write down the funny things your kids say. Just grab whatever is at hand—a napkin, deposit slip, etc., and write what they said, their initials and the date, and throw it into a folder. These funny things will become a treasure for the future.
Someone once gave me a sign that I have posted on my wall. It reads: “Do not feel totally, personally, irrevocably responsible for everything. That’s my job. Love, God”