Maternal Guilt Syndrome? Ok. I know that’s not a real condition. And trust me, I am in no way advocating for the creation of more psychological jargon. But, you must admit that for most women the title at least resonates—certainly if you are a mother. From the “old-school” you-can’t-tell-them-nothing momma to the new-age read every parenting book and STILL feel inadequate mom, we all struggle with mothering inadequacies, fear about the future, and getting it wrong.
I have found few moms who don’t struggle with maternal guilt. Their sense of inadequacy often leads to an overcompensation in which they take on multiple domestic, professional, and/or academic tasks that render them most often tired or bitter and in the worst case, physically sick. Of course, after all that guilt-induced strain, in the end mom returns back to …well, you guessed it, the feeling of guilt. Now don’t get me wrong, functional guilt can propel us into getting things done, prioritizing, and safeguarding our families. It is unsettling to be with a person who should feel guilty about a wrong and frankly does not. However, stagnant and cyclical maternal guilt helps no one, least of all our children. It impacts our ability to be truly present with them, properly discipline them, and model both health and wholeness before them. Below are some thoughts from one mom to another which may help with that feeling of maternal guilt. Because if you haven’t heard, whether you are a newbie or veteran, motherhood is hard.
Thought #1: Being a good mother is not instinctual
I have often heard people say that when you look at your baby you will know just what to do. Typically, they are referring to a newborn and a mom who is filled with the bonding hormone Oxytocin. I wonder if that’s the case for the mom with the toddler who likes to remove their diaper at night (leaving exciting surprises in the morning)? How about the mother of the 15 year old who used to be so chatty and now only grunts and nods? Although maternal instincts and impulses serve us well, it is unfair to assume that mother’s intuition covers all developmental and behavioral interventions needed to raise healthy children. While loving your child may come naturally, raising them no doubt requires more tangible skills. Also, from a biblical standpoint, if it was purely instinctual that mother’s innately knew all the tricks of motherhood, the Titus 2:4 admonish of “teach the younger women to love their husband and children” would not make sense. Yes, we all need to be taught to love from a biblical perspective because it is beyond a hormone induced sensation but a moving, breathing, and sacrificial verb. Don’t beat yourself up because motherhood does not come “naturally.” Be a student of your family.
Thought #2: Busy Mom is not the same as Healthy and Productive Mom
The answer to idleness is not excessive, pointless busyness for the sake of being busy. The answer to idleness is mature yet reasonable priorities where all that other stuff becomes well… all that other stuff. Am I the only one who writes dissertation long to do lists that end up feeling like contracts of bondage? Having a couple of daily goals is reasonable but non-stop movement is unhealthy, numbing, and will grow resentment because no one else is working like you. There are many women annoyed with their husbands because quite frankly they are better at doing downtime. It’s likely your husband isn’t folding laundry while watching Monday Night football? While there is much to be said about the multi-tasking ability of the female brain, that awesome brain still needs rest.
Thought #3: Spirit outweighs behavior
The peaceful spirit that we bring to our parenting far out-weighs the logistical set-up of our home. The diversity of today’s mother includes women with every possible home and work set up. You have the purely- domestic stay at home mom all the way to the working over-time outside of the home mom. Picking fights with each other is often a ruse for hiding our own insecurities as to where we are in our “motherhood moment.” While the particulars are important, the attitude, energy, and spirit in our home will produce the most resonating effects on our children. Are you doing whatever you do with joy?
Thought #4: Parenting is a Team Sport
The African proverb that it takes a village to raise a child has been stated many times because its truth deserves repeating. You may not have a village accessible, but I can assure you that it’s going to take more than you alone. Contemporary women struggle with acknowledging that they need help due to comparisons with the mythical “do-it-all with a smile” women from the past. That woman, if she ever existed, is gone and she is not you. Get over it. Needing help is an expression of our humanity. Spouses, grandparents, housekeepers, and friends can play a huge role in helping you distribute the responsibilities of parenting. If you are going to manage your home, why not get some “staff”? Do you have to cook every meal–especially when your mother is retired, honestly cooks better, and relishes every chance to see her grandkids? You may not like the way your husband does XYZ task, but if he is willing to do it, you should reign in your Martha Stewart expectations. Obviously, working mothers and single-moms need a support system, but so do stay-at-home mothers. There is a belief that domestic divas just sit at home eating Bon-Bons, watching soaps, and ignoring their kids. I am sure that there are some depressed and checked out women that live this way, but it is not the norm. I know few women (and that includes high level executives and public servants) who are on the move like stay-at-home moms. There is always something to do in the world of stay at home-moms. And they rarely get a let-me-clear-my-head lunch break. Groups like Mocha moms, a support and social group targeted at African American stay at home moms, offer healthy exchanges with moms who are in the same boat and opportunities for kids to play together. Do you have your starting line-up in the game of parenting? Pray about it and start recruiting the best and willing.
Sad to say, we all most likely know more men than women who are not taking care of their children or contributing to the emotional, spiritual, and financial stability of their family. It is depressing but I will not go into a long discourse about the reasons and consequences for paternal abandonment. I will say it has caused many mothers to feel an even greater weight of responsibility for the maturation of their children. We need grace to live each moment and parenting requires an extra portion of grace and wisdom.
I don’t know one mother who does not struggle with guilt. Every shortcoming that their child has is taken personally. Let’s make a commitment to honor the mothers around us with encouragement, accountability and resources, but let’s not forget to start with ourselves. Now go hug a mom today, because she needs it!