Learning to fight the Mom Guilt

Posted on Thursday~April 2, 2009

There are around 100 posts in my archives with labels like 'parenting' and 'motherhood'. You'd think I was some sort of expert or something.

But then you'd be really wrong, and who likes that?

Let's just say that if you were a fly on my wall, you wouldn't be that impressed.
(And you'd be really cute with your big, bulgy eyes.)

It's not that I'm a bad mom, I'm just probably not what you think I am. I'm not saying that because I'm having a pity party or looking for accolades. I'm saying that because we all struggle. This is exceptionally hard work.

I had a really bad day the other day (of course it was Tuesday/Bluesday, what's the deal with that?). By the afternoon I had no idea what to do, how to handle yet another tantrum, or how a person goes about saving their sanity.

The truth is that I can hold all kinds of wisdom in my head and heart, but I suffer from the same thing most of us deal with, and that's the inability to follow through.

My outsides don't match my insides, so to speak.

I can feel love when thinking about my boys, and I can believe in having a peaceful home, and yet I still stomp around and growl like a pit bull much of the time. I like to have my way, and mothering has nothing to do with me getting my way. So I fight battles that don't need fighting, including ones in my mind that tell me I'm not good enough.

There are absolutely good and beautiful things in every day, every moment with my boys. But sometimes I can't even see them, I'm just so tired.

Guilt. When I can't see the beauty, even for a second, I feel as if I've failed. Even though there are a thousand times a day that I do see it, if I just can't even one time due to a million distractions and the buzzing of business in my head, I assume there must be something wrong with my mothering heart, or me.

When I asked recently what mothers feel are obstacles to being the mom they want to be, I wasn't surprised to see how many people blamed themselves. They didn't name outward obstacles like single parenting, a husband who's out of the home much of the time, isolation, a child with special needs, their own health issues, the loss of a job, etc.

Instead most moms answered that their obstacles to being the mom they want to be are selfishness and laziness.

And I would answer the same way, even though I recognize I have a child with special needs, a travels-for-work-husband, and a whole lotta isolation in wintry Minnesota, to name a few. I still blame only me, and call those realities excuses, assuming that everyone has outward obstacles and they're doing better than I am. I start to think I need to buck up, rise above the fatigue and remain perfectly calm and happy at all times, soaking up these days I know I'll want back. Those are good things to try to do, but I'm realizing I'm not a Superhero.

We need to stop beating ourselves up. We need to recognize the outward obstacles so we can see it might not be that we're simply lazy and selfish. Sure, there's a level of lazy and selfish in all of us, and those are things we should fight. But if we're going to focus on those things, we will live them out. Calling ourselves lazy and selfish is not helping. At least it isn't helping me.

The only time I start to act like the mother that's in my heart is when I flick that little whispering devil off my shoulder and tell myself I rock. That is what works, changing my attitude, lifting the funk and moving me out the door, maybe even with a smile on my face.

On Bluesday Tuesday when I thought I might lose my mind completely, I emailed a friend. (Thank God for the internet.) I rambled and vented and cried while I typed. Then I begged for advice. And my more seasoned mother mentor friend certainly delivered. I'll be back tomorrow with some tips I'm so thankful to have gotten from her.

For now I'll leave you with one of my favorite lines from her response,

"I always think that only the best moms question the job they are doing."

I guess it's true that some don't question like I do, and I'll admit that sometimes I wish I didn't question so much, it's exhausting. But in the end, I know that having concerns about mothering will lead me to learn and grow, and that will benefit my boys. And they are totally worth every moment spent thinking about how to love them well.

34 clicked right here to comment:

Annette Lyon said...

Beautifullyl written and so true (we aren't superheroes!). I think one big hurdle we have is comparing out worst days with another mom's best days. Of course we're going to come up short.

Looking forward to your tips.

Wendi @ Every Day Miracles said...

Um, yeah - it kinda happened again; our simultaneous posting similarities.
Hello twin.
Loved this. Because I seem to thrive on guilt. And a day when I can tell that to go away is a good, good day. Even if some one I have never met is giving me permission. I just need permission.

T & T Livesay said...

Love you Heather!!!!!! You are neither lazy or selfish. End of story.

I am big on quoting Vince Lombardi this week ... so, like he says "Fatigue makes cowards of us all" --- I think you and Ryan should plan a weekend getaway soon. Just the two of you ... somewhere relaxing ... and away from kids.

Heidi Ashworth said...

Back before we knew what was wrong with the Big Guy, we thought we were just horrible parents and sought counseling. Anyway, one day I had this huge screaming tantrum in front of said Big Guy. I went crawling to my therapist to confess. She said, "I think it is good for him to see you have a meltdown once in a while. It helps him to see the affect his choices has on you." I still try hard NOT to have meltdowns, but when I do, I just don't feel as guilty about them anymore. By the way, you ARE seriously tired--you must be! I don't know how you do it with your husband gone all of the time. You would grump a whole lot less if you got a break every evening for even a few minutes and had help putting the kids to bed, etc. The fact that you do all that you do as well as you do--well, you DO totally rock!

Debbie said...

You put the rock in rocks! I hope you are feeling better. Why do we have so much mothering guilt? And why, oh please tell me why, do we never hear about father guilt? Gosh. They are so darn lucky.
Love ya.

Debbie said...

Oh, and I did have a little clicking fun on that site yesterday. But I'm about to decide that all of these sites add to our stress? Any agreement?

Jenn said...

Liked what your friend said about the best mom's questioning the job they are doing. That is so true!

Cynthia said...

Amen sister! I feel so many of the same things you described so eloquently above. I also always assume that everyone is doing a better job than me and I'm never quite good enough. In all honesty though I'd rather be laughing at my shortcomings than pretending they don't exist.

I've also found that I do best when I stop expecting myself to be perfect. I have to remind myself that I 'don't do perfect'. Ironically, I think we become so much better when we stop trying to be perfect and start trying to be better.

Deb said...

okay, i am mad. i TOLD you to sleep through bluesdays!

you are singing my tune with this post, girl. i have this same dialogue (monologue? nobody talks back) running in my head constantly.

all i can say is we are trying and that has to count for something!

can't wait for the pearls of wisdom! thank goodness one of us has a sane mother in their life!

Lisa @ Crazy Adventures in Parenting said...

I clicked a bunch more. Not sure how many, though. I was interrupted 2348293472934 times by my toddler. And then I wanted to get angry, and stopped myself, because she's a toddler, and that's what they do. They don't know that you're enthralled with something, or busy writing an article. They just need you.

And I grew up a little more, there. And I didn't beat myself up. Irony of it happening during commenting on this post and helping you with TopMomma. See how that works? ;)

Homesteading said...

What a perfect post. Thank you.

Lara said...

While I do think that it's true the best moms worry and question about whether or not they are doing the best job and get all upset when they realize they are not their best, I also think that we do it too much.

You're right. We need to flick (punch, or kick) that little devil off of our shoulder and go about our most important business of motherhood.

Peanut said...

This mom thing IS hard. And some days, are just INSANE. And some days I think I'M going insane. (Possibly today). I love that you are honest about the good stuff AND bad stuff.

Melanie J said...

This is so true. The worst part is that sometimes I manage to talk myself out of feeling guilty and then I feel guilty about that. Man, oh man.

Becky said...

After reading this, I think you'll appreciate my post today... :)

There really ought to be a guilt-be-gone pill moms could take. Of course, it would probably have side effects like weight gain and accelerated body hair growth.

Kazzy said...

True stuff. I am happiest when I don't accidentally slip into martyr mode about my mommying.

Thanks for being our cheerleader.

Abra said...

I think sometimes, what makes us so good is that we're able to ignore the selfish wanting of our mind, and are able to follow the gentle nudging of our hearts.

Jen said...

Man that is a beautiful quote. I think that I am going to tattoo is on my body somewhere where I can always see it. It is just so true.
And please know that you are certainly not alone. I feel that same way.

Betty said...

What a great line! She's a smart momma! Love your honesty and the fact like most of us there are times we have no idea what we're doing(this stems from the insanity). Great Post!

LexiconLuvr said...

I think guilt is my mothers milk. I feel guilty for breathing sometimes, I swear.

This entire post feels like it was spilled out of my heart and onto your blog. When I see the lazy/selfish/ornery moments, I don't see the beautiful and I think I have failed them. I feel like if I take time for myself, I've failed them. I feel like if I'm not doing a thousand crafty projects (making homemade rockets or giant iced creations of gooey, candy speckled joy) then I have failed them.

Sometimes, it takes another person saying, "Me too." for me to get it. While I feel like it's impossible for you to be any less than the most spectacular of people (and I do and tell people all the time,) I just want to say thank you for saying:

Me too.

Love you.

Mylestones said...

True, true and Amen that. Right there with ya. Appreciate the honesty wrapped up with encouragement to hold our heads higher!

Eowyn said...

First off, cute pics of you in the past!

I loved this post. I think we as women tend to forget that we don't have to be perfect, both physically and in all those other days. It's difficult to let it go, but we actually get more done when we can let that fear and guilt go, but never the questioning.

CC said...

"but I'm realizing I'm not a Superhero." If Only YOU Had Superpowers.... ;)

I love the line from your friend's response. I hope it is true for all of us.

Kim said...

nak ~ just wanted to say a-freakin-men.

Love you.

Sara@i.Sass said...

I've decided.
Yeah, that's all.
I've decided.
Now if I could only figure out WHAT I decided.

Kimberly said...


And I echo your friend's insight often. We're good mothers not because we're perfect, but because we love our kids enough to worry over the fact that we're not.

Tooj said...

It's sort of like depression, in a way. It's a battle everyday, for some. I have found a new tactic that I am trying. When I get home from work and I already hear or see one kid crying, the other whining, I want to crawl in my car and sleep there all night, never leaving the garage. BUT...if I go upstairs, take a child in my arms, lay them on the floor and kiss their cheeks and neck and tickle them....lightness appears in the air. It HELPS. It's simple, and it doesn't always work, but most times...it really does. For now, that's my saving tactic.

Growin' with it! said...

thaaat's it...i'm writing it. i have had a post on my heart for quite some time. it's about how much i yell. hate it. trying to overcome the temptation to. struggling. ugg. this is the second blog post i've read tonight about being easier on ourselves as mom...THAT ROCKS!!

Anonymous said...

Anybody who is honest will admit that they have times when they know they're not being the mother they wish they would be. But, to dwell on mistakes is simply wasting time. We move on...learning, growing, improving, and loving our children to the best of our abilities.

wendy said...

Guess what Heather --that never changes. Those feelings of "failure" as a mom can run deep sometimes. I always question what I could have done better --should have done better. But, perhaps as you said, IT SHOWS WE CARED, WE TRIED--ARE STILL TRYING

Erin said...

Thank you for writing this. I agree with you, we definitely feel guilt for not doing a "good enough" job, when in reality we are our children's best mother. And they love us.

I'm on my way to click a few more times on Top Momma now!

LisAway said...

I know everyone else is saying "Amen!" and "So true!" but, really. You could very well have taken this, almost every word, out of my head, and written it out so much more clearly and well than I could.

It is so great to be understood. I love motherhood and the sisterhood of mothers.

kel said...

Oh honey, you just wrote what we all feel!

radioactive girl said...

Ths is very true.

Also, I clicked like crazy the other day. Hopefuly it helped.

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