Faith, pregnancy and parenting

The gong of mother guilt


We had this ‘situation’ the other day. While I don’t think I should share all the details, I imagine you’ll still be able to get the picture. Let’s just say one of our children was less than perfect.

While it was no surprise to me that our curly blond-headed, dimpled, oh-so-blue-blue-eyed offspring could misbehave, there was a slight difference in the scenario this time: the misbehaviour happened while I wasn’t there. I was working, or resting, or one of those things I do when I’m not hanging with the three. I wasn’t there.

As I listened to the recount of the incident it was as if the world, those around me, the day, everything else faded away and I heard instead only this: the resounding gong of mother guilt.

It’s your fault this happened. GONG. You should have been there. GONG. You should have prepared X-child better for situations like this. GONG. You should have stopped this behaviour pattern by now. GONG. You should have fed them more healthy food. GONG. You should, you should, you should!

It seems the gong’s favourite rhythm-beat is should. 

Mothering produces some pretty strong stuff: strong hormones, strong muscles (just try holding Baby J for more than 5 minutes and you’ll see what I mean), and even strong muscle memory. I recently changed our bedroom around to try and make it work better (yes, I confess I do this way too often) but in the process I moved Baby J’s cot to the other side of the room. Days later I’m still feeling a shock when I look for him, and his cot isn’t where I imagine it should be.

Most of all motherhood produces strong emotions.

On the positive side this makes for a fierceness of love I hadn’t known possible. This love rouses me to do things I never would have done before. Even when I’m up through the night with Baby J on a feed-scream-sleep marathon his chubby, smiling face still melts me in the morning. Motherhood grows stems of selflessness in my otherwise selfishly inclined self. And this in turn aids my growth. It inspires.

On the negative side motherhood brings with it it’s own baggage. And not just the extra three kilos of supplies required every time we leave the house.

I would suggest the heaviest piece of baggage isn’t the kilo packet of wipes, or the multiple changes of clothes we cart around. It is this: GUILT.

The gong of mother-guilt is heavy, and loud. If we let it, it rings it’s unmelodic siren through our days.

When it starts a-ringing, I need to play another tune. Not just a nicer one, but  a more truthful one. Here are some notes I made recently in my effort to start ringing a different bell. I hope they help you too.

Truth one: Your kids aren’t perfect, and nothing you do will make them so:

That’s right, you heard me, not my kids, not your kids, not even the woman next door’s kids, none of them are perfect. I know this to be true, and yet sometimes I still struggle with it. Why? Why on earth would I presume to be raising the world’s first angel-children? Perhaps it has to do with the fact that I  know these little people so intimately. I longed for, prayed for, waited for these children. I carried them inside me. I birthed them and held them moments later.

I distinctly remember watching each of them sleep curled against me, flesh to flesh, in the hospital, wondering how anything so precious could ever do any wrong. And yet…we are all human. Even them. We can help them along, teach them what we can, point them upward, but ultimately we can’t perfect them. There is only one child who has ever been born perfect, and it is not any of ours.

Truth Two: We aren’t perfect:

There is no one perfect parent out there, no matter how much it might seem so when you look over the fence and see another mother doing all the things so capably that you seem to do so messily. No one is perfect. Hear that truth. NO ONE. When we expect perfection of ourselves, we tend to think of the world in black and white. All or nothing thinking, I’ve heard it called. I’ve been an expert at all or nothing thinking in my time. I could write the book. It goes like this: I didn’t do X right, therefore everything is ruined. I am a sham of a parent. An impostor. If only I was like [insert person’s name here who you view as ideal parent] then everything would be okay. Which leads me to truth three…

Truth Three: Making comparisons with other mothers and parents never helps.

Everyone parents differently. Everyone is their own strange mix of strengths and weaknesses. Comparison making not only brings you down, it can create barriers to relationship. If we are jealous of someone else, how can we love them? Instead of lining yourself up alongside your sister and seeing how you measure up, why not get alongside her and give her a hug. Both of you need it. Trust me.

Truth Four: There is something we can do and it’s very simple.

SURRENDER.

Rather than expecting yourself to get it ALL right ALL the time or it’s ALL wrong, why not accept you will get some of it right some of the time and give the rest over into the hands of someone who can handle it all.

Surrender to the one who is greater.

Talk it over with him. Tell him the details. He cares. Pray over the gong if you have to. It doesn’t matter. He can always hear.

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