I sat down at the counter completely defeated. Another total mom fail-of-a-day. The intricacy in which I am beating myself up could only be explained if you knew my entire life story. Searching my brain for every time I fell short to prove to my own desperate heart that I have no right to even call myself mom. My kids will likely wake the next morning with no memory of the ways I failed them the day before, and yet I have carved it, etched it into the very cavities of my brain. I have saved them all, so that I can pull them up and punish myself with the guilt of never being enough.
While your children may not remember your failure, they will likely never forget the look of shame on your face, the hatred you had for yourself, or the anger, that oddly smelled like guilt. The biggest risk of living under the shadow of guilt and shame is far more reaching than not fitting in at the mom’s group, or ladies Bible study. The consequences of living under mom guilt can drastically shape how your kids see themselves and eventually effect how they see you.
It’s interesting to me how little my kids remember the specific days, or events in which I clearly failed them. The time I forgot it was field trip day and didn’t pack a lunch. The time I tried to be silly and fun, and hurt them while wrestling. The time that I got stuck in a meeting and forgot to pick them up from preschool…again. They likely won’t remember the events nearly as much as they remember your responses to them. If your apology leads into a ramble of reasons you will never be as good of a mom as fill-in-the-blank. Then there are some real dangers to be aware of.
The first danger is that your kids are watching you. Not what you did, but how you responded to yourself. They are learning important things about how to view themselves by watching how you view yourself. They hear when you call yourself an idiot, when you curse under your breath at your shortcomings. They deeply feel it in their very own identity when you carry around guilt and shame. After all they are a part of you, a reflection of you, and if you feel as loathsome about yourself, then they too should feel that way about who they are. When you are berating yourself, even if it is only in your head, your kids can see that, they can feel it, and most terrifying is, they learn it. They learn how to hate themselves, by the way we hate ourselves. There has been a huge up rise in suicide in younger and younger kids over the last 20 years, and while I believe there are a lot of factors, I have no doubt that you will find a direct correlation in the up rise of mom guilt. Our view of ourselves has drastically been affected by watching every other woman’s highlight reel on social media and comparing it to our blooper takes. But ladies, every time we tell ourselves we are not enough, we are secretly also telling our kids the same. It is incredibly destructive.
The second danger in living under the weight of mom guilt, is that guilt in our hearts, leads to resentment in theirs. When we are constantly apologizing for not being enough and telling our kids we are a horrible mom, eventually they will believe you, and they will wonder why you never got your act together. While it can seem humble on the front end, to apologize for every little thing that you could have done better, you are actually teaching your children that their expectations should match your unattainable desire to be perfect. Eventually they will shift from thinking you were just short of a super hero, to wondering why they drew the short straw. Your very own kids will start resenting you, not because of what you did wrong, but because of the way you responded to yourself as a mother. Unfortunately, if you tell yourselves you are a horrible mother, eventually your kids will believe it too. Then as they begin to resent you more and more, you will be able to add fuel to the mom guilt furnace, and the cycle will continue.
I know hearing those two reasons for not carrying guilt and shame are enough to send you on an epic mom-guilt spiral. “After all, I have been teaching my kids to hate themselves and to hate me! I really am the worst mom on earth!” But rather than further spiraling back down that rabbit hole, I would encourage you to hold every thought captive. Stop allowing your MO to be guilt and ask God, if you are meeting His expectations for you as a mother. Hear Him when He says, my grace is sufficient for you, and know that He can use even your biggest shortcomings for His good. Trust God that He knew what He was doing by choosing you to be their mother. Help your kids have realistic expectations of what a mother can do, and what they can expect of themselves. Most importantly point them to God when you aren’t enough for them, and help them to realize that in our weakness He can be strong.
It is really important that we do not try to be perfect for our kids, because it sets up an expectation that not only you should be perfect, but they should be too. And when people are perfect, they have no need for a savior. Pray with all that you are, that when you fall short, God will use your shortcomings to draw your children closer to Him. I often pray that my kids will see the things that I am doing poorly, so that they can see the grace that God has for me.
It isn’t a quick journey to loving ourselves the way God loves us, but it is one worth taking. Years ago, I began taking steps toward leaning into conviction and humility over guilt and shame. I didn’t stop apologizing when it was necessary, I just stopped apologizing when it wasn’t. And I stopped owning things that weren’t mine to own. I made a conscious decision to not allow my kids to be plagued by my own self-hatred, but to be encouraged by the grace God has afforded me because of Jesus’ death on the cross. I am not perfect, and I pray I never will be, because then I won’t need Jesus. Sometimes, I have to laugh at myself and the ways I fail and simply pray, “God use it to teach my kids what not to be, and help me remember I’m still becoming!”