No More Mommy Guilt

There are a million ways to mess up, and a very narrow path to success — at least, that’s how it can feel.  And I’m not talking about defusing a bomb – I’m talking about being a good mom. It seems every which way I look there are glaring messages about what makes a good mom, with the subtle (or not so subtle) underlying message that if I fail to meet all of these requirements, I fall off the “good mom” list.

And to make it all harder to discern, at times the various experts often contradict each other.  For a humorous example of that, check out this great rant from a few years ago by a new mom of twins.  She put all the sleep advice together for you in one easy to read, and utterly unhelpful, package.

Let’s look at the various issues on which there are polarizing opinions:

Sleep:  cry it out, co-sleeping, nurse-to-sleep, swaddle, no swaddle.  The list goes on an on. The various experts put for their ideal and fool proof method, which, by nature of them being experts, is the only acceptable method, and all other methods will forever doom your child, or as the author of the above linked post explains, “will make them think they’ve been abandoned and will be eaten by a lion shortly. It also causes brain damage.”

The cry-it-outers swear by the method – the babies all slept through the night by 4 months, you sleep deprived parents are doing it to yourself, if only you’d get on board.  On the other hand, letting your child cry-it-out will cause emotional damage; they will feel abandoned and unloved, leaving emotional scars for the rest of their life.

The co-sleepers don’t really love their kids – don’t they know the dangers of co-sleeping? And the emotional damage, they will make their kids forever dependant.  The non-co-sleepers don’t love their kids either, apparently, because they are denying their child that natural bonding time.

If you read enough, you will be left paralyzed.

If you read enough, you will be left with no options because after all of the expert’s voice their expert opinions, there are no options left.

So mom, if I may attempt to assuage the uncertainty you may be feeling in your mothering skills and intuition:

Find what works for you family, and ignore all else.

No one else has your child. No one else has the same husband as you, nor has the same exact circumstances as you. No one else has the exact same set of skills and giftings, nor the same shortcomings and limitations. Having kids stretches us, in more ways than one. Having kids forces us to face areas of selfishness we never knew existed. It forces us to expand our physical limits as sleep decreases and zombie-like existence increases. No one else is you.

You will fail – but you will also succeed.

You will make wrong choices – but from them you will learn, and adjust and improve in your skills across the mothering board.  Your kids are not going to keep an ongoing list of all the times mom messed up. Your kids will look back on their overall childhood and see the big picture patterns. Overall: did mom love me? did she care for me? was she patience? did she find joy in her work at home? joy in being with me?

Mom, your children are not doomed if you choose “the wrong” sleep method.

Your children are not doomed if you bottle fed instead of breast fed.

Your children are not doomed if you vaxed or didn’t vax.

Your children are not doomed if their clothes come from GAP vs. the thrift store.

Your children are not doomed if you use sunscreen or don’t use sunscreen.  If you feed them organic food or conventional food.  If they play video games or not play video games.

When I was a new mother I read every book I could get my hands on about being a wife and a mother. And with every book I read I felt more and more condemned. I wasn’t waking up at 5am like one book said I should, to read and pray before the children woke up.  So clearly, I wasn’t spiritual and clearly I didn’t love my husband or my children. It worked for the group of ladies that wrote the book, so while it wasn’t working for me, it must have indicated something wrong with me. Meanwhile, my kids had a sense for when mommy was awake, and no matter what time I woke up, be it 5am or 7am or 9am, my kids would wake up within 15 minutes of my getting up.

The idea of having uninterrupted time in the morning sounded fantastically appealing, but it never actually happened. I merely started my day hours earlier. Additionally, I had a husband who was at work shortly after 5am, so he wasn’t helping with those early risers in the morning to enable me to have that time.  He also worked 60-80 hours a week, leaving me to handle almost all of the child tending, and leaving me utterly exhausted. So while these 3 authors found a way to wake at 5am (due to their superior spirituality, I’m sure), they didn’t have the husband I had, they didn’t have the children I had. What served them and their families was not serving mine — it was instead leaving me frustrated due to my FAILURE, not uplifted thanks to communion with the Lord.

Over time I reached the place where I realized EVERYONE JUST NEEDS TO MIND THEIR OWN BUSINESS — including me.

Moral issues need to be dealt with in a particular way – if there is a “Thou shalt,” or “Thou shalt not” attached to a particular action or attitude, then rebuke for sinfulness may be needed. But on the everyday choices specific for my kids and my family, that aren’t moral issues but simply decisions, I need to do what is best for US, and you need to do what is best for YOU and YOUR FAMILY. End of story.

You may hear of a great schedule system that has revolutionized someone’s home – but unless it is a blessing and a help for you, for your husband, for your children and for your home as a whole, lifestyle, circumstances, etc, then it isn’t a great system – at least not great for you.

We all have our opinions on the above issues. And we all make decisions for our family based on those opinions, but my kids are not your kids and your kids are not my kids. I have no more authority or place to tell you what decisions to make for your children than you do for me. If you are unsure, ask your husband. As a team, determine what is a blessing to your household. If you hear of that great scheduling system and think it might be helpful, run it by your man, find out if it would be a blessing to him. Let him be your guide – not strangers on blogs, and not even well intended friends. Your husband is your husband – what blesses another husband might not bless yours.

No one knows your kids better than you: their interests, their strengths and weaknesses, their areas of sin, there temperaments. No one is better suited than you and your husband to make decisions for them.

The most succinct statement I’ve ever read on the whole Mommy War issue, a comment which was specific to the breast vs bottle fight, was this (and I wish I remember the name of the gal who said it to give her credit):  “It is very obvious that those who breastfeed really love their kids. And it is very obvious that those who bottle feed really love their kids.”

Our methods may differ for various reasons. We may even have strong opinions on some of these issues. Just remember, the decisions another mom is taking is because she loves her kids and sees those decisions as best for them at that time — just as you make the decisions you make because you believe them to be best.

And so,

You continue to do what is best for your family, and I’ll continue to do what is best for mine.