When your first baby is born, the whole world stops. That tiny 8 pound human brings more joy, tenderness and love than you thought possible. But like a creepy, uninvited party guest, an invisible beast is also born that follows us mamas around every day: Mom Guilt.
Mom Guilt is almost like a super power because it enables you to irrationally take credit for all of your kid’s illnesses, choices, bad personality traits, tantrums, accidents, rashes, food allergies, splinters, forgotten backpacks, learning quirks, and basically anything else that doesn’t go according to your parenting plan. (This includes athletic inability, head shape and shoe size.)
In the beginning, before Mom Guilt becomes really conniving and sneaky, we mamas blame ourselves for obviously ludicrous things:
“Baby has reflux and won’t sleep through the night…I didn’t take my prenatal vitamins the last week of pregnancy, so I’m sure this is all my fault.” (Vitamins aren’t baby antacids, you’re doing just fine, mama!)
“Do you think the baby’s allergic to watermelon because I ate too much of it while I was pregnant? I’m the worst.” (Nope.)
“This kid has had four colds and she’s only six months old. Obviously it’s because I couldn’t breastfeed. Why do my boobs suck?!” (They don’t honey, just ask your husband.)
But as the kids get a little older, Mom Guilt gets all sneaky and starts to disguise itself as simply taking responsibility for all of your numerous failures as a mother.
One of our kids was diagnosed with a speech delay at two years old. Our doctor told us he qualified for services like speech therapy and tutoring. The day I found out, I cried for basically seven hours straight. Mom Guilt convinced me the delay was 1.) a serious problem. 2.) because I spaced my kids too close together. 3.) because I didn’t teach him baby sign language. 4.) because I didn’t do enough Pinterest crafts with him.
I wasn’t enough. This is the fat lie that underlies every Mom Guilt premise. Does any of this sound familiar? “I’m not crafty enough. I’m not organized enough. I’m not fun enough. I’m not playful enough. I’m not strict enough. I’m not gracious enough. I’m not patient enough. I’m just plain not enough.” As soon as all that junk is ringing in your ears, you can be certain that Mom Guilt is rearing its nasty head.
After the speech delay diagnosis, I remember sitting on the floor in the play room next to my son, bawling, apologizing to this sweet, oblivious two year old. Mom Guilt had flattened me like a pancake. I pointed to and named every object in the room through my mascara-stained tears like an absolute psycho. David walked by and took in the scene of a fragile mother totally unable to think rationally, enchained by Mom Guilt. He softly said, “Sweetie. This is not your fault.” And then I proceeded to cry anime-style tears until the late hours of the evening.
After many hours of speech therapy and a few years of development, this child is THRIVING in the language department, words escaping his mouth at a rate and volume I cannot keep up with. I’m like Lucy at the chocolate factory, his questions and goofball jokes like candy flying out at me faster than I can process. Some days I even catch myself longing for just an hour of the temporary mute-ness we once had. (Just kidding. Kind of.)
Hindsight is 20/20, and looking back now I can decipher the lies Mom Guilt convinced me were true. You know what, Mom Guilt? David was right: this was not my fault. And I was enough. I am enough.
Did you know that “guilt” shows up 144 times in the Old Testament? Makes sense. The law is laid out in the OT, and when we break it, we are guilty. Do you know how many times “guilt” appears in the New Testament, after Jesus paid the penalty for our guilt? 16 times. As I looked a little more closely, I discovered that ten of those are actually “guiltless,” or “no guilt” or “not guilty.”
This was my favorite place I found the word “guilt” in the New Testament: “In every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge…so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Corinthians 1:7-8 (ESV)
The Message translation of the same passage: “Just think—you don’t need a thing, you’ve got it all! All God’s gifts are right in front of you as you wait expectantly for our Master Jesus to arrive on the scene for the Finale. And not only that, but God himself is right alongside to keep you steady and on track until things are all wrapped up by Jesus. God, who got you started in this spiritual adventure, shares with us the life of his Son and our Master Jesus. He will never give up on you. Never forget that.”
Did you know what else I found when looking for “guilt” in the Bible? There is no place for Mom Guilt. No place at all. The guilt discussed in the Bible refers to sins against God. Me feeling “guilty” for not teaching my baby sign language or picking the wrong formula seems kind of insane when I think about all the actual, real ways I’ve sinned against God, and how He loves me regardless. I found zero verses condemning accidental missteps by well-intending parents. (Praise the Lord for that, amiright?!) Guilt is useful to us insofar as it alerts us to the depth of our lowly position before a holy God. But once we’ve grasped that and then accepted our forgiveness in Jesus, the guilt is washed away and we can gratefully move on in our newfound freedom. Why sit in the muck when it’s already been cleaned up?
I also realized that when I fall prey to Mom Guilt, I’m usually not focused on kingdom things, but on the temporal circumstances in front of me not going the way I want them to go, and then blaming myself. What would my parenting look like if I was more occupied with pleasing God than controlling my circumstances? I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be as worried about another cold or another broken bone or delayed speech – rather, I’d be looking for ways to navigate those circumstances in ways that are honoring to God. Not every parenting hurdle I encounter is about me. Most times it’s just a sinful little person encountering a broken world, and me, a sinful big person, holding their hand and guiding them through it. The hope is that we’d both be looking to Jesus for direction, secure in the freedom we have that when we mess up, He forgives us, and we can keep moving forward without dwelling on the previous, already-forgiven oopsies.
What verses or reminders do you preach to yourself when you’re feeling enslaved by that sneaky jerk Mom Guilt? Hope you’re speaking that truth to yourself today. Would love for you to share it with me, too.
Photo Credit: Marc-Andre Lariviere, Creative Commons