Jim Gaffigan is right. It is amazing that mothers have anyone to talk to! He lays out his brilliant case in Dad is Fat:
Motherhood is filled with executive decisions, and with each decision comes possible conflict with kids, husbands, and other mom friends. With these other mom friends, there are so many opportunities for major disagreements and awkwardness.
Let's say that a woman starts with twenty friends when she finds out she's pregnant. There is going to be awkwardness with, let's say, six of those friends because they have no interest in babies or are jealous she is pregnant.
Then four won't agree with how she behaves during the pregnancy. She's too uptight, too casual, or not available enough as a friend.
We are down to ten friends. Then there are the decisions of how the baby will be delivered, breastfeeding, circumcision, blanket or no blanket in the crib, and whether or not to return to work after the birth. These topics turn out to be more divisive than opinions about politics and religion.
After a couple of kids, there might be one good friend left. And that friend is never available because she has too many kids herself. I'm amazed mothers have anyone to talk to.
When a man finds out he's going to be a father, it barely covers more than twenty seconds of a conversation with his male friends. 'I heard you two are expecting! Congratu...Who do you think is the best quarterback in the fourth quarter?'
Oi vey. As if motherhood weren't tough enough, now we have the digital age intruding. Everyone has an opinion on every single itty bitty little facet of mothering. If you're somehow connected to social media, someone will come along (if they haven't already) and tell you how you're doing it all wrong.
The digital age makes it so much easier for the smug know-it-alls of the world to let you know that you're an idiot. If we're not careful, this tendency can bleed over into the world of mommy friends, and it can be downright toxic if we let it. The steady build-up of mommy guilt creates a crazy mama.
I'm still a rookie in the world of parenting, but I've learned to own one thing: life is too short for unnecessary mommy guilt. (Note: Guilt is a good thing. If we have a well-formed conscience, guilt is God's way of setting off alarm bells to STOP whatever we're doing because it's bad for us. Unnecessary mommy guilt is the huge load of self-imposed guilt we have for not parenting the way someone else thinks we should.)
I don't parent the exact same way as my own mother, my sister and sisters-in-law, or my dear friends. Philip and I have figured out the brand of parenting that's working for our family, and we keep reinventing things or making it up as we go. There will always be the people telling us that we're doing it wrong or that we should rethink something.
Of course, there will always be areas that I need to work on as a mom. So long as I'm human, there will be room for improvement. God, my conscience, and family do a bang-up job filling me in on my shortcomings. Unless mommy advice is coming from the Holy Spirit or a sweet loved one with my family's best interests genuinely at heart, we keep rolling with the punches.
I'm learning to own my role in this family. A big part of that is figuring out what makes me me--for better and for worse. That means spending a lot of time asking God to reveal my strengths, weaknesses, habits, vices, and virtues. It means humbly accepting my limitations and asking for an extra heap of grace on the days when my capacity to serve isn't meeting my family's needs. It also means seeking absolution in the confessional for all of my failings. Beyond that, letting go of unnecessary mommy guilt is one of the best things I've done for our family.
I love sleep. A good nap is more precious than gold for this lady! If the kids' naptime rolls around, and I'm feeling like I'm not going to make it to dinner without losing my mind, I lay down. I may lose out on some valuable time to get some housework done, but the nap replaces the crazy lady with the short fuse with a happy mama. In my experience, the guilt associated with crazy lady with the short fuse is not worth the dusted family room. When my pillow beckons me, I give in.
Congratulating myself for breastfeeding all three babies (no matter how long)
I tried breastfeeding all three kids, and my record is 5 months with Harry. I plan to breastfeed any future kiddos we may be blessed with, and I'm still hopeful that I can make it longer with future babies, but I'm not going to breastfeed at the expense of my sanity or the peace of the whole fam.
Yes, absolutely, breast is best, and breastfeeding moms are huge heroes in my book. However, I've learned that attaching breastfeeding to my self-worth as a mom does more harm than good. Ironically, when I let go of all of that, I was able to breastfeed for the longest amount of time. Here's to hoping we will be blessed with more babies and that breastfeeding goes swimmingly. If it doesn't, I'll remember that how I feed my babies is only one part of mothering.
This culture wants me to choose my kids over my husband, but I won't because I know I can't if I want our marriage to be in top form. In order for me to be a good mom, I choose to be a good wife first. No mommy guilt in this department means regular date nights, no kids allowed in our bed, a regular bedtime routine for everyone (remember, I love sleep!), and lots of making out. Lots and lots of making out.
Asking For and Accepting Forgiveness
When I screw up (ask the peanut gallery how often that happens), I've learned to both ask for forgiveness and accept it. I make it a regular point to ask the kids for forgiveness when I screw up--yelling, nagging, being too strict, the list goes on... Have you ever asked a 2-year-old for forgiveness and heard their sweet little voice say, "I forgive you, Mama"? The hard part is believing them when they say we're forgiven and resolving to make a change.
There's always the temptation when I leave the confessional after hearing the words of absolution to think, "Nah. I'm such a wretch. There's no way God forgives me for that." Stewing in guilt is a slap in the face to God who offers us His Divine Mercy. It's some sort of twisted power trip that only ends up making me bitter for being a wretch. So, when I go to sleep, instead of stewing in whatever ways I screwed up as a mom that day, I believe in my kids' words of forgiveness (even if they don't completely understand how I screwed up), and I resolve to do better the next day--praying that God will give me a huge heap of grace to actually change.
More often than not, I end up asking for forgiveness for the same things every single day. When I complained to a priest that I keep bringing the same things into the confessional over and over again, he said, "Well, I suppose it's better than bringing in a bunch of new sins!"
Asking For and Accepting Help
The silly, younger me soldiered on through the tough times without so much as thinking of asking for help. "Only the weak do that! I've got this." Silly, silly, silly me. Somehow, I thought accepting help from people offering it would be imposing on them.
It wasn't until I miscarried our baby, Thérése, that God taught me the great healing that comes when we allow others to be the Body of Christ to us. I realized it was healing for me to receive their love during that time, but I learned another thing. People love us, and they have a genuine need to show us that love. When we constantly shrug off their genuine offers to love us through loving acts of service, that's not brave or admirable; it's actually selfish.
If we're going through tough stuff, people want and need to help. (Now, don't get me wrong, there's such a thing as the intrusive sorta folks. I'm not talking about them. I'm talking about the dear woman in your parish who brought you that delicious home-cooked dinner after you had a baby or the neighbor who put a gorgeous planter of annuals on your front stoop after learning that your father died.) God made us body and soul, and it's a good thing for us to exercise giving and receiving the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. The only reward for the self-appointed supermom who soldiers it alone day after day is exhaustion and self-pity.
A writer over at Yahoo shared a story about how she was having one of those mornings with her kiddos. When another mom asked her what was wrong at school drop-off, she regaled her with the play-by-play of everything that had gone wrong that morning. The concerned friend kindly asked her how she could help. The author calls this offer of help the "'nice' mom gesture that kind of irks me." I had to reread the article to make sure I understood correctly. Another mom saw her need for help, went out of her way to offer assistance, and the frazzled mom's reaction was something like, "How DARE SHE think I can't handle this!"
The old me was totally the indignant frazzled mom. The new me is still frazzled, but when there's an offer of help on the table, I'm able to say, "YES! Please! I'd love some help!" What the old frazzled me didn't get was that the moms who are offering their help aren't doing it out of some charity for me. (Besides, even if they are, the good news is that I'm still getting help, right?! Joke's on them!)
In my experience, the mom friends who are the first to offer help are also willing to accept it. I learned that they accept their own limitations, empathize with another mom's need for help, and strive to be good friends by giving and receiving. With the mommy yoke temporary lifted off of our shoulders every now and then, we come back refreshed and ready to pay it forward with the other mamas around them.
If I knew the author of that article, I'd tell her to start accepting offers of help before they disappear. If we're honest, we know that we could use some help every now and then. Besides, the people who love us need to be needed, and it's good to let them love us!
Are You Ready to Let Go Of Mommy Guilt?
There is always going to be someone out there telling you or just making you feel like you're a complete failure as a mother. Remember this: you have no idea what's going on behind closed doors in that woman's life. Besides, even if her life is as perfect as it looks from the outside, her family's needs are not your family's needs.
So long as we're honest with God about our shortcomings and are asking Him for the strength to keep giving it our all everyday, there's nothing to fear, shame, or stew in. Look in the mirror, know that God entrusted your children's souls to you, and that you are exactly the woman He is asking to faithfully form and guide them until you give them back. That's all there is to it. No more comparing or keeping score.
Allow the beautiful women you surround yourself with to build you up and be a blessing in your life. Build them up. Accept their help. Be generous in your offers to help them. Better yet, make your offers specific to your friend's needs so that they'll be less likely to turn them down. Remember that she's best equipped to raise her family and you're best equipped to raise yours. When you find those friends who are equally present for you during the rough patches and the good times, hold onto them tight. They'll help you keep fighting the good fight and remind you to let go of unnecessary mommy guilt along the way. Listen to them. Believe them. Life's too short for mommy guilt.
Go, play with your kids. Take breaks. Accept help. Give help. Keep romancing your husband, and make sure he's #2 only to God. Your kids will thank you for it later. Ask your kids for forgiveness when you screw up (and you will), and be sure you actually accept their forgiveness. Pray for the grace to do better tomorrow. God won't be outdone in generosity. With Him, all things are possible, and He'll release you from all of that silly mommy guilt you're hanging onto.
Copyright 2014, Catherine Boucher
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