Mommy guilt: it seems to catch all of us in its clutches from time to time.
How can we tell the difference between a healthy conviction that we need to re-focus our efforts on our kids; and a negative, destructive thought pattern that seeks to destroy and undermine our self-confidence?
It’s 7:00 a.m., and the kids are up and busy around me.
“Mom! Look at my cartwheel! Watch me! Watch me!” my daughter’s little voice says.
I look up from my writing to see her whiz by me, hair twirling and limbs flying as she flings herself through the air.
“Great job!” I tell her.
Another voice starts. “Hey, Mom? Have you seen my math workbook?”
Before I can answer, another voice asks, “Mom? Can I have the leftover eggs for breakfast? And can I open the new bag of frozen blueberries?”
Then my littlest–my sweet three-year-old with cheeks covered in the remnants of his peanut-butter toast–climbs up onto the couch next to me, grabbing at the throw that’s (very happily) warming my legs. “Momma! I want some blanket too!” He rips the blanket off my legs and curls himself beside me, sharing his peanut-buttered cheeks with the side of my jeans.
Just to add to the chaos, I hear a fight breaking out in the other room over (you guessed it) who gets to have the aforementioned leftover eggs. Shouts of “But wait! Mom!!! He’s taking all of it! I want some too!” and “You already had your breakfast and don’t need to eat anymore!” echo in my ears and make my blood start to boil.
All the while my computer cursor blinks at me, reminding me that even though I got up at 4:00 a.m. to write this morning, there is still waaaay more work that I want to get done before my day starts.
When will this work happen? How will it all happen?
I begin to scheme about how I can manipulate the day to find the extra time to catch up. Maybe my husband can take them to gymnastics practice today so that I can stay home and finish up… The plans solidify themselves when my husband confirms that, yes, he’d be glad to take them.
I instantly breathe a sigh of relief and gratitude, knowing this will greatly help.
But then I also experience something else. It’s more slow and subtle, like a heavy fog settling over my soul. And it dampens (no, it steals) the sweet relief I just experienced. I recognize it immediately: the dreaded mommy guilt creeps in.
The Automatic “Remedy” to Mommy Guilt
At first, the temptation is to squelch it. To ignore it.
But it lingers… and stays… and despite my best efforts to close my eyes and ears, the heaviness is still there on my heart.
Can you relate?
So the question comes: What do we do with this? What does it mean? And most importantly, what is the source of this mommy guilt?
It would be so easy to just succumb to it, letting the voices torture us: Yes, you’re right. I am bad. I am a horrible mother.
If we continue on this path (or if mommy guilt has become a frequent pattern in our life), the thoughts can even become more specific and destructive: My kids are going to grow up damaged because I don’t spend enough time with them. My kids will hate me. Maybe they already do. Gosh, I don’t think I can live with that.
It’s so easy to passively slip away into this quicksand of negativity, letting one thought build on another, as if somehow we’re helping ourselves by wallowing in our own self-pity.
But it’s at this junction–this crucial moment!–where our true freedom lies!
It starts with a simple question: What is the truth about this situation?
And the Truth Shall Set You Free
Friends, our lives are a battle. And our minds? They are the biggest battleground of all.
Our entire destiny can be shaped by what thoughts (or I should say whose thoughts) we allow to speak into our mind.
So when dealing with the ickiness of mommy guilt, the healing comes when we can identify the root source.
Bottom line: Are they the thoughts of God, or are they the thoughts of the enemy? Is this conviction (from God) or condemnation (from the enemy)?
There’s a big difference between the two.
Mommy “guilt” can actually be a form of conviction (although I don’t want to call the Holy Spirit’s sweet conviction “guilt,” but instead a gentle warning or reminder of what’s best for us). Maybe we are doing too much. Maybe other things in our lives have taken priority over our first commitments to love our husband and kids. That is a very good question we must authentically ask ourselves. It’s imperative to listen to the Spirit’s leading if we are to live the full, rich life God has planned for us.
Or maybe these thoughts really are “guilt” in it’s truest form, and are thus untrue statements of condemnation from the enemy meant to steal and destroy. In this situation, mommy guilt can be as deadly as poison and as destructive as wildfire, demeaning us and weighing us down with lies that we were never meant to believe.
In the parable of the sheep (John 10:1-16), Jesus explains the difference between the shepherd who gently guides the sheep and the wolves who break into the sheepfold by sharing the intentions of the shepherd and the wolves.
For our purposes here, the crux of the passage is verses 9-10 (NLT, Jesus speaking, emphasis mine): “Yes, I am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved. They will come and go freely and will find good pastures. The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.”
Here’s the coolest thing about dealing with mommy guilt: we can find release from it either way (no matter if it’s conviction or condemnation)!
Consider this: If we determine that the mommy “guilt” is conviction, then our freedom is found in listening to the Spirit’s better way of living and diligently obeying. God releases his conviction when we choose to re-direct ourselves to His path in the given situation.
At the same time, if we determine that the mommy guilt is indeed condemnation from the enemy, freedom is found in naming these thoughts for the lies that they are and replacing them instead with God’s beautiful truths about the situation (and about us). (By the way, this “catching lies and planting truths” process is a critical part of discovering true joy and is addressed in full in my “bloom: A Journey to Joy (and Sanity) for Homeschool Moms” online video course).
Either way, we can have hope! Freedom from mommy guilt is possible!
Freedom and Hope: Telling Truth from Lies
So how can we determine if we’re dealing with conviction or condemnation? It comes down to knowing the difference between God’s truth and Satan’s lies.
Step 1: It starts with prayer.
Stop in the moment and simply ask Him, “Is this from you?” He may or may not give you an immediate answer, but he promises to answer those who diligently seek His truth (Jeremiah 29:13, Matthew 7:7-8).
Step 2: Separate the truths from lies.
Sometimes there is conviction happening, but the enemy (or perhaps even our own sinful minds) swoops in there and twists this conviction into something awful and destructive. So first ask if there is any root truth to the mommy guilt: Have you been too busy with other things? Are you letting your priorities slip from where they need to be? Allow the Lord to speak to you about that and be willing to allow him to show you how to make changes.
Step 3: Pinpoint out the negative, destructive aspects.
These usually are the phrases with words like “never” and “always.” They aren’t words from the Father, but instead accusatory, insulting and demeaning. As Jesus said, the longer we know Him, the easier it will be to know His voice and to differentiate between His words and that of the enemy (John 10:2-5).
Step 4: Restate any negative, destructive thinking into the truth.
What does God say about the situation? What hope does he offer? And how can this hope transform the guilt into freedom? Reword the negative, destructive thoughts into His life-affirming truths. These aren’t “feel good” expressions meant to mask conviction (that’s why this step happens after we’ve prayerfully asked God to reveal any conviction). Instead, they’re an affirmation of what is true. They are the new thought patterns we need to cling to should this same version of mommy guilt strike again.
Step 5: Let it go, and walk on.
Once God has shown you any conviction (and you’ve been faithful to obey), and He’s allowed you to rework any lies into truths, you can walk in forgiveness and freedom! Let. It. Go! Be free and don’t let those thoughts of guilt and shame plague you further! God’s word says that when He sets us free, we are free indeed (Gal 5:1, Isaiah 42:7, Isaiah 58:6, Hosea 14:4, John 8:32-36)!
Step 6: Live on a steady diet of God’s Word.
Yes, God can speak to us through prayer or through an impression in our heart. But those words will always, always, always line up with what’s already written in scripture. And it becomes much easier to know God’s heart on a situation when we are constantly feeding ourselves with what He desires for us as outlined in the Bible. That’s why regular time in God’s word is simply crucial for a healthy mental maintenance.
Mommy Guilt: It’s Not Going Away (But Hope Exists!)
Because we are souls trapped in sinful bodies (and have a real enemy that longs to destroy us), mommy guilt (whether as conviction or condemnation) isn’t going away.
But freedom can be found in naming it for what it is, changing what may need to change, and moving forward–with our hearts and minds looking solely to God as the source of truth!
This post contributed by Alicia from Your Vibrant Family
Life with Six Kids says
Thank you for this as just what I needed to read right now.
You are welcome! I am blessed that you were encouraged by it!
Amy @ Life to the Full says
Ahh this is so encouraging. Thank you for sharing on Mommy Moments!
Thank you, Amy!
Judy @ Contented at Home says
This is EXACTLY what I needed tonight, Alicia. Mommy guilt is a burden that threatens to overwhelm me, especially when physical problems are sapping my strength.
Thank you for this dose of encouragement!