It's time to let go of the guilt.
I remember being pregnant and terrified of raising my child.
Despite reading every baby book ever written and taking parenting classes, the sheer anxiety of my first child coming home from the hospital remains unmatched to this day. What did I know about kids, anyway? I was an only child and had very limited contact with little kids and infants growing up. Sure, I’d hold a baby every now and then, but my fear of dropping them outweighed any potential joy from the experiences. I was an amateur. I’d never even changed a diaper before, and because of severe postpartum depression, I wouldn’t change a diaper until my son was about 1 month old.
I remember thinking at the time, I’ve failed at the most important job I’ll ever have. My depression and anxiety left me inept. I felt like I was letting my son down, although he was much too young to realize it. He was forced to suffer through my inadequate care even though I loved him as hard as I could. My guilt overshadowed the first several months of my son’s life, and I missed out on the little first moments of his existence because I was so scared.
Why do we as moms put ourselves through such torture?
It’s a daunting prospect, being responsible for another human being’s development. Even if we’re good at it, we’re not supposed to say it out loud. It’s supposed to be the most natural thing in the world to have a baby in one arm and a bottle in the other while you haven’t eaten or taken a shower for days. Not to mention, you’re supposed to look angelic while doing it all. How dare you have formula stains all over your sweatpants? That’s certainly not going to win you Mother of the Year. These are the things we convince ourselves to feel guilty for, and it takes practically nothing to come up with even more sins.
There was a time in my life when I was not a good mother. That’s not me beating myself up but the objective truth. Too wrapped up in my own drama, I failed to see what my children needed. I floundered in despair and put myself first instead of them. Depression didn’t make parenting any easier, but my boys desperately needed stability, so I agreed to sign custody over to their father. I wanted them as far away as possible from me destroying my life. Even now, I think it was the right decision.
Then I wrote myself off as a failure. Even though I continued to spend time with the boys, I never felt qualified to discipline them or give them advice. I believed that all they felt was disappointment when we spent time together. Most of all, I felt disappointment in myself. When my daughter was born, I mistakenly thought of it as a second chance to get things right, but instead I got the same results.
It wasn’t until I healed and realized I was capable of change that things started to improve. My work as a mother had to begin with me. Once I let go of all the torment inside me, it made a space in my heart for all three of my children to occupy. As I tried to push our relationship a little farther each time, they began to respond and trust me again. I still didn’t have all the time I wanted with them, but we made our limited hours count in a way they never had before. Feeling guilty about the past stopped me from forging a real relationship with each child. In the end, I let it all go, knowing it was vital to all of us.
Recently, an incident happened that rocked both of my boys to their core. Out of respect for them, I’ll just say that they had to come to terms with several big changes all at once. My younger son is 17 years old, and when this happened I picked him up and took him to my house where he curled up on my couch for two days. I encouraged him to share his feelings and talk about it, and I spent the rest of the time feeding him a steady diet of “The Office,” funny memes and Hershey bars. It made me feel like a fierce mama bear protecting her young for the first time ever. I promised him that he would get through it and that I am here to help.
My son was able to trust my word because I have been consistent with him over the last few years. I do what I say I’m going to do. Living with integrity not only benefits us but also our children, who see and hear more than you ever think. I’m sure my sons remember every time I didn’t show up or follow through on my promises. That doesn’t happen anymore.
My older son is 21 and is the strongest person I know. Despite that, I stayed in close contact and kept him talking to me. We did a “feelings” check-in every two hours or so over a few days. After that, he said he was tired of talking about it and needed time to process, so I backed off and let him have his space. Even though I want to smother him right now, I have to respect how he wants to deal with things. Now I know that part of being a parent is knowing when not to parent.
Mothers are the seed planters for their children’s lives to help guide them. It is decidedly our most important job. We sometimes have to let them make their own mistakes, knowing they will grow because of them, but we can provide information to them with love.
We want to save our children from anything that could hurt them, but we can’t hold their hands the whole way, nor would they want us to. However, we can become as strong as possible and do the work on ourselves so we’re ready to jump in when they ask us.
Parenting from a place of strength rather than shame makes kids feel safe. Part of that is letting go of the “mother guilt” we feel. We ARE enough as parents. Even the idea of asking that question means we’re enough. Like all people, we have limitations, but letting our kids see us as human allows them to be human, too.
So, yes, you are a good mom. Maybe even the best mom. Me too.