Wednesday, February 22, 2012

On Mommy Guilt

"O wash me more and more from my guilt and cleanse me from my sin." Psalm 51

I've been thinking a lot about guilt lately. 
Maybe it's because Lent has arrived or maybe I just seem to be hearing about it more.  This phrase 'mommy guilt' seems to be all over the place and I hear it talked about everywhere.  You can find a whole plethora of people talking about how unhealthy it is, why mothers need to give themselves a break, how it is okay to have a little 'you time'.  "Mommy guilt" is bad, they say, and there's no shortage of blog posts and online articles doing their part to alleviate the guilt.


There is much truth in what I have read.  I'd like, however, to offer a different perspective, if I may, or at least add a little to the discussion.  What if mommy guilt wasn't such a bad thing after all?  What if, rather than smothering that guilt with self pep talks and rationalizing our behavior to assuage the guilt, we faced that guilt head on?  What if we looked at that guilt and determined FIRST whether it was a valid guilt or not before trying to get rid of it?  I guess I come from the school of thought that guilt is good in that it shows us when we need to change something.  If we take an honest look at ourselves, our habits and behavior, and our choices for our children, we hope to not feel guilty...and that is good.  Guilt is a sign that we've gone against what we believe to be good.  One of our goals should be to never feel guilty...but not because we've ignored or rationalized or told ourselves that particular thing doesn't really matter all that much anyway, but because we have done our best to abide by our properly formed conscience.

Of course, all of this presumes that one has (what we call in the Catholic world) a properly formed conscience.  We need to know the things over which we should feel guilty.  We need to know the things over which we should NOT feel guilty.  The things that offend God, the choices that harm our dignity or the dignity of others, the choices that make us less than what we are called and created to be...those are all things over which we should have a healthy sense of remorse and guilt.  Selfishness, pride, laziness, anger...the list goes on.  There are times when the action is not inherently sinful but our motivation behind it is.  Do we choose this thing for our child because it is the best for them or because it is easier for us?  Thought and prayer must go into the decisions we make for our children and we must constantly be trying to be the best person that we can be.  There are however, many times when guilt is an unnecessary burden.  When we know we are doing the best we can within the specific situation, even when the situation is less than ideal, then guilt is uncalled for (but we must also do what we can to make the situation closer to the ideal).  When we in our shame choose to live in guilt rather than finding freedom in Christ, guilt is unhealthy.  When we refuse to let go of guilt that has been forgiven, guilt that has been washed clean by confessing it to the Lord, then we presume that our sin can be greater than His mercy.  And it can't be.


We know there are ways that we fall short of the ideal we desire for our children.  If you're like me, it happens all. the. time.  But you know what?  We desire the ideal because we love them with our whole being.  Perhaps while we can work to address our guilt, we can at the very least let it assure us that it is a sign of how much we love our children. I would even dare to say that those who never feel guilt when reflecting on their parenting are either doing it perfectly (umm...) or perhaps have not thought through the ideal much at all.  The saints were never satisfied in how much they loved.  But we also know that the Lord's mercy is endless and that wallowing in guilt is pointless, and not a very full way to live.  So we beg mercy for the ways we have failed and we find it in the blood of Christ.  And therein, the saint can begin again and continue to strive for the ideal.

 Loving our children with our whole selves means that we want the very best for them.  We want them healthy and happy and holy.  We know that they deserve the very best from US.  When we fall short and fail in that, we feel guilty.  And that is okay.  It is what we do with the guilt that determines whether it will be for our good (and the good of our children) or not.  We can choose to make jokes about it, to rationalize it, to ignore it, to acknowledge it and yet do nothing to alleviate it.  Many of us are a combination of these things on any given day.  Or we can choose to bring our failings and guilt before Him who has paid the price for all of it to wash us - again - in His blood and we can change the behavior or choice so that we can more fully love those with whom we have been entrusted.

It is so tempting when others come to us acknowledging their guilt to want to gloss it over and alleviate the guilt rather than truly helping them work through it and find peace.  We don't like to see people suffer.  As a doula, I've been reminded of this in very visible ways.  To watch someone else in pain, especially someone you love, is hard to do indeed.  But it is their pain that they must work through.  We want to help and make people feel better.  When it comes to sin and guilt, we want them to be free of the guilt (and sometimes we also want to convince ourselves).  However, often the best thing we can do is to acknowledge the truth to what they are saying and be there to offer help in addressing it.  Attempting to alleviate that guilt in artificial ways and dismissing a valid sense of guilt does them more a disservice than not.


This Lent perhaps we can acknowledge our guilt but more than that, perhaps we can repent of our sins, and allow that guilt, or rather HIM, to change us.  Perhaps in confronting the areas where we do fall short, we can honestly assess where we need to change to live more fully the life to which He has called us.  Perhaps we can make different choices and concrete changes that will keep us from guilt so that every day we can be a little more of who He has called us to be.  Maybe we can take the mommy guilt and turn it into something beautiful this Lent, for ourselves and others.  And maybe we can begin today.




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5 comments:

  1. So funny that i am reading this now as this is precisely what mike and i were talking about at length last night! How i need to find the will to 'just do it', despite how hard it is or how much i dont want to. Very poignant as we are slowly coming down off of two very sick babies.

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    1. ah, doing it is always the hardest part, I'm with you on that one! Yesterday I was reminded of what I wimp I really am when I wasn't eating in between meals...I've got lots of work to do in training my will and even WANTING to train my will. I'm so sorry the boys were sick. How hard that must've been for you all! Hope everyone is feeling better today. I'll say some prayers for you!!

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  3. I love that crown of thorns! Did you make it??

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    1. I did...it's very simple! Just a grapevine wreath with brown-painted toothpicks stuck in! We use it to help teach the boys about sacrificing...they take a thorn out of Jesus' crown each time they sacrifice or offer a suffering up. Someone else asked if I could post some of the things we do for Lent so I may have to do that and explain more :)

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