Guilt is a very poor long term motivator, and a faulty decision making tool. Finding a balance between the nagging fear that we're getting it all wrong, and the foolish notion that we're getting it all right will take intentional and ongoing effort. But hear me clearly: you don't have to experience chronic guilt. Try the Philippians 4:8 Principle.
So let's just say it out loud. Most moms feel a lot of guilt. Guilt for things said or done, things not said or not done, things we thought about doing, things we forgot to do, things we didn't know we were supposed to do, things that happened that were not our fault, things that happened that absolutely were our fault, things that went wrong, things that went right but for the wrong reason, and anything else that we imagine. Mom guilt seems to spring forth spontaneously and, if we are not careful, mom guilt can become a life long companion that steals the joy of being a parent and the confidence you need to raise your little ones to become independent adults.
Mom guilt, in one respect, reminds me of stage fright. I am a musician and, as part of that work, I am also a public speaker. I know a lot about stage fright. I experience it every single week. If I let it, it could get me in its grip and not let me go. I have heard many people say that stage fright sharpens you and helps you stay focused. I suppose I can accept this reasoning, but I've also seen stage fright produce epic panic. My technique is to remember that it hasn't killed me yet, so I'm probably safe.
Using a similar argument, I've heard it said that mom guilt serves the purpose of showing us that we really care about how well we are parenting. It makes us pause and consider the consequences of parenting mistakes. However, I want to emphatically state here and now that I find this argument and the reasoning behind it profoundly...idiotic. I would go so far as to call it harmful. Guilt is not a good long term motivator, and is a faulty tool for making decisions; particularly about raising children. But moms still seem to experience so much guilt. So hear me clearly today: you don't have to live in guilt to be a good, effective, happy and conscientious parent. In fact, guilt will make raising children much harder.
In his letter to the Philippians, Paul gives some excellent advice for getting destructive thought patterns such as mom guilt out of your head and far from your heart. Paul knew, nearly two millennia ago, that our thinking patterns determine our belief systems as well as our actions and attitudes. Choosing to think about parenting from a perspective of Philippians 4:8 is the first and most important step to eliminating mom guilt. I call this The Philippians 4:8 Principle. It is a way of thinking that leads to a healthier way of dealing with parenting, our professional lives, our communities, and all manner of relationships.
My Philippians 4:8 Principle is hardly a new concept. In 1952 Norman Vincent Peale wrote a bestselling book about this concept called "The Power Of Positive Thinking" His words inspired millions of people to think in a new way and their lives were made better. Going further back in history we know that medieval religious people practiced "custodia occulorum" (custody of the eyes) which they used to keep their minds focused on Christ.
Taking this further, you can embrace Philippians 4:8. More than eliminating negative thoughts,
Paul suggests that we focus our minds on things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable,excellent, praiseworthy. That is a very impressive list of adjectives. Notice that nowhere in that list do we read the words shameful, deplorable, confusing, stressful, distasteful. Paul is telling us to choose our adjectives carefully.
Applying this to parenting takes practice. The stakes are so high, our children so precious, the training we receive before becoming parents so minimal, and our connection to our children too deep for us to casually look at the sunny side of parenting while ignoring the challenges. Finding a balance between a nagging fear that we're getting it all wrong, and the foolish notion that we're getting it all right will take intentional and ongoing effort. But you can do it. It's about focus.
On the days when temper tantrums spoil your mommy and me craft time or the only desirable toy is the one someone else is playing with and the potty trained child has multiple accidents, the only thing you can really control is the adjectives you focus on. You could focus on chaotic, frustrating and others, or you could focus on restoring order by reminding yourself that this side of childhood is true and right. Children are learning and learners need parent/teachers who are patient and consistent. Keep the voice inside your head quiet and remember that you can choose your response. Your response to challenging events will steer your children's responses as well. Guilt has no helpful place in these moments.
Tune in to the adjectives that bring peace, calm and joy to the moment. Take a breath while you are finding clean clothes (again) and recite to yourself or aloud that this moment is true and it is right. It is hard work to become an adult, and your guidance is all that stands between this child and a lifetime of his fumbling about trying to figure out the world on his own. If the children are wrestling over the same toy (again) as you are putting the toy on a shelf out of reach, say aloud "This toy needs a rest from being pulled back and forth. When you can play with it nicely, it might be able to come back to play." Then remember that teaching your children to play well is a noble and praiseworthy task. You can do it.
Choose to see and respond to what is noble and true, right and admirable. Check out the list of adjectives that we can focus on. Write them down and read them often. Next time you are confronted with mom guilt or frustration. Remember that these frustrating and challenging times of parenting are part of the process. Don't waste your time with guilt. Wrap yourself in the beautiful adjectives of Philippians 4:8.