Mommy Guilt?

[Note: the pics in this article don't go with it, and they're not even altogether recent. Sorry about that. I'm browsing pics in iPhoto from the last 9 months, and just thought I'd share some that caught my eye.]

I've seen a heap of articles that tackle or reference "mommy guilt" as a natural part of motherhood. Maybe I'm weird, but I don't live with guilt as a mom, on an ongoing basis. I really don't.


Oh, of course as a sinful person, I feel guilt that I am not some sort of "perfect" mom... but the sense I get from these articles is that there's something more at work here. Of course there are regrets about my failures as a wife & mom... every human being deals with those. I wish I could say my kids didn't know what it sounds like for mom to yell. I wish I could say I'd only, ever, been kind in my responses to them. But they, like every other human who has ever lived, have a sinful, human mom. And I just trust that God will use that in their lives for their good (and I also submit myself to God for His continuing work in my life).

But again, I often get the sense from articles and news pieces that moms feel or should feel a lot of guilt over the various choices we make as moms... or that it's normal for moms to feel and live with guilt.


*EXAMINE* YOUR GUILT
The reason I'm writing is just to say, if that's you, and you feel guilt, I'd encourage you to hold that guilt up to the light. Examine it in the full light of Scripture, and in the full view of your husband, and yourself, and the aims you have for your family.

HELPFUL GUILT?
Not all guilt is bad... for example:
  • If I'm feeding my kids junk food too often, and feeling guilt because they're sick and cranky and having bathroom issues, then that might be a helpful guilt to jar me into reality.
  • If I'm feeling guilty because I've been dealing with my children in a way that is angry, belittling, or hurtful to them, then that is a good guilt, to motivate me to stop it and treat them with love & kindness, even while disciplining.
  • If I've put my children in daycare, the guilt I feel as I walk away might be prodding me to consider that perhaps my actions don't match up with our aims as a family.
  • If I want to throw in the towel while breastfeeding because mastitis hurts so dadgum bad, or because I'm just tired in the throes of early weeks with a newborn, the perceived guilt may help me to press on through an undoubtedly hard season.
  • If I'm feeling frustrated with my weight even while I reach for the extra dessert or sip on my calorie-loaded drink all day long, then my guilt ought to compel me to change my behavior!

UNHELPFUL GUILT
But if it's a guilt over something that can't/shouldn't be undone, like:
  • not having enough money to buy certain things your child wants
  • not being able to spend all your day focusing on your firstborn now that you've had a second baby
  • not being able to keep house like that mom whose kids are grown
  • not being able to afford the beautifully-decorated suburban dream home like other people your age seem to be able to do
  • not looking like ______ family that you see pictures of on a blog or Facebook page
  • not being able to ____(use cloth diapers, breastfeed for "x" length of time, afford toddler gymnastic classes, cook with only organic ingredients, etc.)____ that all the other young moms are talking about
  • (or heck, sometimes even not being able to get a shower whilst caring for little ones!!!)

Well, I think those guilty feelings can be laid aside. Let them roll right off your back, and banish their return. Don't fret if you don't do everything someone else deems important!

We will each stand before God and account for what we've done with the treasures He's given us... so get in the Word, and get with your husband, and determine what your family values are. And then live in line with those things. And once you've examined it, either let your guilt shape the choices you make, or if it's the unhelpful kind, toss it out! Do away with Mommy guilt and live in the light.

31 comments:

Michelle said...

Great post, Jess. Great.

Love the pics of you and all your kiddos! Maybe one day we'll have a bunch. :-)

Kathleen said...

Thanks so much for this post. Very timely! Thinking about this a lot today. Was feeling a godly guilt today because I was unnecessarily harsh with my oldest son this morning. I could tell it crushed him. Repented today and asking God to show me how to change. I've also been thinking today of the difference of real guilt (which God allows when we need to repent and change) and false guilt (when I just feel like I don't live up to whatever image of mom/wife). So thank you for confirming everything I've been thinking and praying about today.

Anonymous said...

AWESOME POST!

Beth Celestin said...

Great Post, Jess! I definitely struggle with letting other people's expectations lead to unnecessary guilt. I sometimes even leave certain mommy blogs feeling guilty after reading about how other moms seem to have it all together. I've had to prune out some blogs and set boundaries in some real life friendships to protect myself from losing focus. Thanks for keeping it real here at Making Home. This is one blog that I can always count on for encouragement- not guilt! :) Hope all is well with you and your family!

~Beth

Sarah Harris said...

The "healthy" guilt is more like conviction! I have been having a pity party for myself today with the busyness of life and feeling guilty for sinning against God and my family. Your post came at a great time!

Thanks!
Sarah Jo

Elizabeth said...

This is a great look at guilt and how powerful it can be in a mom's life. When I experience feelings of guilt, particularly about my mothering, I try to do as you suggested and examine it in light of Scripture. More often than not I am placing unnecessary pressure on myself to do things perfectly. The problem lies in my perfectionism, which results in guilt, and then goes on to cause all kinds of problems in our family relationships.

Another thing-I've read your blog for a long time, just never commented. I'm trying to be more involved in the blogs that I read, so hopefully I'll be commenting more. Hope that's okay!

Christine said...

Amen! It's a constant assessment of our lives through the eyes of God- repentance, starting fresh, tossing the guilt away. Guilt can be a blessing, if it is a convicting nudge, but shouldn't be something that we hang onto for dear life. Even guilt can become an idol in some ways.

Great post, Jess.

Catherine R. said...

Brilliant. So true. What better strategy for the devil than to take our righteous God given sense of guilt that comes from a true offense and confuse it back and forth with pointless self bashing, fretting and comparing with others who seem to have it all.

Jess said...

I'm so sorry, Sandra, I accidentally deleted your comment! Whoops! If you come back and want to repost, I'll hit "publish" this time, LOL. :)

Jess said...

Ah here it is:


eastern journey has left a new comment:

Such a great post. I don't really succumb to much Mommy guilt, but there's plenty of it to go around with blogs & facebook.

Allison said...

Thank you so much for writing this article. I am a relatively new mother (I have a 2 year old and a 2 month old) and find myself comparing myself to other mothers quite often. My husband gently reminds me that these matters are mostly unimportant. Teaching my children to love and follow Jesus is much more important than whether or not like natural childbirth (which I don't)and cloth diapers (I love the idea, but it hasn't caught on with me yet) and matters such as these are really not central issues over which to spend much time in guilt.

Terry @ Breathing Grace said...

This is great Jess. I'm adding it to my Delicious links! Thanks for sharing it.

Anonymous said...

"If I've put my children in daycare, the guilt I feel as I walk away might be prodding me to consider that perhaps my actions don't match up with our aims as a family."


Unless your kids love day care and don't want to leave!

Carletta said...

Interesting post, Jess. I was just thinking the other day that it seems many moms are beginning to pride themselves on guilt (as you mentioned above) or incompetence (unruly kids, not getting the laundry done, eating out too much, etc.) instead of striving to do their jobs well, and taking pride in a job well done.

Of course we will always have seasons were life is overwhelming. We will never be perfect, and will always have room for improvement. But I think a level of basic competence at motherhood, homemaking and homeschooling is possible for most.

I recently fell into the habit of commiserating with a friend almost daily about how hard things were and how I couldn't get anything done. Finally, it occurred to me to get off of the telephone, get off my behind and do my job, lol. Then, I no longer had anything to feel guilty or depressed about. Surprising how that works! :)

I think sometimes we get hooked on guilt, complaining, etc. because it is easier than making changes and actually doing something. It's also another way to get encouragement from others, and we all like having our egos stroked.

Jess said...

Anonymous,

Our kids might like to eat ding-dongs and donuts non-stop for a week, with jolly ranchers and pixie stix as snacks in between. Our kids might love to play video games non-stop in every waking moment, and not want to leave the front of the TV set (in fact, I hear that's a common malady these days). The simple fact that our kids like or even profess to love something does not by itself mean that that thing is best for them.

~Jess

Sara said...

I was with you till the daycare comment. Unlike letting your child eat as much candy as he or she wants, daycare isn't harmful to your child. Is it for everyone? of course not. But please recognize that for some families it can serve a vital need.

The best thing my husband and I ever did was put our 8-month-old in daycare two days a week. One of those days both my husband and I work, and the other day I work and it frees my husband up to run errands, clean the house, or whatever he needs to accomplish on his (usually only) day off all week. While at daycare, we have no concerns that our child is being exposed to a television constantly being on or being lost in the midst of eight other kids, both of which were concerns at our previous childcare arrangements(grandmother's houses; my mother watches 3 of her other infant grandchildren as well as still has several children at home). Day care was best for our son and for our family at this point in time. And, no, it doesn't break the bank; my income alone is more than enough to cover daycare, taxes, any other sundry expenses associated with working, and still contributes a healthy amount to our household income.
Not all famillies are the same. Please remember that we are not called to be cookie cutter images of another's family.

Jess said...

Sara,
On that point, we just have a basic disagreement. I don't agree that "daycare isn't harmful to your (generic your) child". Particularly young babies. Once you progress towards childhood, it becomes a "where do you draw the line" sort of discussion. But babies are born into families. They are meant to be responded to... have their smiles met with smiles, their cries met with sympathy and attention of whatever sort they need. Their socialization into the society of humans, and ultimately, prayerfully, into the family of God, is fundamentally affected by these responses and early influences. This is not a call for cookie-cutter lives... rather, in my view, a simple awareness of how God created us, as humans, as families, as mothers, as babies.

I do absolutely think that babies should be with their moms. I believe that's why God knits us together for 9 months, physically, and then bonds us together by them needing our milk for a year or more thereafter. He gave us a physical need for one another, a dependent relationship whereby we grow together in our affection for and knowledge of one another.

And, maybe you don't mean that day care is absolutely "the best thing" you've ever done, but that seems like an awfully simplistic definition of a decision that you have not yet borne out the fruit of. I can say without equivocation, that though it's been difficult in some ways, though I gave up a very rewarding, important, well-paying, and influential job, and though it does cause people to treat me as some kind of mindless idiot, the best thing I've done with my life is to love and serve and know our children by being home with them, being their day-in, day-out trusted mother, companion, teacher, and friend.

I am sympathetic to the various pressures and choices that families face, and we have faced some of them in our lives as well. I respect your right, and others, to make whatever choices you deem necessary. But I don't see all choices as equal, or all choices as beneficial.

If you were my friend, as opposed to some faceless, vague person out there in internet-land, I would urge you to gobble up these precious moments with your baby. These days that seem so long will one day seem so long ago and so faint in your memory. For his sake, and for yours, I would urge you to take time out with your baby... not to have your life look like someone else's, but to have your life look like no one else's. You alone are able to be wild about your son, notice his "firsts" and treasure and teach him in a way that is unique, as his mother. I would encourage you to do these things as a gift to your son, as a gift to yourself, and as a sweet act of service and self-sacrifice offered up to God. I would say these things in love to you, because as a mom who has a son who is almost half-way to adulthood, we have but one life. And we don't get to go back. Career, "me time", achieving a certain goal, freedom to converse with adults, even helping others outside our family, etc... these things can happen ANYTIME. But there is one time when our children are babies... and once it is gone, it is GONE. Again, this is what I would say to you if you were my friend, someone I love.

I understand you see it differently, and I just wanted to flesh out my thoughts here. Best wishes for you and your family.
~Jess

Sara said...

Let me rephrase what I meant: putting my son in a day care setting two days a week has been the best thing that ever happened to my marriage. Honestly. I WAS a stay-at-home mom, and I HATED it. I was miserable. I need those two days at work, and as a paramedic, I can work full time in two days a week. For a long time, my husband and I alternated schedules so once of us was home, but that didn't work either. We were tired, stressed, unhappy because nothing was getting done, because we never had two parents at home.
So we chose daycare. It was a new thing for our family. My husband and I are both products of homeschooling and stay-at-home moms. And perhaps for some families that is ideal, but I hated(HATED HATED HATED) being at home all the time. I was bored. I was miserable. We were worried about money, since I have a large monthly student loan payment. We chose for me to go back to work part time.

I just want you to understand that not every mother LIKES being at home. I didn't. I don't feel that I am missing anything of my son's life. He is thriving in day care, and my marriage is thriving because my husband has time on his days off to work on our house and other things he needs to do. We're not stressed anymore, not irritable, not trying to figure out how to fit it all in.

We will never agree(and that's okay), but I wanted to give you some food for thought.

Charisa said...

Thanks for this post! So encouraging to read and evaluate my own "mommy-guilt".

Jess said...

Sara,
It seems we are at an impasse. I don't think putting a baby in day care can ever be the "best" anything, at least not in a two-parent Christian home. And I think that young moms who have grown up in a society that tells them "it's all about you", "you can have your dreams", and that career is the most important thing about you, have a rough row to hoe.

Once we become mothers, it ceases to be all about us, about what we do "best", and about what we "like". When God blesses us with children, He has given us what so many people lack-- a very clear plan for our lives, with specific responsibilities, and a specific role.

I'm nearly 9 years into staying at home, and I'm still growing. To me, it's kind of like swimming. You don't jump into a pool a couple times when you've never swum before, and then afterwards, say "I HATE, HATE, HATE swimming. All it is is flapping your arms, inhaling water, trying to keep from going under... it's exhausting, and frustrating, and chlorine tastes bad and burns my eyes!" A few months to adjust to the most major life change that perhaps anyone ever undergoes (giving birth and becoming a mom), and then getting used to running and managing a home, just really isn't enough time. It's no wonder you hated it. To a large degree, that's probably because you never gave yourself a chance to get good at it. It's a rare person indeed who loves to do things that they feel ill-prepared for, which tire and exhaust them, and for which they get no praise or acclaim.

And I also want to challenge you and anyone else that whether or not we "LIKE" being at home isn't the most important thing. If we only want to do things we like, then we need to run from God, run from the marriage altar, and certainly run from having children. Because all of these things-- submitting to God, committing to love another person for life, and taking on the responsibility of caring for other human beings in their most needy and impressionable years-- require self-sacrifice and doing things that we may not "LIKE" but may be best for others, and in the long run, best for us.

Again, I wish you well. Thanks for the dialogue.

Terry @ Breathing Grace said...

You responded with unwavering truth, and much grace as well, Jess.


God bless you. You handled that much better than I handle such things.

Jess said...

Carletta,
I meant to comment earlier that I think your comment is absolutely right on. Thanks for adding your thoughts to the discussion!

~Jess

Sullens Six said...

I wholeheartedly agree with your thoughts in the post and in the comments and shared it on Facebook. I am almost six years into staying home with my three girls and one boy. Does every day make me feel as if I'm floating on clouds and that there's no other place I'd want to be? No - because some days I need to be humbled and brought nearer to understanding that I can't do it well in my own strength. Ninety-five percent of the time, I do LOVE it, but only because I am able to see God's power at work in my family's life and not mine. I highly recommend the book Where's Mom?. If I remember right, it is written by Dorothy Kelley Patterson. I'm happy to have found your blog. Keep up the good thoughts. They're great "Titus 2 Moments"!
-Lauren

Nichole said...

Our home is a 2 parent Christian home. We are doing our best to raise our child in the fear and admonition of the Lord. We both work outside of the home as well as raising our son. While our original plan was for me to stay home, it simply has never been do-able for us because of financial reasons. We coupon and don't have cable TV and don't go on vacation. We don't live extravagantly.

We love our son with a love that comes only behind that of our relationship with the Lord and each other. We prayed that God would lead us to do what is right by him and brings the most glory to our heavenly Father. Our son is at a Christian preschool and is thriving.

It really is offensive and hurtful when other believers look down at our home because I am not a stay at home mom. Even tthough I work, my family comes first. I believe it can be done as long as the proper perspective is kept. Family first. Even the Proverbs 31 woman had a business and took care of her home. It is a matter between man, wife, and the Lord. Maybe similar to eating meat sacrificed to idols or circumcision in NT days.

I would never point fingers at a stay at home mom and say that my way is the only way to go. I hope for the same respect. But it seems like that isn't always how things go.

I sincerely pray the Lord's blessing on your family.

Sullens Six said...

Nichole,
Yours is a situation that many women face of truly needing to work outside the home because of financial reasons. I don't know what those may be. It sounds as if you are living as frugally as possible. When that's the case, and not just a desire to be away from home (have a break from motherhood, do something that makes one feel professionally successful, etc.), then I can understand the need to work. One of my best friends is in this situation.

If it is your desire to one day be home, if you believe it is God's best for children so that you really can be the one to teach them when you rise, when you lie down, when you sit, when you walk along the way, then be looking for the opportunity, praying for it, and possibly seeing if there's a way to earn your income from home. My husband and I always knew that no matter what, I'd be home with our children, so I left teaching even though my husband made very little money at the time. It never worked out on paper when we wrote out our budget, but God always provided! We never let a bill go unpaid in full, we didn't have to use credit cards except for a breast pump purchase (one that I've now used almost four years with our four children), and we didn't live holed up in our apartment wishing we had money to do something fun. It was a joyful time, and we are still joyful as I have the freedom to be home with our family. I hope you too have that opportunity one day!
-Lauren

Jess said...

Nichole,
Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

I have a few thoughts in response:
(1) Even in your answer, you seem to recognize that staying at home would be a better choice for your son, that it was your first choice. I'm not saying this to condemn, point fingers, or look down on you... just to point out that you seem to distinguish between the two options (placing preference on being at home) even in your comment.

(2) I absolutely believe that you love your son and want to do right by him. I'm glad your son is thriving, and my advocacy of mothers staying home with their babies is not because I believe preschool is evil or expensive. That's not my reasoning at all. Your son sounds fortunate to have loving, intentional parents.

(3) RE: respect going both ways... I've already mentioned that I do respect every parent's right to make these decisions. But in life, different choices merit different levels of personal respect. While a preschool or after-school situation is different (with older children who can communicate back to parents about what they are doing/experiencing while outside their care), I do not think it is a wise decision to put a baby in daycare. I believe nature itself teaches us that a baby needs its mother.

Beyond that naturalistic reason, the times that the Bible talks about someone other than the mother caring for a baby are mentioned because of the unusual nature of the arrangement (i.e., Obed with Naomi, or toddler/child Samuel with Eli). Babies being regularly put into the care of others simply ought not be normative; it's simply not best. This really isn't that controversial of a statement. In fact, countries around the world (besides the US) give anywhere from 6 months to a year or more off work in order to have a baby spend those formative months with his/her mother. This is nothing new or unknown.

(4) Though people use the Proverbs 31 woman as evidence of any number of things, it seems to me to be a description of a woman from the perspective of the end of her life... a life well-lived... not a picture of the young woman trying to do it all while she's bearing, nursing, and rearing young children. Her kids have risen up and called her blessed... it doesn't seem to me to be a snapshot of her life during the season of raising young children.

Regardless, I also wish you well. I don't look down on you. It sounds like you really want to do right by your son, and I applaud that desire.
Best wishes,
~Jess

Ashley said...

exactly!!!!! WHAT IS MOMMY GUILT???? my gosh, everyone talks about it, yet..... WHAT IS IT???

someone read some blog i wrote once (i don't remember what about, but i think it was about feeling sad about something or other concerning the kids??) and emailed me saying, "Oh honey, i know ALL ABOUT THE GUILT. Mommy Guilt."

I wrote back and was like, "What? What guilt? What are you talking about?" and she never really talked to me again. Oops. I guess I accidentally put her off, but I am still wondering what she was talking about (she never replied).

I mean, my gosh, if you are doing the best you can (which most of us are), then what is there to feel guilty about? Yes, i have taken notice that my kids are wanting cinnamon rolls too often for breakfast and think, "Gosh, I gotta cook eggs tomorrow," but guilt? NAH! Who has time for it??

Douglas Dahl said...

Thanks for the article. This issue comes up suprisingly often and it tends to catch me off guard. Appreciate the pointers.

Anonymous said...

I think the difference between the 2 "guilts" is that one is shame rooted and one is conviction rooted.

Shame-guilt comes from condemnation of ourselves. (by self or others)
Conviction-guilt spurs us toward a healthy change.

Just a thought. :)

Anonymous said...

I love your thoughts on this! Well put!

A wake-up call for me was when my infant cried for his favorite day-care worker when it was time to go home! Whoa!!! Who was truly being the "mommy" through bonding and nurturing?

Now, my husband and I have made it so that I'm home with him (and our other children). The sacrifices have all been worth it!

Anonymous said...

Forgot to put my name with my comment on 1/4/2014. I'm Rachel by the way. Love your blog/perspective and the sweet picture of your sleeping baby. <3