A chat with a friend about “Mommy guilt” got me thinking about the other Moms that probably wrestle with it too. You know what I mean Moms, where we not only feel pride for our children’s accomplishments, but also a crippling sense of guilt at our “failure.”
Usually this “failure” isn’t really something we can control. Our problem is that we feel guilt not only for the things we can control (ex. I shouldn’t have lost my temper at Sarah for spilling her peas all under the table.) but we also feel it for the things we can’t (ex. Maybe Emma suffers from her respiratory issues because I’m not doing enough right as a Mom.)
I remember my mother explaining guilt to me as a child: guilt is the bad feeling you have after you do something wrong. Guilt is there to motivate us to fix our wrongdoings. If that is the case, then why do I feel crippling guilt over things I CAN’T change? As a Mom, most of that guilt centers around my children. And even with some of the things I can change, I allow unproductive guilt to rule my choices. (for instance, ads which tell us, that if we REALLY want the best for our child, we should buy their product, we feel guilty at not sacrificing everything for our child, so we buy it, no matter if it is RIGHT for our child or not.)
I’m beginning to think that guilt driven parenting is really not good, but its what I’ve been living. When we let something as fickle as guilt rule our choices, are we really getting what is best for our child? I don’t blame my mother for the fact that I live with Rheumatoid Arthritis, in fact, I don’t even see there being a connection between her and my disease, but she has admitted to me feeling some guilt for that. As a mother, I’d probably feel the same.
So how do we avoid guilt driven parenting? (I know Dads suffer from this too, although probably differently than Moms do.)
Firstly, is it something I can control? (like Asthma, or a behavioral choice my child is making, as they get older and responsible for themselves) If its not, talk it out, find an appropriate way to live with it and set it aside. If it is: (like, is my house clean enough? Am I modeling correct behavior for my children?) come up with a plan, address it immediately, and be consistent.
Secondly, is it proportionate to the situation? Am I spending hours feeling guilty over something small in the grand scheme of life? Will this particular decision (pacifier or no pacifier, breastfeeding or formula, what age to pottytrain) affect their whole life? Will they even remember it? Probably not.
In parenting, even the smallest decisions seem like they are huge, and every parenting decision is important, but don’t let guilt rule your decisions. Don’t let it rule your interactions. When I spend so much time obsessing over a decision that the decision itself is overwhelmed, its too much. As hard as it is, sometimes we need to back up, check it out calmly, and not allow emotions to inform our parenting. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked, who can know it?” Jeremiah 17:9
We can also learn from asking those around us for their take on the situation. “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.” Proverbs 15:22
What do we know about our children? What do we know is right? What do we know is true? What do those who love us say? These things should rule and guide our parenting when we feel in danger of being overwhelmed by guilt.