“This is all my fault, I am SO sorry!” I say to my whimpering six year old as I rub aloe on her little cherry-red shoulders. We had gone to the beach for the afternoon – the first really hot beach day of the season. My husband had purchased sunscreen for me just before we left, knowing that, as a red-head with fair skin, the only way that I can enjoy the beach (his favorite place) was if I knew that I would not come home with a painful sunburn. I had managed to get sunscreen on the two babies and me, but the four older children were already in the water by the time I got down to the beach. I knew that my oldest child would need it since he has fair skin too, and I eventually got some on him, but my others turn a lovely shade of brown just like their father, so I did not think of it as urgent, and did not call them out of the water.
I completely forgot about the sunscreen until a few hours later when my children started looking pink. Too little, too late - they were all burned to a crisp.
That is when my nemesis arrived and the dual began. “You are a terrible mother,” Mother Guilt hissed in my ear, “You knew they would burn without sunscreen and yet you were not vigilant to accomplish the task.”
“That does not make me a terrible mother,” I parleyed back, “it was just a mistake.”
“But you made sure to cover your Self. Now your children are suffering because of your ‘mistake’ but you are not.” And in that moment, Mother Guilt had pared my weapon from me and had me on my knees.
“I AM a terrible mother!” I wailed in defeat.
Mother Guilt is an enemy that I face often. I struggle so much with the need to be perfect (in fact, it has been a journey of obedience for me to share my short-comings so candidly in this fashion). I think that I have always wanted to be (or at least appear to be) perfect, yet it has definitely increased since I have become a mother, and continued to grow with the addition of each new child. I feel as though I must be more organized, more disciplined and even more spiritually attuned than other mothers because I need to prove that I can mother so many children - and do it well.
If I can't be perfect, at least I would like to do most things right! Yet no matter how hard I try, Mother Guilt shows up on an almost daily basis, sits on my shoulder and whispers in my ear.
"You need to play with your kids more. GOOD mothers are FUN mothers."
"You totally over-reacted in that situation. GOOD mothers don't yell at their kids."
"You know that 'every day that goes by without spiritual training for our children is a day that can never be recaptured.'* but you did not read the Bible or memorize a verse with your kids today - in fact you have missed several days this week!" It hisses. "Those days can never be recaptured...they can never be recaptured."
The terrible words ring in my ears, causing my heart to cringe. Ugh!
Day after day I am plagued by feelings of inadequacy, prompted by Mother Guilt.
I am not the only mother battling Mother Guilt. I have heard many comments from other mothers that lead me to believe that they combat Mother Guilt, too.
When my older children were young I had the privilege of attending a MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) group at a church in my town. Each meeting would host a different guest speaker who would share on a topic of their expertise. One week a dental hygienist would speak to us about our childrens' oral health. Another week a fitness instructor would share the benefits of working daily exercise into our schedules. Yet another guest would share the many creative ways to scrapbook and save our childrens' memorable moments.
One day I asked a friend why she had stopped attending and she told me that after each meeting she would set out to do the important thing that was encouraged by our guest, seeing the value of it and hoping to improve herself as a mother. After a while, she found that she could not do everything and began to run herself down because she felt that she was a bad mother. She stopped coming because she could not bear to listen to one more thing that she was doing wrong!
I tried to help her see that she did not have to do all of those things to be a good mother, but Mother Guilt had already won that dual in her heart.
Since I have wrestled with Mother Guilt for so long, I finally decided to see what scripture had to say about it. I have to be honest with you and say that I did not find much that had to do with guilt, and what I did find was not very encouraging.
Then I stumbled across this verse and it really spoke to my heart on this issue:
"For though a righteous [mother] may fall seven (or many more!) times, [she] rises again." Proverbs 24:16a
I began to realize that Mother Guilt may be able to bring me to my knees from time to time, but it cannot keep me there! By the grace of God I can GET BACK UP and trust God for the strength to try again - - and maybe do it better the next time.
Maybe Mother Guilt has been attacking you as well. What do you do to counter your Mother Guilt?
* quote from James Dobson Motherhood My Journey