“Guilt’s just your ego’s way of tricking you into thinking that you’re making moral progress. Don’t fall for it, my dear.” ~ Elizabeth Gilbert ~
It happened again just this morning. I rushed around, getting my kids back to school after an extended spring break. I was proud everyone had clean underwear and that we had gotten to school on time, but there I was again, looking at my daughter’s preschool teacher with a blank stare and the familiar “oh shit” hot embarrassment flushing through me.
“You didn’t forget it’s your day to bring snacks did you?” she asked. I wanted to scream “of course I forgot! It wasn’t on my calendar and my brain has been anywhere but peanut free snack planning AND we haven’t been in school for almost 10 days.” Damn, seriously, how did I forget…again?! She was gracious and kind, but I couldn’t help but feel like a failure, wondering if I was the only mother who struggled to remember snack day almost every.damn.time. Guilt washed over me.
Guilt finds me when I lay in bed at night, wondering if I did my best that day or if I could have done more.
Guilt finds me when I lose my temper, pushed beyond my limits and into a rage monster I hardly recognize.
Guilt finds me when I spend money on myself, when I hire a babysitter, when I watch TV, slow down, or stop being productive.
It seems like no matter what we do, no matter where we are, no matter how hard we try, guilt finds us. If we sit too long after lunch, we feel guilty. If our kids misbehave in public, we feel guilty. If we don’t workout, we feel guilty. If we workout and the dishes aren’t done, we feel guilty. If we tell the kids no, we feel guilty. If we tell the kids yes, we feel guilty. I mean, we’re damned if we do, we’re damned if we don’t. No matter what we do, we feel there’s something else we should be doing instead, and the inevitable guilt follows.
If we don’t learn how to handle it, the weight of this constant guilt will crush us. It is crushing us. It’s destroying our lives.
Guilt and Fear
We’re terrified of making mistakes, of being a bad mother or doing it “wrong.” Instead of trusting and following our deeper wisdom, we toss guilt the keys and allow fear to ride shotgun and navigate every decision.
If we ignore the guilt, it fights back and we tie ourselves into knots of regret and shame, second guessing ourselves until we let guilt win. Our wants and needs constantly battle guilt and fear, raging up a storm of disconnection and resentment that we inevitably weaponize against our people.
We lash out.
We huff and puff and mumble under our breath.
We bite back tears while biting our tongue.
We explode and say things we regret.
We slam doors and dishes.
We keep score, start fights, and never feel good enough.
We cry ourselves to sleep.
And it’s all because of the fucking guilt.
Guilt is destroying us.
In the pursuit of perfect mothering, we’ve becoming anything but.
Guilt disconnects us from our maternal instincts, from our strength, and from the internal wisdom that always, always knows what’s best. Guilt undermines our ability to be the women we’re called to be and the mothers we want to be.
How do we begin to unshackle the guilt that has been dragging us down for so long? How can we reconnect with actual truth and reject guilt’s lies? And most importantly, how can we sit when there’s laundry to be done?
Rewriting Our Shoulds
When our perception of what we should be doing is misaligned with what we’re actually doing, we feel guilt. Ignoring and fighting the guilt rarely works, as I’m sure you know. Ignored guilt summons up our worst fears and fear is a powerful motivator.
Instead of ignoring the guilt, rewrite your shoulds. When you no longer feel the call to do the things you once thought you should, the formerly accompanying guilt will vanish.
Begin by questioning what you have come to believe as truth, question the WHYs of what you believe. Take out all your shoulds , lift them up to the light and inspect them from every angle. Are they solid? Are they sound? Or are they like a house of cards, seemingly sturdy but when viewed slightly different simply an illusion?
So much of what we regard as absolute truth is nothing more than someone else’s opinions, opinions we’ve absorbed and claimed as our own without even considering if they’re worth believing.
As mothers, we’ve come to believe everything from the kids to the dishes, is more important than our wants and needs; therefore, whenever we make time for ourselves, guilt inevitably follows. In order to get what we need and to feel happy, healthy and whole (instead of exhausted, overwhelmed, and miserable), we have to rewrite the belief that moms come last and reject the myth of the all sacrificing, ask for nothing, do everything for everyone good mother.
It’s 7pm and you’re exhausted after a long day, but the kitchen is a wreck from dinner and as much as you desperately want to put your feet up and watch some bad TV, you know you simply couldn’t consider slowing down until your work is done. You debate saving them for later, or even until the morning, but guilt says “hell no!” It’s loud and pushy and there to remind you you haven’t yet “earned” the right to sit down.
Do you listen to the guilt? Usually, probably.
But this time, slow down for a second and question the guilt. Is a clean kitchen more important that what you need in this moment? Do you believe good mothers don’t rest until the work is done? Do you believe good mothers never leave dishes in the sink? Why? Why is that true? Can you think of good mothers you know with messy kitchens? What is the worst that would happen if you let the kitchen stay messy for say, 12 hours? Would that undo the way you love your kids or care for your home or run your life? Would it matter in a few days, weeks, or years, if you let the kitchen stay messy while you did other things once and awhile?
“But I can’t relax if the kitchen is messy!” you say. To that I’d ask, why? Have you tried it? Why can’t you relax? Do you believe only lazy people rest when there’s work to do? Is that true? Is there ever a circumstance when relaxing over working is okay? If you relax today and work tomorrow is that bad? Does it matter?
When you allow yourself to think, to really think about these questions (and not just brush them aside with a simple “well because!”) you’ll start to realize the standards you hold yourself to don’t actually exist.
Yes, societal and familial expectations are very real, but your acceptance of them is entirely optional.
Writing Our Rules
Everyone’s life, experiences and values are different and therefore, how can any one person (or group of people) know what’s best for everyone? When you follow rules and expectations written by someone else (your parents, society, your community, your best friends, the mom down the street), you are essentially letting them decide how you’ll live your life. You’re relinquishing your power, often to strangers you’ll never meet.
Stop trusting everyone else to know what’s best and start valuing your own experiences and inner wisdom above all else.
If your soul is craving rest, exercise, a book, a night away, or simply to put off the damn dishes until tomorrow, listen.
Maybe you really will be able to relax more fully when you just get the damn dishes done. If that’s the case, go for it. They key is to make a choice about what is most important to YOU instead of acting out of guilt, fear, or from some distorted idea of what a “good” woman SHOULD do.
The sooner you start listening to yourself, the sooner you stop living out some antiquated Stepford version of who you think you should be and the happier you’ll become. And when momma’s happy, everybody’s happy.
Question your shoulds, make time to figure out what’s important to YOU. Pay attention to what makes you feel good and what makes you feel bad, to what lights you up and what drains you. Evaluate, re-evaluate, and adjust accordingly until your life is your own again and guilt has left the building.
You will never be free from the clutches of guilt until you build the courage to trust yourself over the rest of the world. The degree to which guilt influences your daily life is directly proportionate to your disconnection from self worth. Women confident in who they are and what they value struggle far less with daily guilt than those who are struggling to prove their worth to a world who will always tell them they’re aren’t enough.
Until you have the confidence to write your own rules, guilt will rule you.
Do you struggle from guilt? What’s one rule you could rewrite today that would bring more peace into your daily life?