It gets its grip on us in a variety of ways, sometimes expected, sometimes taking us completely off guard — the Mother’s Day sermon; the sentimental poem about what it means to be the perfect mother; the homeschool magazine with the elegant, smiling mother on the front, surrounded by her happy (and equally elegant) family; the homeschool conference with the “I’ve got it all together and I’m going to help you get it all together, too” speaker; the Character Building for Families book that you hope will solve all your family’s problems — but instead makes you feel like more of a failure than you already suspect you are.
Guilty Mom Syndrome is one of my weaknesses, and if what I frequently hear from other women is any indication, I would guess that hardly any mother in America is completely immune. There is comfort in knowing that we’re not alone, that others have been there — and still go there frequently.
No, the Character Building for Families lady isn’t perfect. Neither are her kids. Yes, I struggled with the concepts that we laid out in our books. Our girls frequently got sloppy about obeying promptly the first time they were told — so we worked on it repeatedly. I never did quite get the Mom-isn’t-going-to-yell-anymore thing down. But I kept working on it, repenting when I failed. Every time we went through Character Building for Families again, I was convicted, and my character was built a little bit more. The children grew, too, and they turned out all right.
My husband, wonderful man that he is, managed to restore the balance in my life. When he saw me down in the dumps about what a terrible mother I was, he reminded me that our children loved the Lord with all their hearts, that they were well-adjusted, happy people, that they weren’t neglected or abused. And he encouraged me to pick up the pieces of my emotions and go on. He didn’t understand why I went through Guilty Mom Syndrome — but he helped me deal with it.
My children didn’t understand either. When I was less than kind, they forgave and kept on loving me. I, on the other hand, sometimes beat up on myself for days — or dredged it all up again weeks later. They thought this was weird. They were right.
The funny thing about Guilty Mom Syndrome is that it doesn’t just hit when we have actually sinned against the kids. It is also triggered by comparing ourselves to exalted ideals we have created in our own minds, or that other people try to put on us.
Here are some of the main areas of guilt that I hear about from moms:
My kids aren’t motivated. — No, and neither are most everybody else’s. Think back to when you were a child attending school. Did you like school — every class, every moment? Probably not.
Let’s face it — many things we have to learn in life are not fun. Many children don’t like math. Many don’t like language arts, or music lessons. Some don’t like any of their school subjects. It isn’t your fault. Doing schoolwork takes self-discipline and perseverance — most admirable character qualities to develop in our children. Our sinful nature is basically lazy. Developing self-discipline and learning to say no to our flesh is a lifetime growing experience, so why should it surprise us when our kids don’t like to do things which require effort?
Tell your kids that it doesn’t matter if they like their schoolwork or not. They are going to do it. It doesn’t hurt to gently remind them that schoolwork is their job for Jesus, and that they should do it well for His sake. There were times when I reminded my children to get back at their studies about every five minutes. It is a frustrating thing for a mom. Sometimes it makes us want to sit down and bawl.
There is light at the end of the tunnel, however. Keep after them, and by the time they reach young adulthood, they will show signs of maturity, responsibility, and (gasp!) even motivation. Honest! I’ve seen it happen in both my daughters. I have this theory that the love of learning kicks in after we become adults.
My kids aren’t perfect in public. Every parent has felt the embarrassment of Johnny doing some stupid kid thing in public. And it is always worse when it happens at church. It is even worse yet if you are a homeschool mom, trying to prove to the world that your child is not a social misfit due to homeschooling. (In fact, you might just be trying to prove to the world that your kids are better than everyone else’s because you do home school. Uh-oh. Pride.)
You know the kinds of things kids do (and these are just the “church” infractions) — a sudden bout of disrespect which leaves you with your mouth hanging open (guaranteed to happen in front of the pastor’s wife or the Christian Ed. director), kicking little sister until she yelps (at the precise moment when the pastor pauses for emphasis in his sermon), spitting on another kid just as Deacon Jones walks by …. Makes a mom want to cry. Dads take this stuff in stride, but moms … well, we just wonder where we’ve failed.
Kids do dumb things. All of them. Some more than others, but still, all of them. It isn’t major crime, it’s just immaturity. But we moms tend to beat up on ourselves about it. Maybe children’s immaturity is one tool that God uses to keep us humble.
My kids fight with each other. What’s wrong with me? I know, I know. I, too, have read the homeschool articles about families that love each other all the time and never fight. I once talked with a mom who even said this was the case in her home. Moms, they just aren’t being honest with us! Or else they aren’t aware of what their kids are doing when the parents aren’t within eye or earshot.
We can have a zero tolerance for unloving behavior toward one another. This means that if we hear the children bickering, name calling, etc. or see them beating the stuffings out of each other, we can put a stop to it, referee the difficulty, and insist that they ask forgiveness of each other. We can instruct them in kindness, selflessness, and serving others before they serve themselves.
However, we can’t keep them from initially getting into squabbles. Our children have sinful natures, and will sometimes (many times?) choose to act in wrong ways. Each one of them has a free will of his own, just as we adults do, and sometimes they blow it — just as we do. The difference is, by the time we reach adulthood, most of us have learned how to settle differences more calmly, and (hopefully) are more deferent to the desires of others.
Our goal is to train our children in being loving and kind to others. It takes persistence and consistency. Sometimes we will feel like giving up, or just won’t feel like dealing with it right then. Determine to do your best at dealing with the squabbles, but don’t beat up on yourself if you aren’t 100% consistent. None of us are 100% consistent. Over all, they will still learn to behave rightly.
I can’t get organized. Every year millions of dollars are spent on self-help books and closet organizers by women with this guilt trip. I suspect that the majority of us are not “cleanies” by nature. How we envy those who do have a gift for organization and a forever-neat house! They are the exception, not the rule, ladies!
Let’s be realistic. Before you had children, your house was cleaner than it is now. That’s because there were fewer people in it to help dirty it up. When you began homeschooling, the house took another slide. It’s about priorities and the time available. It’s hard to teach the children for several hours a day and still get all the cleaning done that you used to do in those same several hours. Get the children to help as much as they are able to, but expect the house to be somewhat shabbier than it used to be.
It is a good thing to be disciplined, orderly, and neat. We shouldn’t just throw up our hands in defeat and quit trying. We do want to teach our kids to be orderly and model it for them. But sometimes our standards are ridiculously high, and very often we are basing those standards on how we perceive some other person’s neatness to be, or on a Better Homes and Gardens magazine, rather than on what God would have of us.
I don’t cook wonderful meals. Simple food is OK. You don’t have to be a gourmet cook in order to be a good mom. You don’t have to do homemade bread from scratch to be a good mom. A few years ago I did some of those things, but it eventually became too stressful. When mac-and-cheese and spaghetti sauce out of a can began showing up on the table more frequently, I felt guilty — until my family confessed that they really liked mac-and-cheese, spaghetti, and fish sticks a whole lot better than what I had been feeding them before. Oops! So much for that guilt trip. We try to follow the old “Four Basic Food Groups” concept that I learned as a kid, try to get enough fiber, and don’t worry a whole lot about whether the food is fancy anymore.
There is an area of food guilt which seems to be gaining ground. Some moms, especially homeschool moms, are very much into the whole grain, all organic, health food scene. There is certainly nothing wrong with this. It is important to get enough fiber, vitamins, and minerals. We should do our best to make sure our families are eating wholesome foods which aren’t laced with chemicals, so that they stay healthy. But there are extremes. And some of those who are into the extremes tend to put a great deal of pressure on those who are not into their extremes.
It is not a “good mom” requirement that you grind your own grain, raise all your own vegetables, belong to a food co-op, never let anything that is not whole grain or grass-fed pass your lips, and never darken the doors of a Dairy Queen! An occasional trip to McDonald’s will not immediately clog every artery in your body. And letting your child eat a chocolate chip cookie (with real chocolate chips, not carob) will not ruin his health.
Don’t let food obsessers lay false guilt upon you. Eating healthy foods can become a god. However, if God is speaking to you about getting eating habits in order, neither should you brush Him off and automatically assume it is false guilt. The watchword is balance.
Summing it up:
So, how do we deal with guilt? The first thing we need to do is ascertain where the guilt is coming from. Is it conviction from the Holy Spirit that we have sin in our lives? If so, we need to repent and then leave it at the cross of Jesus. Once a sin has been repented of, it is washed away, and any guilt attached to it from that point on is a false guilt. If the sin comes up again, we can repent again, determine to deal with it until we have a complete victory, and look to the Lord to help us conquer it. “Now thanks be to God, Who always causes us to triumph in Christ …” (2 Corinthians 2:14).
If the guilt we are feeling is not due to conviction of sin, we are either putting it upon ourselves or letting someone else put it upon us. God tells us this is not wise. “For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves. But they, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise” (2 Corinthians 10:12).
Most of the time, when we feel guilty about our mothering skills, it is an exalted, idealized notion in our own minds of how we should be, rather than a realistic picture of how we can be. Many times the unattainable standard of perfection that we set for ourselves has nothing to do with holiness versus sin. It’s just an idea that we have, not something that the Lord is expecting of us. We need to discern the difference between our own ideas and God’s standard for us.
We are not alone in the guilt battle. I am speaking to myself, as much as to any of you. We’re all there, or have been there at some point. There is comfort in understanding the commonality of this problem. Not one of us is a freak because we struggle with guilt.
Jesus has enough mercy, grace, and all-sufficiency in Himself to more than make up for our parenting mistakes. If we humble ourselves enough to ask our children to forgive us when we err against them, they will forgive. If we pray diligently for them to grow up right in the Lord, He will hear our prayers and faithfully answer. His love covers a multitude of our sins, weaknesses, and failings.
May Jesus give us grace to go on in Him, be the best moms we can be, and leave the results in His hands.