Last Valentine’s Day, my son brought home a bag of valentines from his classmates. As we looked over what he received, I spotted a homemade heart-shaped crayon. I’m pretty sure I groaned out loud. Seriously? One of the moms made homemade crayons? In the shape of a heart? How is that even possible? Did she melt them? Then use a mold? I had managed to get my son out the door with store-bought valentines and had felt pretty good about that! But this mom had taken Valentine’s Day to a whole new level—a level that seemed decidedly out of reach for me, a person who does not know the first thing about making homemade crayons.
I felt discouraged—again. Every time I turn around, it feels like there is a new chance to feel badly about some aspect of my mothering. I remember thinking to myself, “Is every occasion an occasion for mom guilt?” That’s how intrusive mom guilt can be. Normal, everyday moments become opportunities to grade my mothering. These evaluations happen fast, almost instinctively. And with mom guilt, you never get a good grade—hence, the guilt. If you were to narrate the guilt, it might sound something like this:
- You are not measuring up.
- You are not good enough.
- You are failing as a mom.
- You are especially a failure compared to that other mom (who makes homemade crayons).
What do you do in the face of such an insidious experience—one that creeps in so subtly and imposes itself upon everyday moments? I’ve found that these moments need to be slowed down so we can discern what is at work in our hearts. To do this, we need to rely upon the One who knows us, searches us, perceives our thoughts, and is familiar with all of our ways (Ps 139:1–2). He knows us—and he helps us know ourselves. Our own hearts can be murky, like deep waters, so we pray for understanding (Prov 20:5). And as God’s Spirit helps in this, we are then poised to battle what is happening in us that results in feelings of mom guilt.
Here are some of the truths that reoriented me toward the Lord and helped me battle mom guilt that day.
- I live before the Lord. Because mom guilt often involves evaluations, this truth reminded me that there is freedom in living before the Lord, in having the eyes of my God upon me (Ps 33:18), and that his evaluation is the only one that matters. Did I fail in his eyes by sending my son to school with store-bought valentines? No I didn’t. This mom guilt is false guilt. I didn’t sin. I didn’t do anything wrong. So living before the Lord in this means I submit to his evaluation in this matter rather than my own.
- Motherhood is not a performance. No one is waiting to see how I’ll “perform” on Valentine’s Day. Not only was I evaluating myself, but I was also tempted in that moment of seeing the homemade crayon to think that other moms might evaluate my store-bought valentines. But I am not called to perform as a mom on Valentine’s Day. I am not called to make myself admirable or impressive in the eyes of other moms. Rather, my true calling in all of my acts of mothering is to be faithful to the Lord and faithful to my kids whom he entrusted to me (Matt 25:14–23). If my faithfulness resulted in store-bought valentines, then that is pleasing in the Lord’s sight. And I again need to find rest in the truth that I live before him; I do not live before the would-be assessments of other moms.
- Motherhood is not a competition. By comparing what I did for Valentine’s Day to what the other mom did, I was treating the scenario as a competition. For me, the sinfulness of pride is often at the root of my competitiveness with other moms. I want to be better, and when I think someone did better than me, that sometimes presents as mom guilt. As in, I feel bad that I lost that competition. I should have won—and would have won if I was a better mom. For treating fellow moms as my competitors, I repent, and I pray: “Lord, help me delight in the strengths and gifts that you give to other mothers. Forgive me for manufacturing a competition when there is none.”
Deep waters indeed! Isn’t it sobering how so much can happen in our heart in a matter of moments? Know that some or none of my struggles in this example may be operating in your own heart in a moment when you are struggling with mom guilt. But the takeaway is slow down, seek the Lord for an understanding of your own heart, and identify together with him a faith-filled response.
Mom guilt is exhausting. Battling mom guilt might also sound exhausting! But let me encourage you that, though the battle is work, it is worth it. As someone who has thought and written a lot about mom guilt over the past year, I have become confident in the Father’s heart toward us in our mothering. In seeing how we are prone to mom guilt, he has compassion toward us (Ps 103:13–14). And in his compassion, he provides a way out of the mom guilt. With him, we have hope that fewer and fewer occasions become occasions for mom guilt. And even as we struggle, we can be confident of this: any time mom guilt intrudes, the Lord stands ready to help us. Look to him for help. Expect him to help. On each and every occasion.
This post was previously published on blog.newgrowthpress.com. Read it here.