A Mother's Guilt
I believe there are two kinds of guilt we experience in life. First, real guilt, when we have done something which displeases God. (I.e. we have sinned.) This sense of guilt can lead us to repentance and seeking God's forgiveness. God's unconditional forgiveness frees us from the weight of guilt. "For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water." Hebrews 10:22 (NLT)
Secondly, there is false guilt and this is guilt which arises when we think that we are just not good enough, that we are failures, that we are to blame for every mistake we make and every bad thing that happens.
The important thing we need to do is distinguish the difference between the two kinds of guilt. Real guilt is healthy because it causes us to turn to God and receive his healing power of forgiveness. False guilt is very unhealthy and destructive, it turns us in on ourselves and away from God.
For godly grief produces a repentance not to be regretted and leading to salvation, but worldly grief produces death. 2 Corinthians 7:10 (HCSB)
There are times when I really struggle with being a Mum. If you're a Mum I suspect you probably sometimes do too.
I can be almost overwhelmed with the responsibility of being a parent and have so much guilt about my ability (or, as I often see it, my inability) to be a good Mum. I experience the guilt of thinking I'm not a good enough mother. That I'm a failure as a mum. I often find that I'm blaming myself for my parenting mistakes. I feel guilty for not giving my children enough love when I struggled with depression. I tell myself it's my fault Josh found it hard to deal with the change of moving from junior school to secondary school. That his insecurity is because I hadn't given him enough love in his early years so that he felt confident and secure.
So many things can make us feel guilty as we parent - we feel guilty for going out to work rather than staying home full-time with our children, we compare ourselves with the "perfect" mum down the street who always has her children neatly presented in clean clothes and whose children never do anything wrong. We worry that something we've done wrong during our pregnancy will have a permanent negative effect on our child. We feel guilty that our teenage daughter is pregnant and that it's our fault for failing to teach her godly values. Or our son's rejection of us is down to our failure as a mum. Or it's all our fault that our child misbehaves at school. The list can go on and on, can't it?
The burden of false guilt we often carry is such a heavy one to bear. The problem is, the more we think like this - that we're not a good enough mum, or we're failures, or it's all our fault etc., the heavier it gets. Not only that, this guilt and way of thinking becomes more and more real. It becomes our truth. (Our truth, but not the truth). It can take us down a very deep, dark tunnel.
Satan wants nothing more than to keep us in this state of overwhelming false guilt. He gladly reminds us of our failings, our mistakes, our mess ups etc. He encourages us to dwell on these things. He wants to keep us miserable. He wants to keep us from enjoying life. And there's very little joy to be found when we are suffocating under false guilt.
So, what can we do it about it? And I'm speaking to myself as much as I am to you because it's still something I struggle with, but I also believe that with God's help it is possible to overcome.
1. If I tell myself not to think like this, no matter how hard I try, I will find my mind going back to that guilt-ridden place. I need to focus on the truth rather than my truth. Rather than relying on my own faulty perception or my feelings, I need to rely and focus on what I know to be true about God. Truths such as he has chosen me and chosen you to be a mother to our children. He knew that we would be the best mums for our children because he created not only us, but them too. If I disagree with him first I'm wrong and secondly I'm siding with Satan who always wants me to believe the lie rather than the truth.
2. I need to be realistic about myself - I'm not perfect so I need to cut myself some slack (and likewise so do you!), I will make mistakes, there will be times when I get it wrong, but it's not the end of the world, it doesn't make me a failure. Not only can we remember that God offers us forgiveness, we also need to learn to forgive ourselves. Colossians 3:13 talks about forgiving others, but I also believe that includes extending forgiveness to ourselves: "accepting one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a complaint against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive." (HCSB).
Although I'm not perfect, God is, and so I can totally rely on him. I can start the day asking him to enable me to be the mum he planned for me to be. I can talk with him during the day and ask him for his wisdom, his patience, his self-control, his strength and his love as I parent my children.
3. As a mum I do have a responsibility to bring up my children as best I know how. I also need to remember that I don't parent my children on my own. Yes I have a husband, but I'm actually referring to God who is our Heavenly Father and he wants to parent my children with me. He doesn't expect me to do it all on my own. He doesn't expect me to rely on my own resources.
At the same time I need to remember that I am not responsible for the choices and actions my children make. They are responsible for those themselves. I can't force them to make right, healthy choices, especially as they grow up, but I can be there to give them direction and guidance.
4. Rather than keep my struggles to myself, I can share them with other mums I have a close relationship with. As mums and women we need encouragement from one another, we need the mutual support. And when we share together we realise that we are not in this alone. Sometimes all we need is a sympathetic ear and a shoulder to cry on.
5. You and I would do well to remember that God loves our children even more than we do. We can entrust them to his care. My children are not my property, they belong to God and he has given them to me for a short time. He knows what is best for them, and whatever we go through, whatever issues we face, I truly believe that when I entrust them to God, he will, in his own time, bring good from it.
6. One final thing I would say is pray, pray, and then pray some more! Never underestimate the power of prayer. Pray regularly for your children. Pray for God's protection over them. Pray that God's peace will surround them. Pray whatever is in your heart and mind for them. Why not make a commitment with a mum friend of yours to pray regularly for each others' children. Find out what her prayer requests are, keep it confidential and pray specifically.
I read the following prayer (author unknown) some months back and would like to end by sharing it with you:
Lord, you know my inadequacies. You know my weaknesses, not only in parenting, but also in every area of my life. As you broke the fishes and the loaves to feed the five thousand, now take my meagre effort and use it to bless my family.
Please make up for the things I did wrong. Satisfy the needs that I have not satisfied. Wrap your great arms around my family and draw them close to you.
Ad be there when they stand at the great crossroads between right and wrong. All I can give is my best, and I, today, choose to do that. Therefore, I submit to you my family and myself and the job I have done and will do as a wife and mother. The outcome belongs to you.
To Think About:
Can you distinguish in your own life the difference between real guilt and false guilt?
What can you do about the real guilt you may be feeling?
What can you do to eliminate the feelings of false guilt that you have been holding on to and which are weighing you down?