Guilt weighs heavy on the hearts of so many mothers. It nestles in, an unwelcomed guest, and makes a home inside our hearts, causing it to sink with the pressure of its weight. We are juggling an impossible amount of responsibilities and often feeling unsure if we have given enough, even though at the end of the day there is absolutely nothing left to give. We go to bed completely spent and wonder where our currency went.
Did I love enough today?
Did I spend enough time with each child?
Did I listen to my partner?
Did I let down that friend?
So many “shoulds” run rampant through our tired minds, stealing peace and eroding happiness.
I should have done this, or I shouldn’t have done that.
We promise to do better tomorrow with all of our very best intentions. Then tomorrow comes with the same flurry of responsibilities that yesterday had, and our best never feels quite good enough.
Sure, guilt in small doses helps keep us in check, but most of us are overdosing on guilt, and this actually keeps us from moving forward.
Studies have found that concentration, productivity, creativity, and efficiency go way down when you’re stuck in guilt.
As I’ve studied child development over the years, I have learned that a child who is in emotional distress cannot be his best self, and yet I too often forget that the same is true for me.
Unchecked guilt is emotional distress and can lead to anxiety, depression, and a host of other problems.
That heavy load is fogging up your brain, making it difficult to think straight.
It’s giving the bully in your head free reign. That negative self-talk is sucking out your happiness and replacing it with anxiety. It’s keeping you from enjoying your life.
We all make choices we wish we could change.
I’ve condemned myself for months over a 10-second mistake but never praised myself for months over a small achievement. I tend to be very hard on myself, and that’s a sentiment too many mother can relate to.
You can only hear so many “you’re screwing this up” messages before you start believing that you’re a screw-up, and those messages are everywhere these days, aren’t they?
So, can I tell you right now that you are not a screw-up?
No matter how many times you have made the same mistake, this is a new day and anything is possible.
- Can I remind you of all the times you’ve kissed the hurt places, sat up with a sick child through the night, and rocked a crying baby even though your eyes and your heart were heavy?
- Can I point out all the times you have fed your kids first to make sure they had their fill before you ate, passed up what you wanted so you could buy things for your child, loitered outside in the halls of the school to make sure your kid was going to be okay, and braved through tough conversations so your child would be informed and empowered?
- Can I emphasize how you’ve listened to your child spread fears and dreams before you, comforted an upset baby, and encouraged a beating heart?
If there are a million reasons for you to feel guilty, then there are also a million reasons for you to feel like an amazing mother.
I do not believe that your kids are holding your mistakes against you, especially your young ones.
They love you and, more than anything, they just want to see you happy.
You’re not a screw-up to them. You are their whole world. Even older children forgive easily with a heartfelt apology and proven sincerity.
Three Powerful Antidotes to Crush Mom Guilt Today
Strategy #1: Self-Forgiveness
Let it go, mama.
Apologize if you need to and change your behavior if that’s required.
Then just let it go.
Guilt stops by to teach us a lesson, but we invite it in for tea and give it a place in our bed.
Listen to what it’s telling you and then let it wash away like the dirt from the day and get on with living and loving. Just don’t hold on to it for dear life, because there are so many better things worth holding on to.
Letting go of guilt is really a simple process.
It only requires us to do something that we might not be so used to doing well – loving and forgiving ourselves.
The ability to forgive yourself is essential for your emotional well-being.
However, as with all things, it can be overused.
Strategy #2: Responsibility
If we practice self-forgiveness without taking responsibility for our actions, then we may not have the motivation to change our behavior.
However, if we are good at taking responsibility, making amends, and changing behavior but we do not practice self-forgiveness, then we may spiral into shame.
Therefore, there needs to be a healthy balance of both taking responsibility when necessary (for appropriate guilt) and self-forgiveness.
If guilt acknowledges the bad aspects of ourselves and our behavior, then self-forgiveness acknowledges our good aspects and ability to change.
Forgiveness alone doesn’t motivate better behavior, but neither does guilt alone.
It is in both acknowledging your wrongdoing and acknowledging your ability to improve that allows you to make positive changes.
Once you have sought forgiveness from the one you have wronged, self-forgiveness is a necessary step toward releasing yourself from guilt and helping you take the next step.
Strategy #3: Self-Acceptance
If your guilt is not appropriate in the first place, then there is no need to forgive yourself for you haven’t done anything wrong.
What you need in this case is self-acceptance.
Many mamas fail to see our strengths and accomplishments but are good at highlighting our failures and weaknesses.
No one judges us more than we judge ourselves, and in the current culture, that’s saying something!
If the goal is to give your child a happy mom, then self-acceptance must be part of the plan.
I believe one of the ideas that blocks us from self-acceptance is the idea that we must approve of whatever we accept.
It feels like accepting ourselves for the things we feel we’ve done wrong is like saying what we did is okay. That’s not true!
Accepting ourselves in spite of our mistakes is an admittance that, even with our flaws, imperfections, and wrongdoings, we are still worthy of love.
Show yourself some love, dear one.
This is an excerpt from Rebecca’s new book, The Gift of a Happy Mother: Letting Go of Perfection and Embracing Everyday Joy.