Mom guilt is stupid.
Guilt alone isn’t a terrible thing. It helps us recognize that we’ve done wrong, because we feel wrong. That’s human and that’s healthy.
But that’s not what people mean when they use the term “mom guilt.” What they mean is a mixed up bag of gendered emotions, expectations, shortcomings, failures, stereotypes, and people-pleasing tendencies.
It’s shame for not being whatever picture-perfect image of a mother you have in your head. And every mother experiences it to varying degrees. No matter how much you love being a SAHM or a working mom or you have one kid or ten kids–we all know what it feels like to not feel good enough in our version of motherhood.
For me, I’m pretty confident in my role of being a working mom. I don’t feel guilty that my kids are in a nice daycare making friends and having so much fun learning new things. My three-year-old knows what a dang consonant is and loves to sing about them. I’m so happy with where they’re at and know that my working is not putting them at a disadvantage in any way. No mom guilt there.
But my actual mothering–that’s a different story.
Over the holidays, I had 12 days off of work. I was so excited for it and the time I’d get to spend with my girls. Then I got the flu and was cranky and exhausted for a week. And then once I was feeling better, the crankiness lingered because I’d been wallowing in it for a week and my kids had major cabin fever from being cooped up. I can’t tell you how many times I’d get frustrated with my daughters and think terrible things about myself.
“Seriously? You can’t handle two weeks of this? So many moms would love this kind of time with their kids.”
“It’s a good thing you work and the kids go to a nice daycare with nice employees because you suck.”
“Don’t even think of having another kid, you are not mommy material.”
“If you can’t deal with her at three, how are you going to deal with her at fifteen?”
And the real gut punch,
“You cried and prayed for these rainbow babies, how dare you complain?”
We are pretty unfairly harsh to ourselves sometimes.
Then, when we tell someone how we feel, they try to encourage us because they know we’re actually good moms. And what do we do? We bring the shame train around for another ride!
“I try to be a good mom, but I’m so impatient.”
“I know they love to play with me, but I’m too tired to give much.”
“Being home with my kids is a blessing, but I’m lonely.”
“I try to be present when I’m home, but I have deadlines I’m trying to meet.”
Does any of this feel familiar?
On one of the days when I was feeling pretty junky about myself, my husband texted and said he was getting off work early. I was trying to improve my mood, so I jokingly texted back, “Excellent. I love these little girls and I’m glad I’m not a SAHM.”
After I wrote that, I thought how true those words felt. I love my kids like nothing else I’ve experienced, and I’m simultaneously glad that I’m not a stay at home mom. As I wondered why I didn’t feel guilty saying that, it hit me: I said “and.”
I follow the Aspiring Mormon Women group and their tagline is, “Embrace your And.” The idea is to embrace all of the roles you play that make you who you are. For example, I’m a mother AND a wife AND a college graduate AND an academic advisor AND a sister AND a daughter AND a car dance party enthusiast AND a woman of faith AND a goofball AND a friend AND…you get the idea. I love this concept and think of it often. I think it’s what helps me be confident in my role as a working mother.
This time, I realized that there’s even more power in that little conjunction. Here’s the thing with mom guilt–it is never going to tell you the good things you’re doing without finding a way to tear it down in the next breath. All of the cuddles, the quality time, the million “I love you and I’m proud of you”‘s, the extraordinary momming that you do when the whole dang family is barfing and pooping everywhere–none of that matters once mom guilt enters the scene.
In those previous examples, every time “but” is used, it negates the previous statement.
“You’re so impatient, it doesn’t matter if you’re trying to be a good mom.”
“You’re so tired that your kids can’t have fun.”
“You shouldn’t be lonely with these little blessings running around everywhere.”
“Your work is obviously more important to you than your kids.”
Woof. Those are terrible things to think about ourselves. They don’t do anything to help us be the version of ourselves we want to be, and probably make it harder. And it’s simply an inaccurate representation of who we are as humans and mothers.
When we replace that negativity with “and,” it allows us to acknowledge who we are, minus the shame.
“I’m trying to be a good mom AND I’m working on my patience.”
“I know they love to play with me AND I need to invest in some self-care time.”
“Being home with my kids is a blessing AND it can be isolating.”
“I try to be present when I’m home AND I also have responsibilities outside of my home.”
“I love my kids AND I’m glad that I work.”
It has made a huge difference for me in the last three weeks. Both in my motherhood and my wife-ing. (Wifery? Wifehood?) I feel more able to embrace my qualities, both the good and the ones I’m working on. I don’t feel the need to apologize for who I am.
I’m not giving myself a pass on the parts I don’t like, but I’m not hating myself for my imperfections. Which is good, because we’ll never be perfect.
Try switching your “but’s” for “and’s” and see how it empowers you and shoves that stupid mom guilt out of the way. Let me know how you feel afterwards!
I’m about a million years from becoming a parenting expert, and I think this might help you too!