Mother’s Day will be here Sunday! It evokes thoughts of flowers, breakfast in bed, and sweet cards from my kiddos.
What I’d really love for Mother’s Day would be to not feel “mom guilt.” It’s a constant, pervading feeling that somehow I am failing my children. It doesn’t matter that they appear healthy and happy. There’s always a feeling that somehow I am doing them harm or not loving and caring for them as well as other mothers. Intellectually, I know that my kids are fine and I’m doing a good job. But there’s a nagging voice internally that says I could – and should – be doing better. I don’t know if all moms have this internal, critical voice, but mine is ever present.
It rears its ugly head most often when I say “no” to my children about something. I say no to playing Legos because I just can’t summon the energy and enthusiasm for imaginary play (because in my house it doesn’t mean building Legos, which I enjoy, but acting out a huge scenario with the Lego people – “Pretend that the man is trying to rescue the frog from the alligator’s mouth…”). My mom guilt inner monologue begins: You are saying no to quality time with your children. You should suck it up and participate. And, honestly, sometimes I do. But I experience guilt even after having spent quality time reading books, working on a puzzle, visiting a park, or playing games. It’s not true that I completely ignore my children and never interact with them. I need to let go of the lies that I have to be their constant entertainment and that allowing them to learn how to entertain themselves will irreparably harm them somehow.
My kids know I love them and I do spend purposeful time with them regularly. I don’t always do everything they want. I have my own childhood memories of spending hours playing with my brother and playing solo and don’t feel that I was neglected or unloved. These thoughts can help snap me out of the mom guilt spiral.
I am reminded of mom guilt when Mother’s Day comes around because, when I think about gifts I might appreciate and enjoy, a number of them do not include my children. As a SAHM, time away from my kids has to be planned and it feels anti-motherly to desire it. I know it’s healthy for all of us, but it feels terrible to admit. What kind of a mother wants to spend time away from her children on Mother’s Day?! I know I’m not alone in this but I feel judged for even thinking it, let alone saying it out loud. I should consider my unique situation, personality, and needs and not worry so much about how others might judge me.
I think that’s a big part of the mom guilt. I am worried about being judged as inadequate, incompetent, or less-than as a mother by other people. But no one else truly knows our family or our life situations as intimately as my husband and I do. Concern from my husband about my parenting would be valid but he thinks that I am doing a fine job.
This Mother’s Day, let us not judge our adequacy on some perceived set of standards or by what we see other parents doing. Other parents do not have our kids. Let us look at our children and verify our good mothering by their confidence in our love for them. If we know the two vegetables and one fruit our picky child will always eat, three things we can do to encourage and support our sensitive child when they’re feeling sad, the best way to motivate our unenthused child, etc, then I would say we are doing just fine.
No one else is in our situation with our kids, our support system, our neighborhood, or our experiences. There is no standard to compare ourselves to because there is no standard family. Everyone has challenges and struggles, but we are in our families with our children purposefully. We have the tools and resources to parent our children well. Let us not fall into the trap of seeing only what others might think we lack. Instead, let’s think of our strengths as well as the challenges we have already faced and successfully navigated. We are doing a great job. Let’s enjoy our pedicures (or other solo restorative activity) and an hour of kid-free time without guilt. It’s important for us to care for ourselves as well as we care for our kids. They will be fine and still feel loved by us when we return with pretty nails and a refreshed spirit. Happy Mother’s Day!