By Lindsey Racz
My daughter just asked if she could have some of my sparkling water. You know, the one thing I splurge on for myself at the grocery store so that I can have a treat once a day minus the sugar.
“No, honey…you know this is the sparkling water that you always ask for and never finish because you really don’t like it,” I whine without any level of maturity or authority.
A running commentary begins in my head, reminding me that it’s true—she doesn’t even like it. Besides, she has milk and juice and ice-cream and everything good that her little heart could desire because she’s a child and can eat whatever she wants with no concern for caloric intake, so I shouldn’t feel guilty for saying no. But then that other voice chimes in: “You’re so selfish...way to teach your child to share. Nice modeling, there, mom.” The mom guilt has me again. Please tell me I’m not the only one.
I find myself at least knee-deep in mom guilt multiple times a day. One of my precious and energy-sucking blessings asks me to play. Or to read. Or to buy them something. Or they ask me nothing at all, and my brain is still chattering away about how I should be doing more.
Never mind that we already had a morning walk together, got ice-cream last night, and rented three movies this week. We read devotionals each night before bedtime. I give darn good hugs in the morning. I try very hard as a mom, but it seems whatever I do, it’s never enough for my kids. They always want more (of me) than I have to give. Or, light-bulb moment, perhaps I am the one for whom it’s never enough.
Mom-guilt is a poor motivator and makes me parent from a place of weakness. If you’re anything like me, you are looking for some practical ways to knock your guilt-o-meter down a few notches as well.
Thankfully, that’s where my job as a therapist comes in handy. It’s not always easy to practice what I preach, but it’s time I take my own advice. The following are a few practical tips to help avoid the guilt-based parenting trap.
1. Identify the source of your guilt.
I don’t know when my guilt began. It could have been the birth of my second child. Or my third. Suddenly my time was divided beyond what I thought possible. My love multiplied with the birth of each new child. My time, however, did not.
Any of those sweet additions could have been born alongside guilt, but circumstances alone don’t maintain a mindset. Mindsets are ingrained and maintained through a constant. When constant arrows of “not enough” fly our way, we can be sure they are coming from the same source.
I’m not giving enough time. Not doing enough. Not being patient enough. Not “letting them be little” enough. It’s clear that I’m NOT ENOUGH.
There it is. Once the guilt is whittled down to its moment of origin, I recognize it. I recognize him. The Wizard of Oz who pretends to be all-knowing while standing behind a curtain and magnifying his make-believe power. The enemy. Darkened by shadows, hiding in the recesses of my life, reminding me I’m not enough. He causes guilt. Fear. Sadness. He causes us to parent from weakness. He is not conviction; he is shame. Thankfully, his power dwindles after exposure to light. Identifying this source of unhealthy guilt is vital in ridding our lives of it.
2. Don’t be manipulated.
My personal guilt cup runneth over with any and every “no” I utter. Okay, it certainly doesn’t help that my brilliant nine-year-old has caught on to my tendency to parent out of guilt and now makes guilt-inducing facial expressions the moment the word “no” enters my brain. “But mooooom,” she whines, “we haven’t gotten to bake cupcakes together ever in the history of my entire life.”
How sad. I think. How terribly and painfully sad. I really must be a terrible parent. Wait a minute. Usually, by the time I catch the manipulation, I’m already drowning in a pool of shame. My life raft is to grab a little truth. I grasp for air and remind my child of the good things we’ve done. And bonus, it’s a teachable moment as I remind her of what God’s word says in Philippians 4:8,
Reminding our kids of the good we’ve done together—indeed, just earlier that day—can put a cold, hard stop to that sad little frowny face. Kids can be extremely manipulative. They aren’t evil; they are following the natural order of development. Part of development involves observing and exploring how their actions impact the world around them. Who can blame them for taking note that a particular look gets them that specific toy they want? It’s our job as parents to teach that manipulation does NOT lead to their desired outcome, instead of vice versa.
3. Avoid the comparison trap.
Seriously. Look at these Pinterest moms up in here! They’ve been to Target to buy their kids new wardrobes, stopped for a quick vacation to Disney World on the way home, and painted each child’s room a personalized color with sparkles all before 9:00 am on a Monday. Guess what? I’m not one of them.
If we’ve heard it once, we’ve heard it a million times: comparison IS the thief of joy! No one’s life is as amazing as it looks from the outside because everyone, and I do mean every single body, has issues. That amazing mom down the street that looks like she has it all together? She’s probably guilt-momming her way to exhaustion as we speak. That one lady at our church who always wears the sweetest and most patient expression while talking with her children? She has a cussing problem behind closed doors.
There is simply no use in comparing our mothering skills to those around us—things are never really what they seem. Instead of comparing ourselves with others, let’s pray for wisdom from the only parent who gets it right every time: God, the Father.
I actually am enough, thank you very much. My kids are fed. They are sometimes clean. They are safe. They are most definitely loved. I am not always the fun mom. I’m the mom who is trying to be better, but okay with right where I am. I’m the mom who accepts that I went crazy psycho mom earlier this morning because someone had an attitude, but I apologized and modeled my need for Jesus. Today, I’m the mom who is dumping my mom-guilt next to the pile of lint dust that falls out of the dryer each time I empty the trap. Breathe in, exhale, and say it with me: I’m a good mom.