So thus started our Confessions of Mama Guilt series the past month of July. Many courageous moms posted their real stories about how guilt had come into their everyday mothering lives. I learned so much from these moms. Most of all, what these guilty stories told me, was that ALL moms CARE so deeply about their babies and about their role as mothers that they just want to get it right. They want what they do to matter, to make a difference in this life they created. They know their children deserve the best, so that's what they want to be and give.
Moms know it's a great big and sometimes scary world out there. They acknowledge their babies are curious and will begin exploring before they know it. They just want their kids to be safe, secure, and happy. When they see even the slightest bit of "failure" on their part, moms tend to slide into the world of guilt too much. It's sad to me. Because I truly think every mother has good intentions and loves her children.
So we've spent a lot of time looking at what this Mama Guilt is all about and where it comes from.
Now it's time to MOVE ON.
Pack your bags, we're heading OUT of the Land of Mama Guilt.
Here are a few tips for helping you to move through the guilt you may feel related to your great big job as MOTHER. This is NOT a one-size-fits-all method. This is not going to cure all of your future guilt either. Your kids are still growing. You have much more guilt to feel, I'm sure. But I do believe you CAN be a happier mother if you let go of some of this baggage that you're carrying around by way of feeling nervous, anxious, worried and guilty or disappointed with how you're doing things/doing things. It's time to let it go. No good can come of holding it in or holding on to this guilt.
*Find some proof that you're succeeding.
The next time you feel like you've failed at something mother-related, or the next time you feel like you just can't get it right I want you to check out your phone or computer or Facebook albums and stare at those pictures of your babies. I'm assuming they are smiling, playing with toys, running outside, hanging on to your neck so happy... I'm sure they are not photos of them screaming and hating life or crying. Sure, you've had those moments, too, but the ones you want to remember, the moments THEY will remember most are these moments, these happy ones you've cherished enough to take photos of. If you aren't the photo type, then just stare at your kids themselves. Look at them, really see them. Are they truly miserable? If so, then ask for some help from someone. I am sure you'll see they are happy though, content with whatever you've given to them.
*Cry it out.
In order to move to a place of hope, happiness and forgiveness even, you need to grieve. You need to experience it again, really process and think about whatever it is that is still on your mind. Ask yourself what is it about ____ that makes you feel like such a failure? Where does this guilt come from? You need to figure this out before you can grieve it and move past it. Say a statement, then ask yourself so what? about that statement. If your statement is "I feel like I'm the worst mom ever for not breastfeeding past one day." Now ask "so what?" Then answer again, "Well, it's not so what, it's that I feel like my baby won't be smart because he didn't get breastmilk. That's what everyone says anyway, they need it to be smart. So I suck." So what? "So I don't want to suck... " Keep it going until you reach a point of no more questions, no more answers besides, it's gone, it's OK to move past it.
If it's your "failed" attempt at breastfeeding, or that you did not try hard enough or long enough to push and ended up with a C-section birth, grieve it. Grieve the past, those what ifs, what could have been. Really let it out. This might mean putting on music and typing about it on a blog, or writing a really long letter ... to your partner to apologize or to your doctor screaming mad at him/her or even a "Dear Baby," letter where you let it all out, tell the truth and say you're sorry but that you promise you'll be an awesome mother from hereon. You may crumple the letter after or send it. Or write to me. I love hearing mom's stories. Whatever you do, write, talk to a friend, but get it OUT. Stop holding it in. Cry and get angry in the same breath if you have to.
Take a long walk and don't go home until you've pounded the pavement with every single annoying guilty feeling you've ever had. Our bodies physically hold in and on to pain, disappointment and hurts. You have to find a physical way to let it out, even if that just means telling someone how you feel. Counselors are wonderful things also, you should not ever be ashamed to seek help from one.
*Say it LOUD.
You need a new Mom Mantra. Something you say over and over, all the time, in your saddest or most frustrating moments. You need this mantra, this phrase, especially when you are sitting looking at Pinterest or when you're with that Perfecto Mom who always does everything right. Keep these in your head and say it A LOT. You'll start believing it if you are your biggest fan. Here are a few to try:
I am a good mom.
I am doing the best I can.
I'll get there.
My kids are not perfect, neither am I and we're OK.
It's going to be just fine.
Look at my happy kids, we are all good.
I'm good at this mom thing, I can do this.
BREATHE, bed time is coming soon. :)
*Find a Guilt-Free Zone Buddy.
Find friends who lift you up versus bring you down. It sounds simple, totally something we all should do anyway right? I bet you can think of at least one person you surround yourself with who does not help you feel better, who actually makes you feel worse all the time.
I want you to think about this one though before you just drop that friend. Is your friend doing something, saying something, to be mean, to put you down, being sarcastic in an attempt to annoy you? Or is that friend just doing her thing and you're internalizing it to mean you suck at this mother thing because you aren't doing those things and can't be like her? If it's the first part, that she really isn't a nice person, then get away and find some space. But if it's you internalizing things and making it into something she's NOT intending, then you need to work on building up your own self confidence. You NEED to find a way to be OK with who you are and what type of mom you are. If you aren't happy with how you are, then you need to make some changes. No more blaming others though.
On those particularly frustrating days though, find a mom who lifts you up and stay with her in the guilt-free zone.
There are MORE moms writing about how they, too, felt like failures, how they don't always get it right, how they aren't perfect, than there are moms writing about being totally on top of everything. So find a few of those moms and follow them, learn from them.
A few posts I especially love:
Finding Joy is a great blog and she has a new ebook of her best Dear Mom letters , where she writes to moms who work, moms who struggle, moms who just can't be perfect. She's AWESOME!
Kelle Hampton writes Enjoying the Small Things, a blog about her life with 3 kids. She's an amazing photographer and writer. She has one daughter with Down syndrome. She is inspiring, and although she appears to be pretty perfect if you read closely you see she's so not and she's totally real.
My sister and I joke about making To Do Lists and even writing things on those lists that we already finished, just so we can have the pleasure of crossing something off! So do that now to make you realize how much you really do for your kids and as a mother. Make a list, every night for the next 3 days, of all the things you accomplished. Starting with "woke up early because the baby was crying," and "made breakfast for all of us, not just a pop-tart, but a bagel with cream cheese and some almost gone-bad strawberries because that seems healthy, I tried." Do this for 3 days. I guarantee you will see you do much more than you give yourself credit for. If you don't believe yourself, ask your partner to make a list of all the things s/he thinks you do also.
*Accept and move on.
I have a friend who had dreams of taking beautiful 1-year-old photos, all dressed up, all perfect black and whites, all wonderful for the baby book. Then her daughter was sick at her year birthday. She had major health issues and was not able to get those photos done. She was SO sad for this. Photos were her thing. She wanted to document that time of their life, but then when her daughter was sick it was not something that could be done and sort of felt pointless. So months went by, and she still felt terribly guilty that she didn't have those photos, that her daughter would be without her 1-year photos. It was something important to her. So at closer to 17 months old, she took her daughter to get her one-year-old photos anyway. And her daughter didn't cooperate. She got hurt, fell on something, and it was a messy morning of picture taking failure. My friend cried, but then picked herself up and realized, what am I doing? I'm so focused on these pictures that I'm missing what's in front of me... a beautiful, happy, survived some bad health issues type of gal. Let's be grateful and maybe get some 18-months photos or something. PERFECT. Love this. Accept what is, and move on.
If the 12 month photos don't work, do 14 months photos. Who cares? It doesn't have to be perfect. If you can't breastfeed, then make it so at least in the beginning the only person who bottle feeds your baby is you, the mama, so you get that bonding closeness you're afraid of missing out on. Do what works for you, then move on past the guilt.
*Think like a kid, and be a Diva.
Kids think they are the coolest things to ever walk the planet, don't they? They think they can do no wrong, that they have all the answers. Divas, like my daughter in the picture above, flaunt it all the time, they make the world see how amazingly beautifully awesome they are in their every move. They believe in themselves. Kids and Divas know they will try and probably fail but they still try anyway. They do what they love and only what they want. They don't let outside influences, pressures, expectations or even rules get in their way. They think with their hearts, all the time.
Sounds lovely, doesn't it?
Well join them!
Be confident. Gain some positive self-image of yourself. See what awesome things you do. Even if you attempt making a good dinner and it just burns, be happy that you made the attempt instead of beat yourself up over burning some food. It's not a big deal, move past it, let it go.
Think of yourself as a great mother. Tell yourself you know it's OK to do the best you can. If you don't feel you are doing your best, then OK it's time to make some changes, ask for help, read some books, enlist in a support group, whatever it takes to get yourself back to good.
I never understand when I hear moms question or even state they are bad mothers. How could you ever think of yourself as a bad mother? I've made mistakes, many of them. I have things I'm constantly working on to improve in my mothering reportoire. I have goals and things I know I'll never achieve, but I keep working at them anyway. We've all been here and done that.
It's sad to me that some of you have felt this terrible guilt. And I think it's time you stop, somehow, whatever you have to do, figure it out so that you can move forward and be a happy mother who loves her kids and knows she's doing her best. For your sake and theirs, let go of this Mama Guilt once and for all.
Tell yourself you're a good mom. Be a kid: believe in yourself more than anything you've ever believed in before. You'll get there. Someday soon you're going to realize you actually believe this stuff, it's working, and your guilty moments are few and far between.
Take it a step at a time. You'll get there. It'll become second nature to you soon enough. You'll realize how great you are soon, I promise. Just put in some effort and you'll get there.
*Accept and acknowledge your AWESOMENESS.
When another mother compliments you on getting something right, don't shrug it off or diminish it. Don't be all modest like planning that awesome party for 10 hours was "no big deal." It IS a big deal, so let others tell you so and just accept that you're AWESOME. Don't belittle yourself by shrugging your shoulders like it's nothing. If someone thinks it's something, then it IS. Don't roll your eyes and be all like, "oh please, that's nothing." If it was nothing you would not have put your time and energy into it. So be pleased with yourself. Show some pride and gratitude. Say thank you and smile and find something to compliment them on if you must fill the silence, but don't shrug it off like it's nothing. You are not nothing, you are something, all the work you put into being a mom is SOMETHING big. So enjoy that.
I wish you well through this journey toward moving past the guilt. Let it go. It's not worth it. You know this to be true. Not put in the effort to let it go. You'll be a happier mom for it. Your kids will thank you later.