by Lori Radun
I remember, almost 14 years ago, bringing my son Kai home from the hospital. We had borrowed an old car seat from someone we knew. I placed all 6 lbs 14 oz. of him into the car seat and suddenly burst into tears. The car seat was way too big for him. I really felt I had failed him. I mean what kind of mother doesn't know he needed an infant car seat? The sudden awareness that I didn't know what I was doing hit me like a ton of bricks. The nurses were gone and I was on my own.
From the moment you become pregnant until the day you or your child dies, you try to be the very best mom you can be to your children. It doesn't take long, however, before you make mistakes. Parenting doesn't go as planned. Your children do outrageous things. Accidents happen. Feelings get hurt. Children go down the wrong path. Your marriage struggles. And the feelings of guilt inevitably follow. It doesn't matter if your children are young or grown; motherhood guilt is always a struggle.
So how can you minimize those pesky, guilty feelings? Here are some helpful tips to help you zap the guilt and enjoy the journey of motherhood.
Stop Comparing Yourself and Your Children to Others
Is Kayla sitting up yet? When did Matthew start walking? My child knows all her colors and the whole alphabet and she's only two. Does your son play travel sports? What did your daughter get on the SAT test? My son is 28 and he is still not married. Comparing our children to other children is an easy trap to fall into. But it is not healthy for our children or us as moms because every child is different. They each have different strengths, weaknesses, developmental patterns and personalities. Let your children be who they are and avoid the comparison game.
Just like you shouldn't compare your children to other children, the same goes for you. Let go of any need you have to compare yourself to other moms. Todd Parr wrote a great children's book called "The Mommy Book". In this book, he talks about how all mommies are different. Some mommies like to cook and some like to order pizza. Some mommies work in tall office buildings and some work at home. I have a friend who is the epitome of June Cleaver. Almost all her meals are home cooked. She makes all her children's Halloween costumes. She is totally organized and structured with her children's school work and activities. If I compare myself to her, I am plagued with feelings of guilt. I make Hamburger Helper for my family, purchase all their Halloween costumes and I consistently fail at structure with my kids. But I'm still a great mom, and so is she. It's okay to be different.
Accept Your Limitations as Well as Your Children's
You don't have to be all things to your children and your children don't have to be all things to you. In other words, it's okay if you make mistakes. And your children deserve the same grace. One of the things I often struggle with is thinking I need to be my child's constant playmate. I have to be honest. Sometimes I don't feel like playing cars or looking at another car magazine. Sure, my child may feel disappointed if I say no, but it doesn't mean I am not being a good mother. I have my limits and I need to respect them. All moms have limits. When we go over our limits, we usually become irritable and short-tempered. Exceeding our limits can cause a vicious cycle of behaving in a way that makes us feel guilty.
Your children have limitations too. Just because a child has a bad day of misbehavior doesn't mean you are doing something wrong. While I was on vacation this past week, there were days that my 3-1/2 year old was a little monster. He was in time out constantly. Of course, all the other little children around were perfectly well behaved. At one point, I was exasperated and I asked my aunt, "What is wrong with him?" My aunt reassured me that he is fine - he's just being a kid. It's times like this that we often question our parenting. Sometimes I think it's helpful to just understand that motherhood has its good days and bad days and it has very little to do with our ability to parent our children.
Apologize When You Are Wrong
Let's face it. Sometimes we blow it. We say or do something to our child that we immediately regret. If this ever happens to you, apologize immediately. Our children then learn that we are human and we make mistakes. Children are very forgiving and forgiveness conquers guilt. There is nothing more humbling than being able to admit when we behaved in a way we know is wrong.
Right after we took the pacifier away from our preschooler, he decided he wasn't going to take naps. My son went from taking a 3 hour nap everyday to taking no nap at all. One day, after trying for several days and failing, I was insisting my son take a nap. I was tired and I needed a break more than he did. My little strong-willed boy was determined to stay awake. Not only was he refusing to sleep, he was also refusing to stay in his bed. His attitude was one of defiance and his fighting was wearing me down. After several attempts to make him nap, I lost my temper. I yelled at him and told him he was going to take a nap. In utter frustration and anger, I spanked him and stormed out of his bedroom.
The guilt smacked me in the face. I treated my son in a way I totally disagreed with. I don't believe in spanking, especially when one is angry. I immediately went to God and pleaded for forgiveness. Not only did I apologize to God, but I had a long heart to heart talk with my little guy. I told him how sorry I was and explained that I was angry. He told me he was mad too. We hugged and made up. I knew then I had been forgiven by both God and my son.
Don't Buy Into Others Attempts to Make You Feel Guilty
Everyone has their own set of rules and values they live by. Oftentimes, when people can't accept differences in other people, they impose their opinion, often resulting in attempts to instill guilt, conscious or not. At the end of the summer, I took a 3 day retreat to reenergize. I went to Door County by myself and had a wonderful time shopping, watching movies, reading, and sightseeing. Upon my return home, I was faced with disapproving remarks from my mother-in-law. She couldn't understand how I could go on a vacation by myself. I knew in my heart and soul that I did nothing wrong, despite how others might have viewed the retreat.