When my boy/girl twins were 3, and I was pregnant with my third, I made the angst-ridden decision to put the twins in preschool. We were living far away from friends and family, I was about to have a newborn, and the twins were asking for more friends, but for reasons I cannot entirely explain, this felt like the world’s biggest failing.
A toxic thought took seed in my head and no matter how well my kids were doing, how much I loved them, no matter any evidence at all to the contrary, the voice in my head I kept hearing was: HOW SAD THAT YOU CAN’T TAKE CARE OF YOUR OWN CHILDREN.
I’ve learned since that just because something’s hard doesn’t mean you’re failing. It just means it’s hard. But back then, things felt very intense, very black and white, and if it was hard, that meant I was failing. HOW SAD THAT YOU CAN’T TAKE CARE OF YOUR OWN CHILDREN.
My biggest source of mom guilt in my early years of mothering came at the hands of that awful sentence. It’s a very heavy burden. Many of you are carrying that kind of burden, too, and it’s suffocating your heart.
I was talking with my friend Jamie about a year later. I told her I was still carrying the weight of putting Lane and Luke in school. I told her I felt like I couldn’t take care of my own kids.
“Instead of thinking you WERE taking care of them by taking them somewhere fun and safe and interesting and creative while you rested during your pregnancy???” she shot right back to me.
And just like that, the same exact facts formed a totally different storyline.
I had been listening to the toxic, condemning narrative, just believing it as fact while there was a totally different way of looking at those same events. I realized I didn’t have to buy the condemnation hook, line, and sinker, all the time.
Psalm 18:16-19 (MSG) says, “But me he caught — reached all the way from sky to sea; he pulled me out of that ocean of hate, that enemy chaos, the void in which I was drowning. They hit me when I was down, but God stuck by me. He stood me up on a wide-open field; I stood there saved — surprised to be so loved!”
When we are drowning in mom guilt, we are drowning in a void. But God is reaching toward us, wanting to pull us out of that void, and stand us up on a wide-open field, a spacious place, give us a bit of breathing room.
Here are two lifelines God continues to throw out to me when I am feeling overrun and over-my-head in the toxic mom guilt:
#1 You can choose to be a companion to yourself instead of a critic.
There are SO few things you can actually control. Almost nothing, really. But one thing you can control is how you treat yourself. And that one thing can change everything.
Are you talking to yourself like you would a true friend, or are you coming after yourself — with your words and your actions — like an enemy?
I’ve held on to this quote for years and years …
I’m afraid that sometimes
you’ll play lonely games too,
games you can’t win,
‘cause you’ll play against you.
– Dr. Seuss, Oh, the Places You’ll Go!
Are you on your own team? Or are playing games you can’t ever win, because you’re playing against yourself?
Choose to be a companion to yourself instead of a critic. And then make that choice again and again — one hundred times a day if you have to. You will never be able to bully yourself into spacious territory and breathing room. You have to believe yourself there.
Consider: How do you talk to and talk about your closest friends?
#2 Just because you’re struggling doesn’t mean you’re not grateful for your life.
I always believed that struggle and gratitude were two ends of a spectrum. That if I admitted I was struggling, then that must mean I wasn’t grateful for what I have. Slowly, I’m seeing that in God’s economy, I can be both deeply grateful for my life and still somewhat overwhelmed by it, too. Struggle and gratitude can co-exist. I don’t need to feel guilty for having a hard day.
Consider: What are you struggling with? What are you grateful for?
You are wounded, and you are wondrous. You are vulnerable, and you are resilient. You are weak, and you are strong. Mom guilt does not get the last word on you and your soulful work as a mother.
Take the hand God is offering you and allow yourself to receive his love and grace. Even now. In this very moment.
Leeana Tankersley is a mom of 3, a writer, and a regular contributor to MOPS. Her books include Breathing Room, Brazen, Begin Again, and Always We Begin Again. Learn more at www.leeanatankersley.com. Or follow on IG @LMTankersley and FB @tankersleyleeana.
Be sure to tune in this Wednesday, February 17, at 10 a.m. MT to The Comeback Tour where we’ll be talking about more ways to mother from the heart!