Today, I’m so excited to introduce my friend Kristy from Fruitful Today. Kristy agreed to share her thoughts on mommy guilt, and I so appreciate her perspective!
Kristy’s life has not turned out how she imagined it would. Chronic illness was never on her radar, and yet it’s something she now lives with on a daily basis. It has greatly impacted her life and the decisions she’s had to make, and she’s had to wrestle with all the mommy guilt that goes along with it.
I love how Kristy differentiates between healthy guilt and unnecessary guilt. Many moms struggle with the difference between the two. I know I have.
Even if your life circumstances look nothing like Kristy’s, I think you’ll be encouraged by her post!
(Note: Kristy hails from Down Under, and I left in her British spellings because I think it helps us get to know her and her voice better! :))
The Daycare Discussion
We were walking briskly along the shoreline of a local bay after work. Pulling wisps of windswept hair from my eyes, I launched into an impassioned spiel about my views on parenting as we exercised.
"I don't like the idea of plonking our kids in daycare," I panted. "I want to raise my own children, not outsource the parenting to other people! Especially not to complete strangers, and especially not in the first few years of life!"
My husband didn't seem to have strong opinions one way or the other. When I pressed him for a response, he thought for a moment before giving a reply that was, somehow, both definitive and vague, "There are so many unknown factors and variables with these sorts of big decisions."
Slightly crestfallen — I'm more reluctant than he is to let pragmatism stifle the free flow of interesting ideas — I agreed to put the Daycare Discussion on hold until we were actually expecting our first baby.
In hindsight, I can see the wisdom in my husband's response: our path did take some unexpected and distressing turns in the following years.
"My life wasn't meant to look like this!"
I've thought that to myself many times during the past six years. On a couple of occasions, I even ventured to helpfully inform God about His apparent mistake. (Perhaps He needed some honest feedback in order to give me the enjoyable life I felt I deserved, considering all the hard work I'd done for Him?)
In my enthusiastic planning for motherhood, my thinking had been binary. There were two parenting paths I could take: returning to work part-time or caring for our kids full-time. Chronic illness? It was never part of the equation; it didn't even exist as a category in my thinking!
When I became too unwell to care for our baby and toddler for more than a few hours each day, we had no option but to seek outside help. Grandparents and friends from church only partially filled the gap.
So, ironically, our kids ended up attending daycare much sooner and much more frequently than we would have chosen.
And I took on an enormous load of guilt.
How I got my Mummy Guilt under control
As somewhat of a veteran when it comes to Mummy Guilt, I'd like to share two realisations that helped get my guilt under control.
Whether you're a super-active, outdoorsy mum or a mostly housebound chronically ill mum, a working mum or a stay-at-home mum, a married mum or a single mum, I hope these realisations of mine will help you to fight your own ongoing battle with our common foe.
1. All kinds of mums experience Mummy Guilt
When our older child started Kindergarten, I was terrified to meet the other mums. I found myself rehearsing how to answer the question, "What do you do?" weeks before the school year even began!
The working mums might judge me. My mind swirled with outlandish possibilities: Would they think I was a lazy person who didn't want to work? Or a lady of leisure who didn't need to work? Or a woman who'd missed the feminist revolution and lacked personal ambition?
The stay-at-home mums might judge me, too. I spent all day alone while other people took care of my kids. I didn't even clean the house or cook meals! (Once, an acquaintance saw I was home while my kids were at daycare and blurted out, "Who are you? A princess?!" with a disdainful tone.)
The anticipated character assassinations were hypothetical, of course, but that didn't stop them from feeling very real to me at the time. A conversation that shone a helpful dose of perspective on my fears took place one weekend, soon after our first child started Kindergarten, when I arranged a play date with one of his old daycare buddies.
While the kids ran around the playground together, the other mum and I chatted. Nina* works full-time, and her current role involves semi-regular interstate travel plus occasional attendance at international conferences. Fortunately, Nina's parents have been eagerly involved in their grand-babies' daily lives, which has made for a cohesive family unit and two little girls who've grown up feeling very loved.
After I lightheartedly mentioned the crisis of confidence I'd experienced at the beginning of the school year, Nina reciprocated by opening up to me. I was gobsmacked to discover that she had felt just as nervous as me when her first child started school.
"I feel like the world's worst mum", she confessed at one point, holding both hands up near her shoulders, fingers spread wide.
She, too, was fearing judgment from the other mums at school. She felt sick to her stomach when she pulled up in her car and did a quick morning drop-off at the gate before work, instead of walking in with her 5-year-old as some other parents did. And she felt terrible when she wasn't able to attend school sporting days or special assemblies because of work commitments.
By the end of our raucous and mutually cathartic chat it dawned on me that Mummy Guilt affects all kinds of mums, regardless of their situation. And no matter how confident and accomplished they appear!
It also struck me that Mummy Guilt might sometimes have more to do with our fears — and even our sense of pride? — than our children's well-being.
Here we were, two mums who loved our kids to pieces. There they were, four kids running and giggling and screeching in the playground, completely carefree. Our kids were having a great play while we were busy beating ourselves up about how we imagined other people might perceive our lives!
2. You don't need to have an "ideal" family in order to share God's love
During the Crisis Years, when I was trying to cope with a newborn and a toddler plus a tsunami of medical emergencies and personal grief, I felt devastated that chronic illness had destroyed my "ideal" family.
Seismic lifestyle shifts were required due to circumstances outside of my control, and I had to face the fact that my children may be negatively impacted by these changes. I sobbed and sobbed some days because I felt powerless to protect them from the collateral damage of my health battle.
With the help of a trained counsellor, I learnt to distinguish between healthy guilt and unnecessary guilt: when circumstances are outside of my control, I mustn't let guilt crush me. I also learnt there was something I can do within our undesirable, hard situation: I can actively guide my children as they develop a vital life skill, resilience.
God brought great comfort to me through my counsellor's coaching. And, once I emerged from my Pit of Despair, I noticed that God could use me to bring much-needed comfort to others. (2 Cor 1:3-5)
It's over two years since my son started Kindergarten, and I'm so glad I worked through those initial fears! I've made a bunch of new friends, some with relatively carefree lives and others who live with ongoing struggles that require great grit and determination to manage.
A couple of friends have lived through painful divorces — one has remarried and deals with ongoing blended family issues, the other has not remarried and worries about her kids lacking a male role model.
One friend has a toddler with special needs; she spends much of her time at therapy sessions with her little one while feeling guilty about the time she can no longer spend with her older child.
Another friend had to flee war in her homeland with a toddler and baby; her husband was only reunited with the family after several years, once his refugee visa was finally approved.
In a strange sort of way, I feel I have something valuable to offer these friends: empathy. Not pity — when I think of pity, I picture a person standing at ground level, looking down into someone's Pit. They might feel very concerned for the friend who's in distress, but there's a distance between them.
Empathy carries a different picture in my mind: it's when you've been in that Pit and you know in your gut what it's like to have the very foundations of your life crumble beneath you.
There's a unique kind of love that God can show through those of us whose lives have fallen to pieces. Don't despair if you're a Christian mum and your family is not "ideal". Go see a counsellor, work through your grief and pain, persevere with church even when you feel inadequate and fearful of people's judgment.
Be courageous and don't give up. God has a way of using broken vessels to pour out his love to the world. (2 Cor 4:7-9)
A different windy day by the water
A decade after the truncated Daycare Discussion, my husband and I were walking together along a different shoreline. This time our two kids were with us. I'll finish with these words I wrote after our beach holiday.
We got back home a few hours ago. What a wonderful time we had! As expected, the grief blob did touch me a few times but it was much less severe than last time — I was pleasantly surprised, actually!
Yes, it was sad that I couldn’t spend more time being active; but I did enjoy the treat of lying in our huge king-size bed for most of each day, with a gentle breeze flowing in from the balcony, reminding me of the outdoors.
I took a few short walks to the beach, and I soaked up every second of it: the invigorating ocean wind blowing against my cheeks, and the springtime sun shining on my arms — warm but not stinging.
I find the ocean so rough and unpredictable and dangerous but strangely soothing all at once. Gazing, mesmerised, at the pounding waves, I felt a sense of peace trickle down into my parched heart. And I thanked God for sustaining me through what has been an intensely difficult five years.
Sure, our new reality is vastly different from the family times I envisaged eight years ago, but we’re making the most of what we still do have. We’re creating new memories.
“Father God, when we feel nervous about people's judgment, may we turn our eyes to you, our only true judge. You know us better than anyone, mistakes and all, yet you warmly open your arms to us, thanks to Jesus' sacrifice. Please fill us with a deep sense of your acceptance. Help us to feel securely enveloped by your adequacy and less wrapped up in our own inadequacies, so that we can increasingly live a life of love, not fear. We're so glad we have an untiring and perfect Father in heaven who's caring for us as we wearily and imperfectly raise our children. Amen.”
* Name has been changed, and some details left out, to protect privacy.