Whether or not the morning sickness or heartburn kicks in, there is one condition that plagues us all. The onset is sudden and it progresses quite rapidly. And the really bad news is, it doesn’t go away in the second trimester or when the baby is born. In fact, it only worsens.
Of course I’m talking about the condition known as motherhood guilt. (YES, it’s a thing!)
It starts innocently. Perhaps during pregnancy you stand just a little too close to the microwave as it blasts radioactive waves into your unborn child. Or you accidentally consume a few extra ounces of the allotted caffeinated beverages, destining them to be plagued for life with ADHD. And bonus, if you survive the nine months of mental torture like setting an alarm clock for every 20 minutes to make sure you don’t roll over onto your right side, and avoiding all processed meats and shellfish, well then…
“Congratulations, you’ve made it to the next round!”
In round two, the guilt jumps to a whole new level. Have you swaddled them properly? Did you decide to nurse or bottle feed? Will you vaccinate them? Regardless of how long you research and agonize over your decision, you will still lay in bed at night 100% certain that somehow that day you have irrevocably screwed them up. If by some miracle they survive infancy in your care- toddlerhood comes in like a thief in the night.
Suddenly they are mobile and walking and climbing and shoving peanuts up their nose. And as you walk into the ER with your child, the nurses just look at you with a look of pity and sorrow, knowing that the greatest punishment you could receive for allowing your child to shove a peanut up his nose, is the guilt that is clearly written all over your face.
The school years begin and opportunities to let your child down only multiply. And, to add insult to injury, you suddenly find yourself surrounded by other mothers who seem much more “together” than you could ever dream of being. It takes every ounce of energy you have to get them to school, with matching shoes. Each morning you resolve to get your act together: wake up earlier, do more, be better, help them find matching socks. And just when you’re feeling really great about your recent strides to up your mothering game, and you’ve signed up for the next eight days of reading group volunteering, the worst happens. You didn’t see it coming. Literally. I mean, you looked back and thought your son was buckled, so you started pulling the car forward. To your great horror you find that the door was slightly ajar, his left foot was still on the pavement and you pulled forward only to have your son fall out of the car and your tire roll over his foot. Yes, you ran over your son with your car.
Guilt overtakes you, regardless of the fact that he was okay, and no major harm was done. You know that there is no excuse. No good mother could ever let anything like this happen. The guilt that has been mounting since his inception suddenly drops, full force, and you are paralyzed with the fact that you have broken your perfect child.
Guilt. It is the disease of motherhood. It covers us, and if we’re not careful, it can weave itself into our very identity. Questioning our decisions, lamenting over our failures- we become certain that we aren’t enough for our kids. And in that simple truth we find the cure for our disease. Truth: We aren’t enough. Letting our kids down is unavoidable. I once heard one of my favorite writers, Jen Hatmaker say, “Look, we’re all just doing the best we can. I tell my kids this, ‘I’m doing the best I can. I promise I’ll pay for your first year of therapy.’ ”
When we come to the realization that it is perfect intentions, not perfect mothers that raise great kids, we can let go of guilt. Guilt is a noose that strangles the life and joy out of your motherhood journey. We will fail our kids, but our response to that failure will speak to them the loudest. Rather than wearing our failure like a badge, we can acknowledge their pain, our humanity, ask for their forgiveness, and move on. And by moving on I mean, let it go.
And one day when you least expect it, your son will say at the dinner table, “Hey, remember when mom accidentally ran over me with the car?” And just when the guilt is about to rush back like a tidal wave, he’ll laugh and say, “But it’s okay mom, you didn’t mean it.” with a smile that lets you know he’s truly over it.
So, what is my cure for motherhood guilt? When you’re finished reading this post, go to your bank and open a separate savings account. Label it: Kids’ Therapy Fund– and start saving now. Failure is inevitable, guilt is optional.
Noelle Larson is a mom still searching to find the “balance” between her spiritual journey, family, ambition, inner peace, world peace…all while trying not to blink so she doesn’t miss one minute of her beautiful, messy life. Noelle writes at metromom.org where she journals her crazy days chasing after her kids and husband, deep thoughts, and captures her latest adventures.