Letting Go of Mothering Guilt

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– By Jean Merrill, Maryland

Are you sneaking into the pantry to eat a cookie without little eyes on you? Hiding in the closet to take a phone call? Literally counting the seconds until your husband comes home? Crying a little under the covers before getting up in the morning? Then, are you feeling guilty about all of it?

Motherhood is a challenging job. Not only is it hard, but it can be an exhausting obstacle course of mental and physical challenges. Here is a small excerpt from the inexhaustible mothering job description that you may have created:

Must be able to cheerfully:

  • Wake up at a moment’s notice. Many, many times during the night.
  • Anticipate every need before it happens.
  • Prepare all children with behavior expectations for every outing.
  • Plan for every possible pitfall to avoid tantrums.
  • Require creative problem solving for any situation (such as meltdowns at play-dates, carpool conundrums).
  • Make use of every teachable moment.
  • Customize all previous requirements so they are age-appropriate for each child in your household.

Tired yet? Me too. We put hefty pressure on ourselves to do all of these constant jobs well.

So, how do you let go of the mothering guilt? Give yourself permission to let go of the expectations of perfection. You don’t have to be June Cleaver, or Janet Smith down the street  (who does it all and has her scrapbook up to date). Not only do you not have to be them, your children don’t want you to be them! They want you to be you, in all of your glorious imperfection. You are their mother; you can love your children better than anyone else can. You are the expert in loving them. Do you make mistakes? Yes! Do your children make mistakes? Yes! Do you love them anyway, just the way they are? Absolutely! In fact, the bumps experienced while on the road together are where the good stuff of life happens.

Part of eliminating the guilt is in being realistic with your own personal limits. If you are having one of those days where you are just feeling touched out, take some time for yourself. I’ve found that I can do this even with the children around. Set the children up with quiet toys and take a nap on the couch. Enjoy a bubble bath while the children play on the bathroom floor nearby. Take a magazine outside so they can play and run around while you read for five minutes. When we let our children see us prioritizing ourselves, we help them to recognize and respect their own personal limits and care for themselves in the same way.

Another source of guilt is in wanting to provide your children with every experience. You have strengths in some areas, but not in others. If cooking with your children makes you crazy, they are likely to pick up on that and may not like cooking anyway. You have a lot of other talents to share with them. They can go to June Cleaver’s house to cook, or you can sign them up for cooking classes. On the other hand, you might get into board games like nobody’s business, and you can read stories with all of the voices. Focus on the stuff you love to do with your children and let the rest sort itself out. Your children won’t be deprived. Once you recognize the gaps, you will find a way to fill them without making yourself miserable.

You still are learning about mothering. Every day is new as your children grow up. What works one day might not work the next day. You learn from your parenting mistakes, just as you expect your children to learn from their mistakes. You make course corrections when needed. You work tirelessly to teach your children compassion, yet fall short when remembering to be compassionate with yourself.

Your children don’t have June Cleaver as a mother, and they don’t want her. They are fortunate to have you by their side as you all move through the mistakes and imperfections, becoming more enlightened all the while. You are learning as you go, scooping up forgiveness along with lessons learned. You are letting go and loving the best you can. That’s the good stuff. Embrace the mess and love yourself, along with those sweet children, today and every day.