Raise your hand if you’ve ever felt the twinges of Mommy-Guilt.
*raises hand and looks around to make sure everyone else has raised their hand too*
Now, raise your hand if you’ve ever thought that your way was the best way to do something and you shared that with a friend, in turn giving her Mommy-Guilt.
*raises hand again, this time more slowly and hoping that everyone else will put their hands up first and won’t even notice my hand*
Ok, so now raise your hand if what you wish you could experience from other women was grace.
*raises hand with gusto, starts waving it around, looks like over-eager child with answer to the teacher’s question, sees lots of other over-eager hand-waving around the room*
Mommy-Guilt. The soul-crushing agony of feeling like you are failing as a mother. It comes in all shapes and sizes until sometimes we find ourselves buried under a pile that looks like it just got dumped out of a dump truck.
It has found its way into all aspects of our motherhood – from clothes and shoes, to toys, TV shows, screen time, allowances, food choices, sleep schedules – and the list could literally could go on and on until we had dissected all of the finer points of motherhood.
At the end of the day, when we’ve made hundreds of decisions all day long that have to do with our children, it only takes a moment of going online to figure out what we did “wrong”, what we “missed”, and how to “be better”.
That moment is the dump truck starting to back up towards us. BEEP. BEEP. BEEP.
I can tell you that when I first became a mother, I was pretty sure I could get this mothering thing figured out pretty quickly. I had answers for screen time, sleep time, feeding time, clothes – everything. I knew what I wanted to do.
We swaddled up our little bundle of joy just how they showed us at the hospital and took her home. After a couple weeks of her having her days and nights mixed up, she slept like a dream. She ate well. And she did everything developmentally on schedule.
I couldn’t understand why other moms were talking of children not sleeping through the night at age 4. Or about having picky eaters. Or even about using disposable diapers. I didn’t get it. Obviously, everything that we were doing tied up into a neat and nifty little package and we had this parenting thing figured out.
When other moms or soon-to-be-moms or hoping-to-be-moms brought up a topic for discussion or asked my thoughts on something, I shared with truth, wisdom, and assertion. After all, my baby was sleeping, pooping, playing, eating, and was completely a dream baby. This obviously said something about me. And also about them.
When other moms talked around me about things that were happening in their lives, I quietly judged them. “Wow, they let THAT happen?” or “I would never let my kid do THAT”.
I was filling up dump truck after dump truck with Mommy-Guilt in every shape and size and was just dropping it on people, little bit by little bit. BEEP. BEEP. BEEP.
As we prepared for the coming of our second baby, I thought I had it in the bag. I visited a friend in the hospital and she didn’t swaddle her baby correctly and I thought “this baby will never sleep for her” and with her baby less than 48 hours old, I started heaping on some Mommy-Guilt.
My own baby was born and I no sooner thought “Huh, he doesn’t look as much like his sister as I thought he would” than he completely surprised me with his behavior. In every possible way he was different from his sister. Which means, very quickly, I was failing at getting this right. And with the failing came the guilt.
I read a lot and instead of finding answers as to why my baby wouldn’t sleep and cried all the time and didn’t want to stay latched, all I found was more guilt. I didn’t know the answer. I couldn’t find the answer.
The dump truck backed right up to me and dumped pile after pile of steaming, sticky Mommy-Guilt on me. BEEP. BEEP. BEEP.
I wasn’t sleeping. And exhaustion starts to mess with thought processes pretty quickly.
I wanted so badly to seem like I knew what I was doing. Like not sleeping was part of the plan. Like the colic thing was super charming and totally adorable. Like my body didn’t hurt all over from the clamping and rock-bouncing I did to get my son to sleep for a half hour at a time.
When I was around other moms I wanted so badly to seem like I had it figured out. But I didn’t. Not anymore. So I was quieter. It’s hard to be a loud know-it-all from under a pile of Mommy-Guilt garbage.
What I wanted desperately was for someone to offer to hold my baby while he cried so I could have a break. To make a cup of coffee for me -just right- so I didn’t have to try to do it with no hands. To bring me dinner.
But most of all what I wanted more than anything was for someone to sit with me and let me cry it out because I had no idea what I was doing, and all I felt was guilt. Soul-crushing, suffocating Mommy-guilt. I struggled so much with guilt and failure that I thought I didn’t know how to love my son.
This season of life grew in me humility – that I really didn’t know it all – and also empathy. I finally could understand how people weren’t sleeping through the night before 6 months. I finally understood why schedules can be tougher with more than one kid. I finally understood why feeding kids can be challenging.
I finally understood why we all have so many questions and when we look we find so many answers but when none of them work or they don’t apply to our situation, all we see is the dump truck backing towards us. BEEP. BEEP. BEEP.
I’m a member of a mommy group on facebook where moms can ask other moms a question. Sometimes all we want is for another mom who just did this same phase to say “Hey, here’s what worked for me” and then we stick the perfect-solution-band-aid on our own situation and brush our hands off and move on with our day.
There are moms posting questions in that group on everything from breastfeeding to bottles, from car seats to dinner menus, and more.
Sometimes in those situations, I don’t know what to say. Some mom wants to know how to get her kid to eat something besides berries and meat. And I know I’m just a face behind a screen and I could just back the dump truck up to her and tell her all the things she’s doing wrong. BEEP. BEEP. BEEP.
Or, I can take an extra 10 seconds. Take a deep breath. Say a prayer for wisdom. And approach her with empathy. Compassion. Grace. Then encourage her out of my own experience with food allergies to try a couple things, if she hasn’t already.
I think sometimes, we as moms, we get it, and we have the best advice in the whole world and we want to tell everyone we know so we start speaking it. And because we are interrupted a million times a conversation and our attention span no longer exists from kiddie shows and lack of brain function due to sleep deprivation, we just spit it out and get it out, instead of blending it first with compassion and grace.
And that kind of hard-hitting advice, that might be right on, might not be heard over that backing up of the dump truck, that’s just arrived to heap on some more Mommy-Guilt. BEEP. BEEP. BEEP.
This is where Mommy-Grace has a chance to grow. In that deep breath before choosing to respond to someone. In choosing not to respond to someone. In the 10 seconds it takes to ask a question before offering advice. In deciding not to offer advice but instead to offer help.
Mommy-Grace is growing in each of us as we choose to see that we don’t have it all figured out. It’s choosing to extend that grace to other mommies. It’s choosing to take the keys out of ignition of the dump truck and instead of heaping guilt, heaping encouragement, friendship, and grace on each other.
It’s hard to hear even the best advice over a roaring dump truck. But as grace is cultivated, real growth and change can and does occur out of gentle friendship and doing life together.
Sometimes the best soil for cultivating grace is right in the heart of our own struggles and challenging experiences. For me I have so much more empathy now for mamas whose babies aren’t good sleepers and for moms dealing with food sensitivities. The grace I’m able to see with moms in those situations was cultivated right in the middle of some of the hardest things I’ve ever done and continue to do.
I’m choosing Mommy-Grace over Mommy-Guilt. I’m choosing to no longer heap it on myself or on others. I choose instead to see the moms around me as beautiful treasures, each making the best choices they can in their present moment. I choose to encourage them and cheer for them as they take steps forward to make healthy changes. And I choose to extend grace often because making changes is hard work.
What about you? What is an area of Mommy-Guilt you have struggled with? What is a way that you see to cultivate and grow Mommy-Grace with those around you?