138 Dirksen Drive, DeBary, FL US 32713
Written by Amy Altieri with Laura Ankrom
It’s three PM. You look around and see the aftermath of breakfast and lunch dishes stacked a mile high, and toys carelessly scattered across the family room. On top of everything, you were too exhausted to drive your child to the nearby park for some outside playtime… AND it sets in: “mom guilt.” At nine AM, you had BIG dreams for the uncharted day ahead. But now, as you reflect back on the hours that have passed, you analyze, question, and may even doubt your abilities to fulfill one of the most precious (yet sometimes hardest) roles you hold - being a mother. As mothers, we sometimes hold ourselves to expectations that are unrealistic. After all, like the mothers that I’ve had the opportunity to get to know, we’re striving to be the best caretakers we can be. But what happens when this standard of “best” we’re holding ourselves to isn’t attainable?
What if we fall short?
One new mother that I got to know shared with me her experience with mom guilt. Before she could physically nestle her sweet baby boy in her arms, she was already defining the expectations that she had for herself as a new mom. Without even giving herself the chance to experience her new role first hand, she was jumping into it at full speed with these identified expectations that she held for herself. It wasn’t something that happened overnight, but over time. As she eagerly awaited her baby’s arrival, she learned all she could by reading books about what to expect as a new mother, talking with other mothers, and downloading parenting apps onto her phone. She began pulling together standards that she was soon going to be holding herself to. From the conclusions she gathered, she planned to exclusively breastfeed, to return to work, and vowed to approach each day of motherhood with a sunny disposition.
God had a different plan. Unfortunately, due to unplanned complications, she wasn’t able to exclusively breastfeed; she didn’t return to work full-time; and, let’s face it, bad days happen and bad attitudes follow, especially when lacking much-needed sleep. These deviations from her original plan didn’t sit well and unfortunately they led to feelings of falling short in the new-mom department. She was learning a brand new role topped with the pressure to fulfill expectations of who she should be as a mom based on outside input that she was digesting in her preparations.
Whether you are a new mom like the friend I just described, or you’ve been a mom for many years, we live in a world where we constantly compare ourselves to others. Sometimes it’s what we read in blogs, see in movies or on television, or even experience in conversation with family and friends. But here’s the good news! For your own little bundle of joy, YOU (not anyone else) know your child best and have the exclusive, God-given responsibility to raise that child; God has equipped you for that very purpose.
Can you imagine the guilt Mary must have carried after leaving her twelve-year-old son, Jesus, behind in Jerusalem for at least two days?! Can you imagine what the other women thought and said? And can you imagine the relief she must have felt upon finding him?
Look at the passage from Luke:
And when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it, but supposing him to be in the group they went a day's journey, but then they began to search for him among their relatives and acquaintances, and when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem, searching for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. And when his parents saw him, they were astonished. And his mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.” And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?” And they did not understand the saying that he spoke to them. And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man. Luke 2:43-52 (ESV)
Mary didn’t understand why Jesus would intentionally stay behind. She had been frantic! But you can see from the passage, she didn’t let the situation escalate to “mom guilt.” She approached it differently. She actually treasured these things in her heart and she kept on being a mom, helping her boy to grow in wisdom and stature.
So, how do we do that? Well, I guess first we can all heave a big sigh of relief and say, “At least I never left my kid behind (unknowingly) for a day!” Okay, now that we’ve had our little comparison moment, let’s think through how to live beyond “mom guilt” and learn to treasure this time in our hearts!
- Pray for wisdom and direction DAILY.
Regardless of the stage of motherhood you find yourself in, dedicate quiet time to seek direction. Maybe you feel unsure or ill-equipped to handle a parenting situation.
Remember, God has uniquely designed you for this important job.
Lean into him, reflect on his promises, and be still, knowing that his wisdom stretches far beyond what we can see on Earth.
- Get connected with others.
I can’t stress this enough! Get into fellowship with other mothers at various stages of the motherhood journey. I guarantee they are going through or have gone through similar experiences. It’s helpful to talk with others and to be encouraged; sometimes it’s just a good way to feel refreshed through laughter. To get started, I encourage you to explore the various women’s ministry resources available through our church. There are many options available to meet you in the specific season that you’re currently traveling through.
- Watch for the “shoulds.”
Listen for the phrases “I should” and “you should.” What statements! This was something that took me some time to recognize. Instead, when you find yourself using these phrases, reflect… ask yourself, “do I want to” or “is this something that I need to do?” What I’ve found is that most of the time, this is where the outside expectations I took on snuck in.
- Take time for you.
Taking time to refresh is vital for you and your family. This can even be simple or small, but the important thing is to schedule time for you. Identify activities or ways that you refuel. Maybe it’s grabbing dinner with a friend or running an errand solo. Whatever it is, mark it on your calendar and don’t let it get pushed aside.
- Don’t sweat the small stuff.
Be fair to yourself, especially when it comes to creating that ever-so-long to-do list. You know, the one that is ten items longer than what you really have time for, even without kids! Prioritize your to-do list and try to focus on the one or two tasks that are most important at that time. Last, but not least, try not to be too hard on yourself if you don’t accomplish what you expected.
Now, take a deep breath! Rest in the hope of knowing that God knew exactly what he was doing when he gave you the gift of motherhood. We may not be perfect, but his plan is. As Proverbs 3:5-6 reminds us, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths” (ESV). Let go of your self-imposed standards and expectations, and let God lead you as you journey through motherhood. Hold your head high and don’t let “mom guilt” weigh you down. It is nothing more than the enemy’s attempt to rob you of the joy that comes from raising children. God’s grace is sufficient, so give yourself a little grace! Cast guilt to the side, and treasure these precious years in your heart.