How many of us have struggled with wondering if others are judging us for our imperfect parenting?
Who among us hasn’t felt vulnerable and exposed as parents?
I would be rich if I had to bet.
The son who doesn’t comb his hair.
The daughter whose skirt is too short.
The fear of other parents finding out your child got caught doing something you wished they hadn’t.
That’s just the start of a very long list.
There are very few things that are more humbling than parenting.
As one mother put it, “I thought I was doing pretty well as a parent until my child turned 12, then I didn’t know what I was doing. I was entering foreign territory.”
As our children grow older, parenting can become more humbling. Admittedly, when my children were young, it was easy to judge mothers whose children got in trouble or struggled with certain behaviors.
Today, it’s a completely different story.
If you’re like me, and you have a child who has struggled with depression, ADHD, anxiety, substance abuse, or anything of the like, you understand the accompanying guilt and emotional struggle. You understand the blame you can place on yourself; the ‘what-ifs,’ the things you could have done differently to go back and change your child’s struggles.
You may have a child that lacks self-confidence, chooses a bad significant other, comes home with a tattoo, or does poorly in school.
Maybe your child had sex and you beat yourself up for not being more vigilant. All of these stories I’ve heard before, as well as the tendency that mothers have to replay what they could have done differently.
Whatever it may be, you may have asked yourself one of the following questions:
“How did this happen?”
“What did I do wrong?”
“What did I miss?”
“Was I too strict?”
“Too lenient and permissive?”
“If only I hadn’t reacted the way I did.”
I haven’t met a mom yet who hasn’t tormented herself with at least one of these questions. Why is it that when our children struggle, we can get a pit in our stomach and accuse ourselves of being bad moms or not doing enough?
Here are comforting truths that I grab ahold of when I find myself slipping into the guilt pit:
We are all imperfect parents.
Could all of us have done some things better? Yep. So, maybe we’ve made some mistakes and screwed up a few things. We could have been more patient, handled situations differently, or yelled less. I confess I have a laundry list that I would go back and redo if I could. We all do.
Remind yourself of what is true.
Let’s proclaim that we have loved our children, though not perfectly, to the best of our ability and with all of our hearts. I believe we would jump in front of a train, give one of our kidneys (or two), or cut off our right arm if it would ensure that our children are safe and happy.
We have changed diapers, endured countless sleepless nights, and prayed and worried that we might not be doing enough. You have made lunches, grocery shopped, cooked dinners, ran them all over town (or states), attended recitals and school events, done homework (that we didn’t know how to do), and worked hard at our jobs; some of us doing so solely to put food on the table and provide our kids with the ‘right’ kind of shoes.
You don’t have as much control as you think you do.
Could we be missing out, by trying so hard to preserve an image of what we thought things were meant to look like, that we’ve missed the blessings that were right in front of us?
Motherhood is a minefield of situations over which we have limited control. I am not sure why we tend to blame ourselves; perhaps it gives us a feeling of control when we feel out of control. Perhaps we like to analyze and find explanations. The truth is we really don’t have as much control as we think we do.
Perhaps it’s time to value being real and authentic and relieve ourselves from the unrealistic images and expectations we’ve clung to.
Have some grace towards yourself.
As I write this, I am filled with a deep compassion and tenderness towards one another. When our children are struggling, have made choices that we can’t comprehend or didn’t expect, we may feel as if we are drowning in a sea of regret, ‘should haves,’ and ‘if only’s’.
We need to stop ourselves and practice being more self- compassionate, kind, and grace-filled (Stop Beating Yourself Up). We’re all human and it’s time to be nicer to ourselves. Remind yourself that you have done and are doing the best you can.
Give yourself permission to be a ‘good enough’ mom.
Sometimes there is nothing that can be more humbling and redeeming than falling on our faces. My own mother has made some significant mistakes, and while I previously had residual hurt and anger, there was nothing more humbling than falling on my face in a similar place when parenting my own children. This has brought healing and compassion to our relationship.
The best antidote to motherhood guilt is giving yourself the permission to be ‘good enough’ – to kick shame and blame in the butt and out the door. When it comes to binding us together and creating a safe place as women, there is nothing more powerful than being courageously authentic. It takes the awareness to be humble enough to admit our weaknesses and admit the truth that we don’t have all the answers. Wouldn’t we all feel less lonely if we would just admit that?
Use your guilt to evoke positive change.
Rather than punishing ourselves with blame or regret, let’s think about what we can do in this moment, one day at a time, as we move forward.
When you become aware of the guilt that’s whispering, “you’re a bad mom,” ask yourself how you can take responsibility to improve your relationships and the ways you communicate.
Here are a few ideas:
- Remind yourself that the present moment is the only place that you can truly be. Replaying the past and tormenting yourself with what you could have done differently will do nothing to change the past. Focus on the moment.
- Empower yourself by becoming the kind of person and parent you want to be moving forward. How do you want to BE present as you walk through your day: kind, patient, joyful, positive, peaceful, more in control, or perhaps more mindful?
- Embrace being kind towards yourself. Remember you are human.
- Love and accept your children no matter what.
- Admit when you are wrong, apologize if you need to, or ask for a redo.
Let’s rally the war cry at the top of our lungs. “We are good enough and ‘good enough’ is enough!” Let’s break free and be imperfectly who we are, giving and receiving the grace, love, and forgiveness we need as we learn, grow, and blossom every day. And let’s do the same for our children and others in our lives.