I need to confess.
Mother’s Day can make me depressed.
Not because I dislike being a mother; I absolutely cherish it. Not because I have a bad mother; she was and is an outstanding one. Not because my husbands and kids neglect me; they certainly don’t. And not because I am unsentimental; on the contrary, I love cards, flowers and celebrations.Then why should I feel struggle on this day that honors something so important to me?
I suffer from mom-guilt. Not guilt of a legal or sinful nature but the kind that pricks you when you think about what you “ought” to be and do; the “I’m not good enough” syndrome.
The moms reading this know what I’m talking about. It seems symptomatic of the role, written into the code of motherhood. There is no shortage of reasons for which to feel guilty, but what is the root of this guilt anyway?
Why We Believe We’re Bad
It may seem simplistic to some and unnecessarily spiritual to others, but I firmly believe that the largest factor in our struggle is an attack of the Enemy. Satan surely does not want mothers to accomplish what God has called them to, and if he cannot derail them with sinful lifestyles and relational dysfunction, he will use false guilt.
Closely behind that, another factor which rises up to defeat us is our own expectations. It is usually true with me that I am my own worst enemy. There is this internal monitor, ticking off the minutes, measuring my actions and calculating my worth. And often, the ways of my friends and the opinion of the culture serve to validate my doubts.
It follows then, that a temptation to comparison is the next face in the lineup of guilt factors. Women are, I believe, naturally inclined to comparison. Perhaps it is our great capacity for relationship which tilts us in that direction; the opinions of others matter to us. So we look around us to debunk or confirm our suspicions, and discover, to our dismay that “everyone else” is far ahead of us in this mothering game. The blogs and books prove it. And then there is Facebook where every “good” mom shines a little brighter.
And so finding little objective truth in these voices, we gravitate to the experts and the countless resources found in digital media and in print. And this factor only compounds our fears for there are so many experts and so many bits of advice that we are soon drowning in information. And even more guilt.
What We Need
We need truth. We need advice from an authority with a proven record and who understands the practical aspects of our lives; we need to consult our Heavenly Father. He knows the subject of motherhood thoroughly; after all, He did create both the idea and the women who embody it. His Word always points to true north and His Spirit deals in specifics rather than vague feelings and shadowy guilt.
We need objective, practical voices.
We need limits on the information we ingest.
We need common sense.
We need faith in our instincts, the gut knowledge that mothers have relied on for generations.
We need a plan.
How to Combat the Guilt
Applying truth is a daily, step by step way of life. There is no 30-day fix. It is an ongoing, rest-of-my-life solution. And to make it happen, a mom must continually embrace these facts.
1. God fits our children to us.
No one can mother my children better than me. There is no proof text for this statement, but I believe the basis for it is found in Scripture. In Psalm 139:13-16, David revels in the Almighty’s intimate knowledge of each of us. Certainly, a God who carefully crafts each unborn child also prepares the mother who will nurture him or her. I believe that God gives to a woman the children He knows she can raise effectively; their temperaments, gifts and uniqueness are hand-picked for her. Yes, I’m aware of DNA and heredity and all of that, but somehow within the perimeters of Providence, I feel every mother has the innate ability to adequately mother her child. Of course, whether she has acknowledged and developed her abilities is affected by her background and personal choices. Motherhood is a sacred responsibility after all.
2. There are no perfect mothers, only more advanced students.
History tells us of some amazing mothers. I’m reminded of Susanna Wesley, mother of John and Charles and their many siblings. Her grasp of childhood character development and her consistent pattern of mothering have been the basis for much discussion. She is a daunting example to follow. Yet even she, we may be confident, didn’t get everything right. And we don’t say that to rejoice in her failures, but rather to look honestly at the facts. She was truly more advanced, and we may learn from her, but there are no perfect models of motherhood. It is, after all, a state of being entrusted to humanity, and therefore, to imperfect women. But James 1: 5 reminds us of His promise to provide wisdom when we ask.
3. There is a time for everything.
The beautiful words of Ecclesiastes 3 tell us so. Human relationships, motherhood included, are living and growing. New experiences and new acquaintances provide insights which can help us. Rather than feeling threatened, we should embrace the information offered as the next step in the journey. Often, God will nudge us toward a new concept through others or through a book or article. We should be grateful instead of guilt-ridden.
The problem today is the overwhelming amount of information available to mothers. Consider that, for most of history, mothers were exposed to the truths of the Bible and then to the opinions of their own mothers and the women in their small towns or villages. Yes, there were still other voices in the world, but they were tempered by distance. Today, women have access to the opinions of billions via social media in addition to the plethora of advice available through articles and books on the web and in print. It is all there, available for a single click on Google. Often we forget to filter the information through the grid of common sense; we accept the guilt for all the things we should have been doing all along and have only now discovered.
4. Regrets are inevitable, but we can release them into His grace.
Hardly a person has breathed who hasn’t had occasion to regret something and the more important the task or relationship, the more risk for regret. Motherhood falls into the category of “important.” The stakes are simply too high for us not to care. We will come to contentment sooner if we accept the reality of that and focus on the things that matter now, not the things poorly done in the past.
As Christian moms, we can release our guilt into other Hands, nail-scarred hands, hands that can redeem our mistakes. His desires for our children supersede ours; His stake in them is higher. He can work around our failures if we submit them to Him.
5. God offers us the gifts of rest and peace and “gut knowledge.”
God promised His people covenantal rest, Sabbath rest, regional rest, and eternal rest. Jesus spoke of soul rest. It seems God does not want us to be harried and fractured. He wishes us to have the inner peace needed to live our lives for His glory. To help moms out with this, He gave us what I call “mom-gut.” It’s that inner persuasion of what your child needs at a particular moment, which form of discipline to choose, what to say, how to respond. Sometimes, we just know something is right, though we can’t explain why.
Within the perimeters of His Word, God often works through this relational radar in order to guide us as mothers. When we rely on His faithfulness and trust our mothering instincts, we enjoy a greater sense of rest and peace. But when we jettison His provisions and reach instead to Parenting magazine or Dear Abby, we open ourselves to guilt and emotional distress.
Where We Go From Here
For me, this is an ongoing process. I must daily immerse myself in truth to combat the debilitating effects of mom-guilt. If I want not only to succeed as a mother but also to enjoy the journey (what an incredible thought!), I must:
1. Keep a firm grip on common sense
2. Measure information intake
3. Seek out reasonable voices
4. Trust my gut (mothering instincts)
5. Rely on the Father in heaven
Nobody said mothering was easy, but that’s why there is a calendar entry for Mother’s Day after all! So, perhaps this year I will give myself permission to celebrate my small triumphs over the dragon of guilt and revel in my kids’ expressions of love for the mother I am by God’s grace. After all, when it comes to my mothering, they are the experts.