Has anyone else discovered that with the birth of their baby (or maybe even during pregnancy) a switch somewhere deep inside was turned on? The switch has large flashing letters above it labelling it as “mum guilt”. After battling this beast for the early months of my daughter’s life, I thought I had it mostly conquered. This beast lulls me into a false sense of victory, lying dormant for stretches of time. Sometimes the whispers of guilt are so slight that I almost miss them. Other times, guilt is a roar.
The past three years have taken me on a very different path than I had originally expected. I have fought my way out of the dark fog surrounding my experience of motherhood. I have begun exploring long hidden dreams within my heart – like pursuing writing. I have returned to part time work in a job I am passionate about. I have stepped into leadership roles that were not in my plans. I have begun to explore what true rest looks like in my life. All of these take time away from my daughter, from my husband and from my to do list.
I can think that I have made peace with this, and then guilt will rear its head again. For example, as part of my role within MOPS WA, I was involved in running the State MOPS conference. The morning of the conference, my daughter’s kindy teacher pulled me aside to ask if I was able to fit in a parent roster as my daughter was the only one who had not had a turn to receive compliments from the class. They usually do this on parent roster days so the parent can hear them. I either work or help run MOPS on her school days so generally only do an afternoon session occasionally. The thought of my daughter not having a turn (which is something that she has commented on herself) left me in tears all the way home. I felt guilty about being a working mother. I felt guilty about MOPS taking time away from her and guilty for the leadership role that saw me unable to stay for that morning due to conference. My heart was raw.
I have been doing this motherhood endeavour for long enough to realise that guilt is not going away. I have to find some weapons to deal with it.
Recognise the lie
It starts with recognising when that guilt is a lie masquerading as truth. There are times when guilt is a necessary feeling identifying a behaviour I need to change – like when I’ve spent more time distracting myself with a screen than connecting with my daughter. Separating this “useful” guilt from “toxic” guilt is not always clear-cut. I have come to trust certain voices to help me sift out the difference, like my mother, my husband and my close friends. Those who know me best can help me recognise the lie. For me, prayer is also a key. Talking and listening to God helps bring peace and perspective.
Replace it with truth
I firmly believe that I am a better mother when I am more fully myself. I want to set an example for my daughter of how to pursue dreams, develop in leadership, rest well and embrace who she is created to be. I have to come back to this when I feel guilty. I come back to my belief in my purpose, which goes beyond my parenting, without compromising this as a central purpose. I have to remind myself of all that I have learned about myself, how I operate best, the skills and abilities I have developed and the way that God made me.
Conquering mum guilt is not an easy or once-off task. It is a daily battle that requires being intentional in seeking out lies, being willing to make changes and discovering who you are made to be. This beast changes as our children grow. New lies are tried. What truth will you stand on?