Mom Guilt: Moving from Fear to Courage

There’s been a doozy of discoveries recently as the next area of my life needing to be healed has been revealed. It first pierced my consciousness when a close friend was sharing about the guilt she feels as she explores ways to support her son’s education. Instead of feeling proud of the effort and exploration she’s able to offer her child, her mind raced to gloomy predictions of how much suffering she’s probably causing. This shed light on similar patterns in my life. How quick I am to judge my efforts-especially in parenting- as not good enough. No matter what I do, try, say, give…it falls short of my self-imposed standard. So & so enjoys their kids more. This one is more fun as a mother. And that one is more disciplined. This one has the capacity to mother 10 kids (why can’t I?) and this one has more resources to offer her 2 children. Oh, and this one is never late to events and is always put together.

I fall short.

And to make my suffering more complete, I torture myself with thoughts of my children’s demise. My laid-back attitude is creating lazy adults. Or my disciplined side is creating uptight adults who can’t roll with the punches. And when (not if) they are in therapy I will be the source of their chronic discontent for a myriad of reasons I can’t even see yet.

Ugh. Doesn’t that last paragraph feel gross? And yet I live there in my head so much of the time without even noticing it.

A few days later, a dinner conversation with a friend brought even more light to my unhealthy mindset. I realized I often lay in bed-or wake up from sleep- and envision/worry/obsess about all the possible dangers about to hit my children. Accidents. Abuse. Illness. Trauma. You name it and it has popped into my head as a valid pending scenario. Like, really crazy stuff.

Ugh. Doesn’t that last paragraph feel heavy? And yet I live there in my head so much of the time without even noticing it….until this week. Like many areas of my life needing healing, my go-to resources are (1) talk to God (2) talk to a trusted friend and (3) Tap. You can learn more about Emotional Freedom Technique or tapping here, but suffice it to say it’s like draino for your stuck emotions. So I did a guided tap about releasing fear & worry and welcoming peace and exploration into my life, and one of the comments shared by the facilitator flipped the light switch on fully in my consciousness: You believe that,  by imaging and worrying about every possible scenario, you will be prepared and better able to keep yourself and your loved ones safe. It’s also a way to torment yourself for not doing a better job according to your self-imposed standards.

Um, yup. Worry and mom-guilt in full swing here. And this chronic, low-grade anxiety has vamped up recently as I’ve begun building a business that has me working from home and has our entire family readjusting. And while there’s plenty of evidence to indicate the health of this season, I still find myself judging it as bad. It’s quite realistic that I could be telling myself: What an exciting season, Tommi; one with so much potential for growth. God has presented a door before you and you are courageously walking through it. Not only that, but the quality of your marriage & parenting and the maturity of your children is bearing fruit as your entire family is able to support this venture. And while you don’t know the outcomes yet, don’t worry. Just continue to take the next right step as you all grow. It’s not worth trying to predict how you’ll respond to imagined future scenarios because you don’t know who you’ll be by then. You are an ever-developing being and all you can manage is the present moment. 

Doesn’t that sound so nurturing and supportive? I should also note that it is almost word-for-word what my wise mentor told me as I verbally processed my mom-guilt.

But no. Instead, I go here: Woah, Tommi. Retreat! This new and unknown opportunity is riddled with the possibility of failure. Better stay put. Plus, don’t want to neglect your children by taking on any other roles besides constant, uninterrupted Motherhood. How could you possibly manage work and parenthood and homeschooling? It’s a failed mission. Or worse, you might actually succeed, which is even worse. People will resent you. Your children will be disappointed. You can’t do this. You shouldn’t do this. Better quit now while you’re ahead. 

Doesn’t that sound fearful and limiting? I’ve walked through enough suffering now (most of it self-induced) to know that any time something feels scary, it’s probably the next right step for my development. I’ve also created a vision board of quotes on the subject to bring me courage and remind me of the types of qualities I hope to develop in my life.

Another resource that helps me is Karis Fellowships, a phone-based virtual support group that I’ve participated in for 8 years now. A particular worksheet (think fill-in-the-blank mad libs for adults) helped me uncover my particular flavor of mom-guilt.

  1. What did I do “wrong” according to my own self-imposed standard: I allowed another priority into my life besides parenting.
  2. I should always: focus on my children 24/7
  3. I should never: be physically or emotionally unavailable to them or disappoint them
  4. I would be perfect if only: I met all my kids’ needs perfectly and instantly

How’s that for an unrealistic expectation?? And yet this is what I place on myself. Especially now that I work from home and there are chunks of time where I’m in my office. schedule

I’m tempted to share more here on this topic, but truth be told, I’m still very much in process and I’m out of thoughts on the subject (and it’s 6:22 and the kids are starting to pile up around me on the couch!) A few years back, I took a writing course because I’d really like to write my memoir one day. As I pitched my idea to the class (of predominately elderly women), one sage-of-a-lady responded with “How wonderful. You’re story is so inspiring and has a lot of potential to help others.” And then she patted my hand and winked, “you’re still marinating”.  Yes, I’m still marinating, and I’m risking the hurt pride of offering my half-finished thoughts as I learn my lessons and grow. But isn’t that the whole point? To offer our stories authentically; not perfectly?

If you can relate to any of my struggle, I hope you have found this helpful and inspiring. I’d also suggest the following:

-Ask a trusted friend or mentor to assess your current reality with you. They may be able to see more clearly without strong emotions or personal investment obstructing their judgement. I have a phone date with mine at 1pm today and I’ve been counting the seconds!

-Talk to yourself kindly like a loving parent would. You’re growing. You’re not expected to nail it perfectly the first go-around no more than a toddler is expected to walk without tripping when they first learn. Go easy on yourself.

-Show gratitude to those supporting you. God, your spouse, your children, your best friend. Whoever is cheering for you, covering for you, celebrating with you…let them know it. I have gotten into the habit of daily thanking my children for their participation in building our family business. Guys, thank you for the ways you’re helping me. This is new for me just like it is for you and we’re learning together. What’s been hard about this for you? What’s been fun? Do you know what Mommy does when she’s in her office? Here’s my schedule. What do you think?

-Share your expectations with your family. I share my daily schedule with my gang. My family knows my schedule and we work together to honor it. I’m also learning to create boundaries with the help of timers and ‘putting my phone to bed’ so there’s a clear stop to my work (though I will admit my work is so fun & rewarding that I’ve yet to feel like I’m working!)

-Share your vision and dream together with your family. We have a vision board-several, actually. Good old fashion printed pictures all glued onto a poster board where we can look at it daily. And we talk about it, too. Guys, won’t it be exciting when Mom & Dad can be debt free and we have more resources freed up? In just 2 more months we’ll be celebrating that together. Mia, I keep dreaming about taking you to Paris. Want to plan that together while we save up? Guys, imagine being able to help more people…pay for strangers’ dinners; offer care to orphans; give freely to others in need? Who would you like to help and why? Wow, our van has served us well all these years and is on its last leg. It’s about time we get a new one that fits our family.  Can I show you what I’d like? Our goal is to make this a reality by 2021. Exciting, huh? van

We do this so regularly as a family that we’re mostly unaware of it now. So it’s fun when I hear comments like this from one of my kid’s friends driving with us to the pool as we’re all talking about our dreams- Man, you guys have a lot of plans! 

Yes, we have a lot of plans. And I’m learning to dream again. And I’m growing into a larger capacity professionally and personally. And all of that stirs up a lot of mom-guilt. For so long, Micah and I were barely surviving. There was no dreaming; just treading water. That season was absolutely necessary (and utterly painful) to grow our marriage, our faith, our family and ourselves. It developed the muscles to continue to walk through hard things and endure. To hope. To trust. To take the next right step.

Wishing you all the courage and support needed as you walk through whatever it is that feels scary.

2 thoughts on “Mom Guilt: Moving from Fear to Courage

Add yours

  1. What a lot of amazing, thought-provoking insight! Wish I could say I taught you a lot of this while you were growing up, but in reality, you have been teaching me! May God abundantly bless all of your efforts as you learn and grow and gather up others to pull along!

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