Several summers ago, I served on the staff of the Proverbs 31 She Speaks Conference, a wonderful conference for women who want to step into writing and speaking. In addition to leading some workshops, I had the privilege of serving as a speaking coach for a group of wonderful women who wanted to improve their speaking skills.
It was there that I met Kathy Helgemo. Kathy had come to the conference with a a message to share and a book on her heart. Last month her dream came true as she and her blogging partner Melinda Means published their first book, Mothering From Scratch: Finding the Best Parenting Style for You and Your Family. These two ladies began as bloggers over at MotheringFromScratch.com and have now stepped into the writing and speaking arena.
I love their book and I asked them if I could share an excerpt with you. They said yes….and they offered to give away a book! (Instructions for entering the giveaway below!)
Let’s cut to the chase: Mommy guilt is a liar. It tells us that if only we had made all the right choices and done everything perfectly, we would’ve been able to produce all the right outcomes. It tells us that if we’ll only try harder, the internal struggle will stop. Unfortunately, it’s a false, misleading trap.
No matter how hard we’re trying, mommy guilt pushes us into thinking we could and should be trying harder. It pelts us with accusing thoughts like Why can’t I do this better? Why are everyone’s kids more well-behaved than mine? What am I doing wrong? What am I missing? If I would’ve just started earlier, my kids wouldn’t be making these choices.
Mommy guilt stems from an illusion that we’re ultimately in control. Yes, we can guide and influence our children. But from the time they’re very small, they’re making their own choices.
For years, I lived under a cloud of mommy condemnation. I never felt like I was enough. At the same time, I had this misguided notion that all outcomes, good or bad, were the direct result of my actions. If only I could do more for my children, be more for them, get it all right, they’d be perpetually happy and compliant. I believed that their displeasure at any given moment could somehow be traced back to my failure. I provided too much indulgence, too many second chances, and not enough responsibility.
Ironically, I didn’t see these behaviors as unhealthy or enabling. I was just trying to be a good mom and apparently failing badly. I always believed that it wasn’t my approach that was badly flawed. It was me.
The “aha!” moment, the one that put me on the path to change and acceptance of God’s grace, began with a question. Several years ago, my sister was visiting from out of town. After a couple of days, she looked at me and said simply, “Why are you still pouring Micah’s cereal?” It was as if I’d been struck by lightning. Yes, why was I pouring my very capable, able-bodied, nearly preteen boy’s cereal? Somehow that question opened my eyes to a host of other ways I was enabling my kids. Did I truly want to do what was best for my kids? Well, it wasn’t pouring their cereal until they were in college. In that moment, it was as if Jesus simply said to my heart, “I was waiting for you to realize this, child.”
Five years later, I’m still on that journey, propelled each day by His gentle conviction to make adjustments and always covered by His boundless grace.
We can’t control what has happened in the past. Yet we try to console ourselves into thinking that “this” will make up for “that.” Doesn’t that ignore that He has cast our sins “as far as the east is from the west”? (Psalm 103:12). Jesus died for freedom from mommy guilt, too.
I experienced traumatic postpartum depression after the births of my children. Could I have prevented it? Why didn’t I get treatment earlier? What damage did I do to my children because I was untreated and muddling through motherhood?
Those feelings of condemnation led to emotional and physical isolation, refusing to ask for real help (at least not for more than a frozen lasagna), and wallowing in overall self-pity.
When I finally sought active treatment through therapy and medication, the grip that depression had over my mothering loosened. God granted me the conviction that He entrusted these children to me. I had to get well. I couldn’t stay in some dark place in my mind because I was ashamed of how I felt about mothering. There was no overnight healing. God placed people in my life, mostly my dear husband, who challenged me to treat the real problem: the depression.
We can’t go back and change history. The “if onlys” and “I should haves” aren’t productive change agents. With God’s help, we can break out of our paralysis and take concrete steps to act on our convictions now. Here’ s how:
Ask yourself about regret. Here’s a strategy: Ask yourself, “What do I need to do now in order to look back on this time with no regrets?” You don’t want to look back ten years from now, or even one day from now, and want a redo.
Seek support. Neither of us did nearly enough of this, especially as moms of young children, when we were so susceptible to isolation and feelings of insecurity.
Start with one. This helps when we’re overwhelmed by too many areas we want to change at once. For example, maybe we want to undo some enabling behaviors with our children. We can start by asking them to pack their own lunches. The idea is to start somewhere, no matter how small.
Where’s the Sweetness in Imperfection?
If we were perfect mothers, we’d be insufferable. We’d lack compassion and be fooled into thinking we have no need for God or each other.
Our children need to observe a mother who regularly accepts God’s grace and forgiveness and offers them the same. Romans 8:28 promises us, “In all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” The mistakes we’ve made, the ways we feel we’ve fallen short, are part of our children’s journeys and can be redeemed by their heavenly Father. We’re going to fail them. Guaranteed. That’s why we have to keep pointing them toward Jesus, who never will.
What about you? How have you battled mommy guilt? How have you found your imperfections to actually be helpful in some way?
If you’d like to enter to win a copy of Kathy and Melinda’s book, comment on this post by answering one of the above questions or sharing why you’d like a copy of this book!